Detroit two-step is a tired tango

Detroit two-step is a tired tango http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070611/AUTO02/706110312/1148/AUTO01
Lest you think the Detroit two-step -- two forward then one back --
might become a blessed relic, reality comes roaring back to prove the self-defeating boogie is alive and well.
I refer, of course, to the last week or so of auto news, more triumphs of the real world over good ol' hometown hope:
We had Detroit's auto CEOs in Washington fighting against stiffer federal fuel economy rules, which will be increased whether Detroit and its backers want it or not. And if certain coastal politicians get their way, Detroit will be out of business and it'll be all Detroit's fault.
But wait: How much more evidence do we need that the world has changed, fundamentally, and with it the nation's economic politics?
In September, we'll be six years from 9/11. More years in Iraq than it took the allies to fight World War II. Gas prices just off record highs. China and India growing apace, sucking down global oil supplies. A bill in California wants to slap a $2,500 gas guzzler tax on selected models, and the governor there wants the feds to allow his state to regulate emissions.
In Washington, a bipartisan, critical mass in Congress is coalescing to shove climate change legislation down the throat of the collective auto industry -- including Toyota -- even though autos account for roughly 20 percent of emissions. Fair? No. But automakers are the path of least resistance. Toyota can take it, and Detroit can take the tailpipe.
'Embarrassing?' Yep
We had Chrysler, whose month-old ad campaign touts its vehicles as being "engineered beautifully," admitting to its own people that it seriously misjudged the U.S. market with its new Chrysler Sebring sedan and Dodge Nitro SUV, which an internal memo described as "embarrassing 'misses.' "
Hello? Good enough is not good enough, and bad is terrible. Two steps forward, one step (at least) back.
We had Ford Motor Co., flush with the good news that it had dominated the latest J.D. Power initial quality surveys, showcasing its campaign for the "new" Taurus. OK, but it's a mid-cycle tweaking of its underwhelming Five Hundred sedan, and a chilling reminder of how out of touch some Glass House marketers can be.
Every time I hear Ford's brass say Taurus is the third most recognized Ford model name behind F-Series and Mustang, or that Taurus has 80 percent brand recognition so aren't we smart to bring it back, I want to scream. And the first thing I want to scream is: Who killed the Taurus name in the first place, and if they are still employed by Ford, why?
'Foolish' by any measure
Think about this: The storied brand name of the American car that hammered the Japanese, the only thing Camry and Accord actually feared from Detroit, was chucked to feed Ford's fetish for forced "F" model names like Focus, Fusion and Five Hundred.
The most appropriate "F" word I can conjure to describe that kind of over-thinking would be foolish. Two steps forward, one step back.
And we had General Motors Corp. Chairman Rick Wagoner telling shareholders there are "no plans" to make like Chrysler and take the General private. That may be, but that doesn't mean the private equity shops (like Cerberus Capital) see it that way. They have the dough to go big, real big.
The word at some of the highest levels in the industry is that private equity's feast on Detroit may not be sated by gobbling Chrysler, taking a majority bite of GM's GMAC finance arm and swallowing a collection of suppliers large and small.
This buying-and-restructuring jag has not run its course. Not in executive suites here. Or on Wall Street. Or in Washington. And not with national union contract talks preparing to start.
Doing riffs on the Detroit two-step doesn't help. It only makes things worse by reconfirming outdated notions -- and nagging, uncomfortable truths -- that should be buried, but aren't. We just keep resurrecting them.
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Please go back to the Tonka groups and rant.
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