Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A sign of things to come

As the US continues to focus its efforts on military conquest and corporate protectionism, expect to see more headlines like these:

Toyota Tops Auto Industry as Sales Surpass GM

General Motors Corp., for 70 years the lead player in the global automotive industry, fell to second place during the first three months of this year when its sales slipped behind those of Japanese industrial giant Toyota Motor Corp.

Driven by sales of its popular Camry and fuel-efficient Prius hybrid, Toyota on Tuesday reported global sales of 2.35 million vehicles in the first quarter of 2007, about 90,000 more vehicles than the quarterly sales reported by GM late last week.

It might seem ridiculous to say so, but it strikes me as quite obvious that, unless something changes drastically, the US is beginning its slide into that junkheap of history where so many past empires now find themselves.

One thing frequently lost in all the myriad discussions about BushCorp cronyism and corruption is the acknowledgment that these practices are also common in US business, and have much the same result: incompetence.

In fact, out of all the lies Bush has told us, one thing has come true, his promise to run government the same way the US runs its business. For every Michael Brown or Alberto Gonzales in the US government, thousands of their soulmates in incompetence infest US business.

Too long have American businesses been shielded from their own mis-management by US economic power and the feeding-frenzied US consumer.

But as other nations develop the economic capacity to demand the goods and services that, since World War II have been too expensive for any but the citizens a a few industrialized nations to afford, American business is facing competition that jingoistic calls to "Buy American" can hardly ameliorate.

And while all the armchair capitalists out there spout the merits of unhindered capitalism and rugged individualism (while their lobbyists simultaneously beg for handouts in DC) and block every effort by workers to achieve a bit of security in the name of free enterprise, one might take a step back and wonder how Toyota has achieved such success. One paragraph struck me as particularly revealing:

With a philosophy that revolutionized modern assembly line management, and prided itself on a patrician, lifetime employment policy for workers, Toyota has been gaining on General Motors for decades. Alongside modest standards such as the Camry, it has added cache at the high end with its luxury Lexus brand. It also anticipated the market with the introduction of the Prius hybrid at a time when rising gas prices and environmental concerns began turning consumers away from the trucks and sport utility vehicles that had become a staple of GM's business.

Strange, a secure work environment for workers is an essential element of the success of the world's new number one automaker. That and the wisdom to adapt its offerings to an evolving world rather than stick with models being quickly outmoded by a changing energy environment.

So, will US automakers and policy makers adjust to the changing circumstances?

Don't count on it.

At the same time, Congress is debating new vehicle-efficiency standards that could put U.S. automakers at a further disadvantage. The U.S. auto industry has stifled such changes for more than two decades, but increased concern about global warming and the environment has led even industry-friendly lawmakers to agree that fuel-efficiency improvements are needed. [Emphasis mine-CK]

Amazing. The one thing that might make US automakers more competitive by responding to consumer demand for more fuel efficient vehicles is viewed as a negative.


Well, all I have to say is heckuva job GM.

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