Sunday, May 3, 2009

Revenge of the EV1

Looking at General Motors, I shook my head with amazement.  How, I wondered, could a company that has the ability to hire the best and brightest people from around the globe perform so badly?  Why are they building big, gas-guzzling vehicles when gas prices are escalating and when the trend – as evidenced by the foreign competition – is clearly moving toward smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles?  Why? Why? Why?

I asked all these questions circa 1976 while still in high school.

Through more than thirty years these same questions have echoed in my mind.  Even when bad signs or indicators popped into our public consciousness, people continued to believe that the auto industry would continue here in Michigan, especially with the Big Three ingrained in our economy.

Ahhh, there were plenty of warning signs.  Here are just a few:

Bluestone and Harrison published The Deindustrialization of America in 1982.  But how many in the general public read that book?

Michael Moore released “Roger and Me” in 1989.  Did the rest of the country simply think this documentary was propaganda?

President Bill Clinton escorted NAFTA through Congress and signed it into law in 1994.  Steadily over time, did people really notice they were getting the slow SHAFTA from NAFTA?

These signs and many more existed over the 30-year period.  All of us who witnessed the auto industry’s collapse – directly and indirectly – will only be left with those memories.  In the end, it will be our duty and responsibility to tell the story.  The truthful story.  From all its varying angles.

Hot Iron, Hotter Attitude

I got a phone call a few weeks ago from a buddy.  As happens these days, the conversation turned to the state of the economy.  My buddy explained with great conviction how the union workers in Michigan killed our auto industry with their high pay and fringe benefits.

Deep breath.  Pause.  Deep breath.

Let me get this viewpoint straight:

People like my father, a proud union member and person, who poured hot iron for GM for 33 years, drove the company into the ground?

My father and his union cohorts decided to continue building gas-guzzling vehicles with the GM nameplate through the whole period when mileage-efficient cars were gaining in popularity?

My father and the unionists killed and destroyed the GM electric car, the EV1, even though it was affordable, functional, and ready for mass production in an oil-dependent auto market?

What else were the workers responsible for?  Ripping off the Enron customers? Running multi-billion dollar Ponzi schemes?  Fabricating illegal wars so Halliburton could get more military contracts?

Trust me, my dear buddy, if my father had been in charge of GM, the company would still be alive and well, and the only people out of work and money would be the corporate cluster f*cks who were so willing to sell us all out for their own personal, private gain.

The Sad Irony

Michigan is left with this sad irony:

The earliest mass transit and trolley systems were deliberately killed – mainly by the auto companies themselves – in favor of automobile production and jobs. 

Politicians – including some prominent Senate and House Democrats who remain in office today – made careers out of shielding the auto companies from legislatively-mandated mileage standards in the name of protecting auto jobs. 

The state legislature refused – and still refuses – to pass auto inspection and emission standards all in the name of protecting auto jobs.

The corporate press failed its public responsibility in order not to pressure, scrutinize, or challenge the direction or decisions of the corporate auto giants.

GM literally crushed out of existence a road-ready electric car in favor of gas-guzzling vehicles.

The ironic result is a state with no mass transit system, no adequate mileage-efficient vehicles, no way to get polluting cars off the roads, no financially-healthy newspaper watchdogs, no electric car… and no thriving auto industry with plentiful jobs.

The Revenge

I ascribe all this to the revenge of the EV1.  You can see it, hear it, and feel it any time a politician, a policymaker, a reporter, or a corporate official feigns the need to build an electric car, or electric-hybrid, or the need to invent and build a good vehicle battery.  The electric vehicle was deliberately and consciously rejected to the long-term detriment of the public good – a truth that must be told as we sift through the ruins and history of the auto industry.

-- Rico Thomas Rico

P.S. Read my earlier piece on the electric car here.

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