Editor’s blog: Big trouble for Big Motor

Big Motor is sick. Maybe even dying. In Detroit yesterday, a pastor led a prayer for the US car industry’s soul – but of course divine intervention is rather less likely than a fat handout from the American tax payer. It looks as if the Bush administration has agreed to open its wallet to the tune of $15 billion, in the form of an ‘emergency loan’; it’s thought that might tide them over for the next month or two before they come begging again. In Europe things aren’t much better: Vauxhall has been nagging Peter Mandelson for a handout, no doubt claiming it is as vital to the national interest as the banks.

The fact that the global industry has dinosaur tendencies was rammed home to me when I visited my first major motor show earlier this year, anannual bonanza in Geneva in a cavernous hall next to the airport. What took me completely by surprise was the first thing that greets you when you enter the arena: large numbers of young women in bikinis draped across the bonnets of the product, all doing their best to produce cheesy smiles for the hordes of snappers – both amateurs and professionals – who like a bit of female flesh with their rorty metal. I’m no ball-breaking feminist, but I really believed this sort had thing had died out with the brontosaurus. It kind of summed up an industry that really could do with a maturity injection.

One of the key reasons that the US car industry is in such a mess is that it produces astonishingly poor product. It is almost entirely reliant on its home market, which is flat on its back as loans are no longer available for buying new sets of wheels. If anyone over here, or indeed anywhere in Europe, buys an American car, you’d think they are either mad or they’ve got it in for the planet. It is a negligent, complacent and thoroughly badly-managed industry. Despite their poor productivity, American car workers still get better packages than David Beckham’s lunch box on a GQ shoot. I met Rick Wagoner (the boss of GM) a couple of years ago, and he freely admitted his company was being throttled by the legacy healthcare costs of his retired workforce. If that was what was keeping him awake at night, rather than the fact that the Hummer might not be the global way forward for the heirs of the internal combustion engine, then no wonder he’s on the way out.

There’s no reason whatsoever why UK-based motor manufacturers should be given government assistance rather than, for example, whelk stall proprietors or even media organisations who are all feeling the pinch due to a lack of ads. In fact I think I should lead a delegation to visit Mr Mandelson – consisting of me, Michael Grade, Richard Desmond, the editor of Hello! and Rupert Murdoch – to ask him for a non-repayable loan. God knows the media has never failed to be kind to Mandy in the past…

In today’s bulletin:
Sony cuts 8,000 jobs – but Wii consoles Nintendo
More high street woe as retail sales plunge again
Editor’s Blog: Big trouble for Big Motor
Estate agents face up to new OFT competition probe
Entrepreneurs shy away from Christmas networking

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    Trouble with the car industry is that it is internationally competitive – for jobs as well as cars. If the Germans underwrite Opel and we ignore Vauxhall then the jobs all move to Germany. We can happily ignore the Yanky dinosaurs but need to have more clarity closer to home.