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Why the American auto industry is in the toilet — some of it has to do with fundies

Cross-posted from Larry’s Phat Page.

Since I last headed out to the road on May 9, I have watched Big Oil even further twist the knife into the back of the American people with its obvious and illegal collusion to jack fuel prices up. The average price I have been observing (note: this is not from an official survey, but only from prices I have laid eyes on) has climbed beyond its post-Hurricane Katrina peak to levels never seen before; even in cheaper parts of the country, like the South, a gallon of regular-unleaded now runs about $3.10, and it’s higher elsewhere. (This past Friday night, May 18, I spotted an unbelievable $3.599 for regular in Naperville, IL!) I’ve talked about this on multiple occasions here before, and seeing as the Democrats we elected to do something about this are busy pissing themselves every time Chimpy threatens to veto any Iraq bill that doesn’t let him do whatever the fuck he wants, I’m not going to devote this update to what can or should be done to stop this.Instead, I’m going to talk about how Big Oil’s unrestrained, anti-Christian greed is already destroying our country’s economy. You’ve probably heard stories about how senior citizens in this country, living on fixed incomes, have sometimes had to choose between food or medicine because they don’t have enough money to pay for both. This is now beginning to happen with some low-income wage earners in this country, who may eventually be squeezed completely out of the labor market as they lose the ability to afford the gas to get themselves to work. (Already, a minimum-wage worker is giving away roughly 35 minutes of his/her livelihood just to pay for a gallon of gas — this is completely untenable in the long run.)

If Big Oil is not quickly forced to stop this price-gouging, it’s only going to get worse and begin to affect other sectors of the economy. The über-wealthy aren’t going to stop buying their high-end luxury items like yachts and Rolls-Royces, but makers of other “big-ticket” items that aren’t aimed at the Robin Leach set, from household appliances to electronics to more “pedestrian” car makes, are really going to suffer. Poor and middle-class people aren’t going to be able to afford HDTVs, refrigerators, ovens, Chevrolets, and other similar products, because more and more of their spare dollars will have to go toward gasoline.

This price-gouging by Big Oil also bears the primary responsibility for the sad state in which the American auto industry currently finds itself. In case you haven’t heard, Germany’s Daimler-Benz just rid itself of 80% of the Chrysler Group in a $7.4 billion sale to American equity firm Cerberus, amid announcements of 13,000 layoffs and significant plant closings. Additionally, the Ford Motor Company announced massive layoffs last year, comprising almost a quarter of the company’s hourly workforce, and is still hemorrhaging cash even as Bill Ford and Alan Mulally keep touting their “The Way Forward” turnaround plan. For its part, GM isn’t in the most peachy financial shape either, but its sale of its financial arm GMAC has left it in better health than its two American competitors.

One of the biggest reasons why the American automakers are tanking while import makes are thriving has much to do with this price-gouging of late by Big Oil. Take a look at the product lines of all of the various automakers; you’ll see that the domestic makes, especially those of Ford and Chrysler, are dominated by hulking SUVs and pickup trucks, while the Asian companies focus on offering a full lineup of actual cars and don’t get caught up in the SUV/truck hype. This is a carryover from roughly a decade and a half ago, when the Big Three started to heavily promote SUVs as status symbols for soccer moms instead of the work vehicles they are really designed to be.

Given that kind of promotion, it’s no wonder why SUVs and trucks took off so fast in the early and mid-1990s. In fact, as the decade progressed, they grew to hulking proportions never seen before with the GMC/Chevy Suburban, Ford Expedition and Excursion, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Hummer, which became a division of GM in 1998, unleashed a civilian H1 that gets less than 10 mpg (more than 23.5 L/100 km) upon America, and even its smaller H2 — which is still large enough to require center marker lamps like those found on buses and tractor-trailer trucks — averages barely 12 mpg (19.6 L/100 km). America’s gas consumption ballooned as these vehicles were bought up left and right and began to appear in every other driveway, even though Big Oil was still being held in check by the Clinton Administration.

As demand for these vehicles soared, so did the profits that GM, Ford, and Chrysler could reap by building them. The domestic automakers largely forgot about their car lineups, instead going after these huge profits that could be made in the SUV and truck markets. This was all fine and good while gas was still under $2.00 per gallon, as it was until Chimpy launched his disastrous, illegal war in spring 2003; but now that Big Oil has figured out that it can use said “war” as an excuse to justify raping us, sales of those gigantic behemoths have plunged. This has left the American automakers, particularly Ford and Chrysler, with nothing in their product lineup that can sell very well, and for this reason, they are suffering terribly.

Even the recent trend by Ford and Chrysler toward so-called “cross-over” vehicles, such as the Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Caliber, and Ford Edge, isn’t helping matters. Despite my parents’ 2006 purchase of a Pacifica, largely motivated by my father’s ability to get a Chrysler employee discount (because his father worked the assembly lines for thirty-odd years, and my grandmother — the Chrysler employee’s widow — is still alive), these vehicles still have the same fundamental sales issue as SUVs — only marginally better gas mileage. The smallest, highest-mileage vehicles made by these companies anymore are at least mid-size cars, like the Ford Fusion, Dodge Avenger, and Chrysler Sebring.

In spite of having the Suburban, the Chevy Tahoe, and the Cadillac Escalade in its lineup, GM isn’t quite as guilty as the other two American automakers. Its truck division, GMC, started promoting itself as more of a builder of work vehicles a few years ago, and thankfully doesn’t try to court the soccer-mom market that much anymore. Also, you can actually find compact and sub-compact cars, such as the Chevy Aveo, in GM’s lineup, and the Pontiac division really doesn’t do SUVs at all. Still, the large presence of SUVs and trucks in its lineup is a big reason why GM, while it is still healthier than Ford and Chrysler, now sits #2 in the world behind Toyota.

Meanwhile, the three biggest Asian marques — Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai — actually concentrate on providing a full lineup of smaller, much higher-mileage cars. All of them sell a sub-compact (Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Accent), a compact car (Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra), and a mid-size car (Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Hyundai Sonata); also, Toyota and Hyundai both sell a larger and more luxurious, but still mid-size, “flagship” for the brand (Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera). Toyota does offer almost as many trucks and SUVs as American companies do, but at the same time, it also brought the first hybrid vehicle to the American market with the Prius. Honda doesn’t do large SUVs — its largest non-car is the crossover Pilot — and it only offers one truck, the Ridgeline. Hyundai is much the same, offering only a compact SUV (Tucson) and a mid-size SUV (Santa Fe).

It stands to reason, therefore, why the Asian automakers are doing so much better than the American ones. The perception of higher quality for the Asian makes — even for Hyundai, which was once ridiculed for its poor quality but finished second in J.D. Power’s 2006 rankings — doesn’t hurt either. Combine that with the fact that Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai are giving the American public what it wants — better fuel efficiency — and it’s no wonder why Chrysler and Ford are both swirling the bowl. This is no doubt a large part of the reason Daimler decided to dump Chrysler — they’re not stupid in Stuttgart, and they could see the writing on the wall.

Note that so far, I have not been saying much about minivans. While there was a huge minivan craze in the 1980s, I would think that the minivan segment has become more of a niche market these days; a lot of people who would be presumed to be in the minivan market have turned more to SUVs these days. SUVs offer more room and less in the way of annoying quirks (e.g., sliding side doors, difficulty of under-hood maintenance, etc.) than minivans, and a lot of minivans these days don’t get that much farther on a gallon of gas than do SUVs. For those reasons, minivans are now much less popular than they were at their peak, and a lot of people have turned to SUVs to meet those needs.

During my last time at home, as it was becoming clear to my father that I was considering a car purchase as part of moving my life forward, he asked why I was looking mostly at imports. Noting the pain that Ford and Chrysler are in, he suggested something to the effect of, “don’t you think you should buy a domestic car to help out our struggling automakers? Isn’t that the patriotic thing to do?” While such sentiments are noble in and of themselves, and perhaps to be expected of the son of a former Chrysler assembly-line worker, my reply shot down that faulty logic: “It’s not my fault they’ve put all their eggs in the SUV basket. If they made cars that actually appealed to me, then I would certainly think about it.”

Frankly, even with the possibility of using my grandmother’s Chrysler employee discount, I still don’t care for the looks and the feature/price combinations of the Sebring, the 300, the Avenger, or the Magnum. A similarly-equipped Ford Fusion or Chevy Impala is $1,000 to $2,000 less than a Chrysler Sebring, and both are quite a bit more visually appealing to me as well. The reason why I’m more or less settled on the Hyundai Sonata (when I get around to buying it) again has a lot to do with features and price; I’m getting basically the same $26,000 Sebring (as far as equipment goes) for $21,500 in a Sonata.

Of course, if gas keeps skyrocketing while diesel stays a lot lower (case in point: regular unleaded $3.399, diesel $2.679 in Seymour, IN on Thursday night), I might just wait for the fall, when Volkswagen will release its new 2008 Jetta TDI diesel. I would be sacrificing more than half the power of a V-6 Sonata (232 HP/173 kW, vs. 100 HP/74.6 kW for the 2006 Jetta TDI), but if Big Oil is gonna jack it up to $5.00 per gallon for gas, I don’t know what other choice I would have.

I have one more thing I wanted to say about Big Oil. We already know that Big Oil dramatically lowered its prices last fall to try to help its Rethuglican enablers hold on to the majority in Congress; in fact, I recently saw evidence that this has happened in every recent election where Rethuglicans were trying to hold onto the White House or a Congressional majority. They probably won’t repeat such obvious malfeasance in 2008, with the Democrats virtually guaranteed the keys to the White House because everybody hates Chimpy so much; but just wait for 2010 or especially 2012.

You think you’re hurting now at $3.30 or $3.40 per gallon? Well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet; just wait for those $10.00 prices to hit in the run-up to those elections — the soup lines of 1933 will look like boom times by comparison. They’ll do anything to get Democrats out of office, even cause the worst depression the world has ever seen just to make Pelosi, Reid, and (insert one) Obama/Hillary/Edwards look bad. You heard it here first.

Finally, no analysis of the current situation in which high gas prices are killing the SUV-dominated American car companies would be complete without an examination of the role played by so-called “fundamentalist ‘Christianity’.” It might seem at first glance like I’m just bashing “Christians,” but believe me, their so-called “religious” beliefs have a lot to do with American automakers’ current predicament. Think about it: the one obvious effect of all of their condemnations of homosexuality, their moves to severely restrict access to abortion and contraception, their lies about condom effectiveness, and their “bury their heads in the sand” approach to the truth about the human sex drive, would be more children, right?

I mean, if society is told that all sex must be of the straight variety, without contraception, and must involve only the penis and the vagina (i.e., no mouths, hands, etc. that would make it much safer), and that condoms are so unreliable as to be practically useless, and that anything conceived in said encounter(s) cannot be aborted — or else God will be “mad” — then a baby boom is the obvious, logical result. And when a couple buys this “fundamentalist ‘Christian’” bullshit and follows it to its logical conclusion of six children, what kind of car do you think they’re going to have to buy? That’s right — a huge fucking SUV.

God commanded us to be stewards of His earth (Psalm 24:1), not destroy it with behemoth sub-15 mpg (15.7 L/100 km) Hummers, Excursions, and Suburbans. I think a good start on following this command of God would be to let “fundamentalist ‘Christian’” propaganda about sexuality go in one ear and out the other. If we weren’t fucking so damn much, and especially doing it without the protection about which “Christians” feed us non-stop lies, we might not have such huge families that require these giant vehicles to get around. It would also help if we weren’t condemning homosexuality to the point where many of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children — whom He created that way for a reason — feel the need to “fit in” and pretend to be straight, often having children in the process.

That means we need to eliminate this hetero-supremacist attitude, one held by many so-called “Christians,” from our society:

The fact is, heterosexuality is innately superior. Only heterosexual partners enjoy the complimentary aspect of their physiology, and only they can produce children.

In closing, I just wanted to point out the irony — and hypocrisy — inherent in the American “Family” Association’s so-called “boycott” of Ford, given the facts I have laid out previously in this entry. For people who claim they’re “boycotting” Ford for its supposed “support for a ‘homosexual agenda’,” their so-called “religious” views on sexuality actually do Ford a great deal of help — the more kids they pop out, the more SUVs they need. This rising tide the AFA causes in the SUV market lifts all boats, including Ford’s. So there you have it — “Christians” proven to be lying hypocrites, again and again.

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