Streams

Auto Restructuring

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

William Holstein, business reporter and the author of Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon (Walker & Company, 2009), looks at the GM and Chrysler’s restructuring plan and the long-term prospects for the Big Three.

Guests:

William Holstein
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [65]

gaetano catelli from manhattan

i agree with a number of the callers that the US auto industry should be nationalized. that way, we could produce cars like the glorious Chaika: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/86/53102chaika.jpg

Feb. 18 2009 10:05 PM
eva

Voter,
I think there's a value in having the shills on - at least you learn their absurd talking points.
This guy was edifying. I mean, seriously.
I think Andrea did a good job of pushing some important points gently enough that they guy did himself in. With him, that's all it took.
Sometimes you get a guest who is so ridiculous that they basically do the job on themselves. This was one of them.
The comments from WNYC listeners posted here say it all.

Feb. 18 2009 02:49 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

I have to agree with Jenny from Jackson Heights. This interview was full of obfuscations, company taking points, and (in cases like GM’s present day role in national defense and the manufacture of the AM General High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle also known as the Humvee) lies.
This isn’t even the first guest this month of highly dubious distinction with far right-wing views. Many of the same sentiments expressed by Jenny were voiced over the February 12, 2009 interview with Mr. Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America.

Feb. 18 2009 12:31 PM
Herbert kaufmann from Bedford, NY

Andrea Bernstein does a very good job as a filler-in for Brian Lehrer. BUT, someone should point out to her how often she says "you know." It introduces almost every phrase she speaks and detracts and distracts from her interviews.

Feb. 18 2009 12:24 PM
Jenny from jackson heights, NY

OK, I just have to say one more thing here, as a listener who truly appreciates WNYC. Why does WNYC almost NEVER have voices from the Left? I don't mean liberals, but true left-wingers? You feature tons of pundits on the center, which is great. But it seems to me that WNYC, perhaps in an effort to avoid being labeled "too liberal," bends over backward to feature people with really pretty extreme right-wing views. When is the last time someone on the left, as far left as this GM guy is on the right, was featured on WNYC? The result is that our political dialogue is deprived of perfectly legitimate left-wing voices. If you're going to feature someone as distinctly supply-side, anti-union, and anti-environment as this man, where is the opposing voice? A trade-unionist? An environmentalist? Why are radically pro-corporate voices considered legitimate, yet radically anti-corporate voices are somehow "fringe"? And I do mean RADICALLY anti-corporate.

Feb. 18 2009 12:09 PM
Voter from Brooklyn

Not quite HJS. Early capitalist, the robber barons if you will, lived by one rule modern capitalist/free marketeers do not. “You don’t cook the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
Today, they fight over the flesh of the bird and who’s getting a wing, breast, or thigh at the cost of production. Then, when they’ve consumed their part, they wonder why there are no more golden eggs.

Feb. 18 2009 12:08 PM
Jenny from jackson heights, NY

This guest was an insult to WNYC listeners. It is obvious that he is completely in the pocket of the auto industry. He "pitched" the book to GM? Indeed, who booked this man to be on the show? Do we really need to dignify the positions anymore of those who would imply that global warming is not an emergency? And if you are going to have someone like this on the show, PLEASE, be prepared to be tougher on him when he lies. This interview was painful to listen to.

Feb. 18 2009 11:58 AM
concerned listener

Your guest said he was paid by GM to write the book...listen carefully. Several years ago, he wrote a glowing cover story about Rick Waggoner at the CEO magazine he edited. He had an obligation to say all this, less obliquely, up front. It seems his conflicts slipped by your normally crack production staff.

Feb. 18 2009 11:57 AM
hjs from 11211

voter
"all trying to milk the company for all it’s worth…"
i think that's the definition of capitalism
greed uber alles

Feb. 18 2009 11:16 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

BTW HJS, I do agree with you on the billions in bonuses for lackluster performance, the poor planning and the bad business model. What people seem to forget is that there are three parties at fault, all trying to milk the company for all it’s worth… The executives, the investors, and the unions.

Feb. 18 2009 11:05 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

I’ll come to Gina’s defense, though I may not totally agree with her. How many people here have worked with union and non union workers? I have, during a summer job in a naval repair yard. Union employees are basically automatons holding positions where they are paid to do and not to think. They do the task at hand and only the task at hand for the prescribed times and take every break on cue. They also return to work on cue and when the bell rings and the work day stops, they stop. Growing up in a union household and attending union functions, the mentality is “without us and our abilities to do (not think) the company is nothing.” “We are owed the lifestyle we feel we deserve because we make the company.” This can be anything from extensive healthcare plans that should be single-payer anyway to more vacation days than the American market would support. You also have union workers who have a grossly inflated idea of what lifestyle their job should afford… All the gadgets their hearts desire… A second or third car…. A vacation rental on the coast or lake… Retirement at 55 or 60 with another 15-30 years of being taken care of on the company dime. I’m all for Social Security, Medicare, and even programs like Medicaid, but Unions are far from being the early 20th Century freedom fighters they used to be.

Feb. 18 2009 11:01 AM
Phoebe from NJ

The unions certainly didn't cause the problem, but they are of no help in reform. I'm very familiar with the UAW, and they block new hires (relatives preferred), stifle innovation, promotion is based on seniority and not skill or application, and pay is not comparible with other skilled blue-collar jobs or even most white-collar jobs ($150k+, including overtime, no healthcare contribution, definded pension plan etc.). Good for the people working there, but conditions are out of line with the "average" American.

Feb. 18 2009 10:54 AM
David Kabat from Westchester, NY

Hi Andrea,

I'm not sure why but your guest comes off very abrasive, and hostile: demeaning people in New York and Washington for not getting the good people of the Midwest and manufacturing in general.

His views also don't impress me: has he any idea what to do with the spent Lithium ion batteries he's proselytizing about?

Why is he defending the likes of Rick Wagonner? And why is he making "environment" a dirty word? Makes me wonder if he's in climate change denial?

My understanding of shopping (for anything) is that you get to pick from what's available for sale. If the American car company "luminaries" would stop trying to make cars sexy or luxurious to fulfill a fantasy, maybe they could actually make a car that's useful and not a detriment to our environment. They should never have built SUVs and Hummers. They were too blind to be leaders and they should be relieved of their command of this industry. People will choose what to buy from what's available.

Feb. 18 2009 10:48 AM
Josh from New York

Why bother to even have someone like this on the show? I think you can do better.

Feb. 18 2009 10:45 AM
Jason from Staten Island

Who booked this guy indeed. I think a more balanced "expert" could have been found. Really disappointing. I expect more from the Brian Lehrer show and WNYC.

Feb. 18 2009 10:41 AM
alistair whitman

that guest sounded as dismissive and arrogant as the automobile chieftains in Detroit.

Feb. 18 2009 10:39 AM
Cliff from NYC

Now I wonder how many of us are rushing on to Amazon or down to B&N to buy this guys propaganda? LOL

Feb. 18 2009 10:38 AM
mc from Brooklyn

Oh, that's great, Gina. Let's blame it all on the unions.

Feb. 18 2009 10:38 AM
hjs from 11211

Gina
unions are at fault?
not the billions in bonus?
not the poor planning?
not bad business model?
REALLY?

Feb. 18 2009 10:37 AM
Cliff from NYC

Did this guy say he first tried to sell this book to GM? Enough said.

He should go to Malaysia where the gov't has deemed their auto industry to be essential. You can't even buy a Japanese auto without a heavy excise tax and you've never seen a Malaysian car for sale in the US because they are crap.

Let GM and the rest tank and inventive entrepreneurs will be clambering for the hard assets and for the workforce to make their offerings.

Feb. 18 2009 10:35 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

China is going to be producing all the cars soon anyway. We survived the passing of the horse and buggy and covered wagon industries, so who says the US absolutely needs a domestic auto industry? Why not produce more individual space ships, or robots, or sedgeways, or something else more technically advanced than cars? The US invented the personal computer, and it quickly turned it into a huge industry, so why can't someone think up something new? We shouldn't be throwing too much taxpayer monies at old ideas and old technologies that no longer meet our needs as they once did. WE should subsidize the future, not the past.

Feb. 18 2009 10:35 AM
Nancy from Manhattan

The complaint that a government decision to manufacture more energy-efficient cars would be too costly because consumers wouldn't necessarily buy the cars is specious: More people might buy more energy-efficient cars if the price was right. And, if we're going to sink all this money into "saving" GM and Chrysler, why not use some of that money to subsidize the production of greener cars?

Feb. 18 2009 10:35 AM
hjs from 11211

tony
people live longer in france

Feb. 18 2009 10:35 AM
Caitlin from Sunset Park

Don't get me wrong, I am ALL for much much much more mass transit, but it won't be much of a help in rural areas, where people often live miles down a dirt road, and having a pickup truck is simply more practical than a tiny hybrid when it comes to hauling around wood, gravel, etc.

(Also, I have to stick up for my first car, a '90 Buick Skylark named Lucinda, who had lots of personality and somehow got 30 mpg.)

Feb. 18 2009 10:33 AM
Gina Nicholl from Michigan

Why don't they get rid of the unions? There are great labor laws now. Unions are outdated and seem to be the downfall of GM

Feb. 18 2009 10:32 AM
Scott from Astoria

It a bit painfull to listen to how shallow his analysis is on this matter. He's been around too much group think. Perfect example:

He said a nation needs an automobile industry so they have the ability to quickly re-tool for national defense, giving our ability to re-tool the Hummer as his example. Then LITERALLY in the next breath, he says how responsible GM is in their restructuring, trying to save costs by selling off Hummer - and he doesn't see any dissonance there.

(and apparently didn't realize how many arms had to be repeatedly twisted to get those updates made to HUM-V armor in the first place - GM was certainly NOT leading the way)

And then 5 minutes later when the host mentioned retooling for other transportation needs (like rail), the guest COMPLETELY forgets AGAIN his own argument about how great it is that we have these companies who can retool, and instead amazingly argues they _shouldn't_ retool for other transportation opportunities. I nearly spit out my coffee when I heard this - exactly the type of short-sighted (non)strategic thinking that got the Big 3 into this mess.

Feb. 18 2009 10:32 AM
Rob from Brooklyn

"That's just crazy!"

This guy has no credibility whatsoever. And who pitches their book to the subject before pitching it to a publisher?

Who booked this guy??!?!

Feb. 18 2009 10:32 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

Why favor union workers over non-union workers? Bowing to the UAW will just increase inequalities.

Comrade, let the unions run the company. That worked so well in Soviet Russia and France.

Feb. 18 2009 10:31 AM
ericf

How could the federal government help the US auto industry with their employee benefits obligations? How would this affect overall competitiveness of the industry?

Feb. 18 2009 10:31 AM
oil monkey

wait wait wait.... what was that about 'pitching the book' to GM and then finding a publisher!?!?!?

Feb. 18 2009 10:31 AM
Jay from Atlanta (ex-Sunnyside)

I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that if demand were created for electric vehicles, auto companies would build them and banks would loan them money to design/build them (for a guaranteed market). What if the government distributed 30,000,000 coupons for free electric vehicles to current car owners (similar to the poorly executed digital tv converter coupons), and then made them good for a new vehicle that would produce zero emissions and cost $20,000 on the marekt. Car companies would be given incentive to quickly hire loads of people to design and build, we'd provide great benefit to the environment, and encourage lending throughout the auto industry.

Feb. 18 2009 10:30 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

Now this guy blames the Bush Administration for all the ills of the auto industry. Pass the buck, baby! Disgusting!

Feb. 18 2009 10:28 AM
skeptical from Manhattan

Why doesn't the auto industry create the demand for the more environmentally friendly cars, in the same way that they created a demand for Hummer, etc. It's a bit of a cop out to say they won't create environmentally friendly cars b/c they don't know if consumers will buy them.

Feb. 18 2009 10:28 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

A correction to my last post… The Hummer (the passenger car) and Humvee (the real military vehicle, not the toy-like passenger car) were both originally developed and manufactured by AM General. Am General sold the rights to the Hummer name to GM and continued to manufacture the vehicle with the exception of the H3 which was manufactured by GM. Either way, GM had nothing to do with the development of this vehicle and GM is not a serious defense contractor. All three of the Detroit auto companies could implode tomorrow and the United States will still be able to defend itself and have plenty of engines for passenger air travel and passenger and freight rail travel.

Feb. 18 2009 10:28 AM
Jason from Staten Island

Liar, liar, liar. One of his regular gigs is giving corporate CEOs lectures on communication. I get the feeling that being the cheerleader for their support and welfare (in the public benefit sense) helps him land more of these gigs.

Feb. 18 2009 10:27 AM
Susan from Kingston, New York

This guy is making the same old arguments! The people that continue to buy SUV and trucks after what we experienced last summer in terms of the price of gasoline are just plain idiots! GM is stalling, plain and simple. The reason people don't buy their cars was because they were so badly made for years. After owning better made foreign cars, why you even look at an American-made car?

Feb. 18 2009 10:27 AM
Scott from Astoria

If you really believe that people truly _want_ to buy GM cars but aren't b/c they can't get funding/credit, then NO AMOUNT of support to GM will help this situation. NONE.

You need to focus on getting credit supplies more liquid. Otherwise you dump $ into companies that STILL won't have any sales, and will go belly up.

Feb. 18 2009 10:27 AM
markBrown from markbnj.blogspot.com

the auto industry is dead..

forever...

Your guest is totally off base.

There will NEVER be another "auto market" like we had in this country.

The auto companies MUST realize that there IS no more auto business.

THEY MUST diversify...

THEY MUST create new business MODELS.

THE BUSINESS MODEL I PROPOSE ( GOING out of the AUTO business)
IS the ONLY solution.

I agree that WE NEED to save these manufacturing Jobs.

This guy is very nice, very knowledgable, but misguided.
look at what automag says (exactly what I said in NOVEMBER...
http://sos-newdeal.blogspot.com/2009/02/more-sources-auto-mag-says-make-it.html

--we need to get the car companies as green train makers.

Feb. 18 2009 10:26 AM
Andy from Brooklyn

The whole battle against nationalization is off target. The US should consider what Japan ACTUALLY DOES! Japan funds R&D of their autos all the way up until production. So, the cost difference isn't only rooted in health care and legacy cost.

And the idea that "a lightbulb went off" for auto execs is a farce. They got caught with their pants down after lobbying for decades against everything from seatbelts to cafe standards.

Feb. 18 2009 10:26 AM
antonio from park slope

I don't understand Bill, there are tons of industries that are subsidized by the government? I mean who does he thinks pays for all the interstates, roads? Burger King?

Feb. 18 2009 10:26 AM
yosif from Manhattan

How do you not mention healthcare? GM spends more on healthcare than on metal! We need national healthcare now. And GM not only made the bad decision to stop making the electric car, they destroyed them all! Their management deserves to lose their jobs, but their workers do not.

Feb. 18 2009 10:24 AM
b Lynd from NYC

My husband and I rent many cars a year because of our jobs. We are able to test out many GM cars. They are not cars we would buy ourselves because their cars are poorly made. Your guest is wrong that the problem is "bad perception".

Feb. 18 2009 10:22 AM
hjs from 11211

guest said "the governemnt is not smart enough"

and neither is the auto industry

Feb. 18 2009 10:22 AM
Phoebe from NJ

Toyota do not lose money on every Prius sold. Quit lying.

Feb. 18 2009 10:21 AM
Darius from Prospect Heights

What's this guy have against the environment?

Feb. 18 2009 10:21 AM
Richard from Manhattan

Hello! The reason GM cars fell out of favor with the vast majority of Americans is that they stopped making cars people love. Ever rent a Chevy Lumina or a Buick Skylark in the 80s or 90s? Cheap plastic interiors in cars with NO personality. People LOVE their Hondas and Toyotas. Not their Luminas.

Feb. 18 2009 10:20 AM
Jeff Weinstein from East Village

The guest is indistinguishable from a GM spokesman. Did the company fund his book in any way?

Feb. 18 2009 10:20 AM
Jake from Manhattan

What this requires is a complete paradigm shift. It's time to move away from automobiles and towards mass transit. Investment in high speed trains for distances of less than 500 miles and investment in cargo trains. This is the company that created and sold the Hummer! Your guest still says that people want SUVs. GM is doing everything they can to keep people wanting SUVs.

Feb. 18 2009 10:20 AM
Jamison from NYC

ALGAE FUEL!!!
Why do they never talk about this????

IT IS THE HANDS DOWN CLEANEST AND BEST WAY TO GO!!!

Feb. 18 2009 10:20 AM
markBrown from markbnj.blogspot.com

read my comment from november here...

http://sos-newdeal.blogspot.com/2008/11/next-prediction-save-car-companies.html

Isay we need to"
Give GM the Ca$H it wants, with a HUGE CATCH!!!!
Very Simple.
GM gets the $25 billion it wants. And America can also UNDO a huge injustice done to our cities.

GM (and the other Auto companies get the $$$). America gets to tell them where to invest the ca$h. IN TRANSPORTATION infrastructures.

Feb. 18 2009 10:20 AM
oil monkey

Good lord, this is going from bad to worse! What a bunch of bogus non-sense this guest is spouting. He absolutely must have a direct connection to the auto industry.

Feb. 18 2009 10:18 AM
hjs from 11211

GM could make wind turbines

Feb. 18 2009 10:17 AM
Jake from Manhattan

This guy is a complete apologist for GM. His arguments just don't make sense.

Feb. 18 2009 10:17 AM
Voter from Brooklyn

Your guest is telling bald faced lies… The Humvee is not made by General Motors, it is manufactured by AM General, a private LLC. General Motors licensed the name to make the scaled down passenger car called the “Hummer”. Neither General Motors, Chrysler, nor Ford have any big stake in defense vehicles.

Feb. 18 2009 10:16 AM
AFisher from LIC

** GONG!!! ***

Feb. 18 2009 10:16 AM
markBrown from markbnj.blogspot.com

I disagree that we can "wait" for GM to eventually become a "rail manufacturer"

good questions Andrea.

auto companies(and GM) Needs to be PUSHed (via bankruptcy and NATIONALZEed) into

making green (alternative rail/heavy rail) products.

Feb. 18 2009 10:16 AM
Phoebe from NJ

Detroit has been trying to kill LEVs for years - some of the latest auto-industry sponsored legislation requires the Prius et al to have a "noise-making device" attached.

Let them reinvent themselves, at their own expense. Or fail. Like most other companies (other than banks, I guess!).

Feb. 18 2009 10:16 AM
jh from east village

GM doesn't produce military vehicles.

It's fine that this guest is a car-lover, but he's not said anything about preserving well-paid jobs. He mentioned replacing higher pay jobs with lower pay ones. We need to preserve jobs and incomes, not encourage car makers to shrink to the detriment of employees, and the car buyers (car makers still don't offer enough of what consumers want).

Feb. 18 2009 10:15 AM
Leo in NYC from Staten Island

The question isn't whether we need a domestic auto industry, the question is whether we need THIS (failed, sclerotic, bloated, irresponsible) auto industry. As opposed to a new, smaller, leaner industry dominated by new auto startups, funded by all of the new, green dollars that will undoubtedly start flowing from Washington any day and employing the highly skilled, laid-off workers from detroit.

Feb. 18 2009 10:15 AM
Che from Soho

What about the trucking industry... how environmentally friendly would it be if all our eco-conscious cars were trucked across this country in gas guzzling eighteen wheelers???

Feb. 18 2009 10:13 AM
AFisher from LIC

This guy sounds like a shill for the auto companies. So far he's said the best thing to restructure GM is break the Union and hire cheaper workers.

Feb. 18 2009 10:13 AM
Jason from Staten Island

Does this man have any ties to the car companies? This sounds like propaganda. Does he have ANYTHING negative to say about why the car companies have wound up in this position? Also, maybe the death of the "big 3" will make room for smaller, leaner manufacturers with better ideas and a modern business plan.

Be tough with him - he's contradicted himself several times already (e.g., Why do we care about the jobs GM supports if their plan is to convert their high-paing union jobs to low paying nonunion ones?).

Feb. 18 2009 10:13 AM
oil monkey

The guest is a short-sighted cheerleader for the auto industry. World oil production has or is now peaking and there is NOTHING that will replace it in terms of EROEI, not electric, nothing. The age of the abundance of privately-owned transit is beginning to end.

Feb. 18 2009 10:13 AM
Benjamin Johnson from NYC

Is this guest a shill for GM/car industry. Ask him if he is on the payroll of these companies

Feb. 18 2009 10:13 AM
markBrown from markbnj.blogspot.com

Please ask your guest to comment on the following questions:

1) are we asking the wrong question-- do we want to save the auto companies OR do we want to save the JOBS that the auto industry provides...( I say we want B, to save the jobs) *

2) the RIGHT answer to this is to NATIONALIZE the car companies to re-direct them into GREEN products [not green cars, ](like MASSS transit]

* see this link (http://sos-newdeal.blogspot.com/2008/12/auto-rescue-think-outside-of-box.html

** http://sos-newdeal.blogspot.com/2009/02/no-no-nono-thousand-times-no-car.html

Feb. 18 2009 10:07 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.