Home folks think I’m big in Detroit City
From the letters that I write they think I’m fine
But by day I make the cars
By night I make the bars
If only they could read between the lines . . .
For decades, Detroit has been America’s whipping boy. It’s not as if the Big Three automakers haven’t given us plenty of reasons to dislike them. Few people who ever drove a Chrysler K-car are likely to rank that experience among their happiest. In the mid-70’s, driven in large part by the rise of computer-aided design and government-mandated increases in fuel economy, industry executives drew what seemed a rational line between engineering and actual production. The result was products that worked well on paper, but not on pavement. (One of the things that helped make Saturn successful was a return to a better relationship between engineering and production.)
The industry has been notoriously slow to react to increases in gas prices, but those who fault the Big Three for building “boats” in the 70’s and GM and Ford for concentrating on trucks and SUVs over the past decade seem never to notice that the companies were responding to demand. In fact, if the Big Three had made their decisions in the opening years of the 21st century entirely on the basis of demand,...