WWOD: What Would Obama Do?

January 20, 2009

It's no secret that G. W. Bush left Barack Obama holding the bag on several things, including the fate of the American auto industry. Perhaps most notably, Bush left the Big 3 with a bailout package that wasn't really to anyone's liking, full of stipulations--some vague, some not--and compliance deadlines that will fall within mere weeks of Obama's inauguration. (That's today, in case you weren't paying attention.)

Ford, GM, and Chrysler have put up a fairly brave front, soldiering through the Detroit auto show with a modest selection of concept and production vehicles that implied the Big 3 are indeed thinking about the future of their industry. The UAW, on the other hand...well, let's just say they need some work on their poker face.

Yesterday, UAW president Ron Gettelfinger came out and said, "Honestly, most people that have looked at this from a realistic standpoint would say [the February 17 restructuring deadline] is almost unattainable.... I said myself that I hope this wasn't set up to intentionally fail. ... People have no idea of the magnitude of what they were asking these companies to do." Does he sound a little nervous to you?

Of course, what Bush & Co. were "asking these companies to do" included wage and benefit reductions for union workers--you know, much like the reductions that Canadian government has demanded GM and Chrysler institute before their subsidiaries to the north receive $3 billion (Canadian) in bailout funds. Obama is pushing in a similar direction, calling for all parties involved to "give something up". Surely, none of that sits very well with the UAW.

Given how messy and convoluted this situation is, we're turning to the most savvy folks we know for answers: you, our readers. What's the solution to the auto industry dilemma? Is it simply a matter of scaling back labor costs? Surely not, since even non-UAW companies are having trouble in the U.S. Is the answer innovation in the marketplace? Is it the switch to electric cars? If so, it seems like the Big 3 might ask for even more support. (Although their pals in Canada have opted to leave that in the hands of private companies.) Is it a federal gas tax, to keep gas prices steady and help automakers plan? Send help in the comments section below!

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