A recent news article came out that presented the position of a number of high ranking executives at GM: essentially, they were upset that the US Treasury wouldn’t sell their share of GM at a loss in order to remove themselves of the “Government Motors” stigma. Now, I personally would be more upset of the stigma that my company had gotten in the position it was in by shoving a shit product down the throats of US consumers and needed to go crawling on hand and knee to an organization that knows as much about cars as it does the Internet, but that is neither here nor there. They were also upset about the government restrictions on them using private jets, and I’ll just leave that there to stew and piss you off some more. Articles like the piece mentioned above are about to start coming fast and furious (you can laugh now) as the US elections approach. As one of the largest manufacturing industries in the US, it is without question that the current state of our automotive industry will be a constant topic of debate. The auto industry has become politicized: GM has closed plants down to stump speeches, anti bailout forces and those against “big government” are behind Ford for doing things the right way, and a government that owns near as makes no difference 30% of the General is constantly investigating its biggest competitor. Unfortunately, this is nothing new.
It sure was nice of them to circle the problem.
Last week, my swarthy and adventurous cowritter sent me a text in regards to the Volkswagen Amarok. For those of you who don’t know, the Amarok is VW’s answer to what we know as the Toyota Tacoma or Nissan Frontier, and also competes with the vastly-superior-to-the-US-market export model Ford Ranger. It is a rather capable vehicle despite the fact that it does not come equipped with the V10 TDI. The Amarok, like the Tacoma’s foreign brother Hilux, is a popular vehicle because it fills a niche that Steven himself points to consistently – people who legitimately need a truck but don’t need to tow a house. The Amarok is to my understanding a solid midsize truck, gets good mileage, and even serves as a better daily driver to the Tacoma. This vehicle would, in theory, sell like the proverbial hot cakes over here. But like most of the good GM and Ford products, it wanders over the old country while we get stuck with rebranded Dodge minivans and Jettas purchased for no other reason that someone wanting to say they have a German car. Why? Because
This picture was not as hard to find as you’d think
Yes, good readers, we don’t get to have all those cool world model light trucks because of chickens. Not even dirty, communist chickens, but our own chickens. It is important to understand that around this time, chicken went from being a luxury food item to a staple of most of the diets of the civilized world because it tastes like everything. Following the end of World War II, Germany (well, the western chunk at least) and its former post modernist art canvas France were in the process of rebuilding. As a result, they wanted to increase the purchase of domestically grown foods such as poultry, and levied a pretty heavy tax against cheaper (and possibly steroid and arsenic fed) US grown and imported chicken. The Dutch even accused us of dumping chicken below market prices, because we were a bunch of scandalous mother truckers back in the day. The consequence of this tax was a US tariff levied against imported potato starches, brandy, dextrin, and light trucks. Yes, the same truck that people really need even if they don’t need to tow a house, but would come in useful if driving to the North Poll. Over time and through an intense period of negotiations known as the chicken war, all the tariffs were eventually removed. Well, all the ones except for light trucks. The move became the go to move of post Johnson administrations that ran afoul the UAW. The solution was easy: introduce some sort of protectionist policy against a product that really doesn’t have a US based competitor, and keep the UAW from striking. Don’t think that they’ll forget who backed them at the ballot box, either. In 1964, US market sales of the popular Volkswagen Type 2 and other German built light pickups dropped in value by $5.7 million. At the time, that was a lot of money.
Dear GM: Thank you for sucking so hard we don’t get anything cool
There were other unintended consequences other than us not getting the good version of the Ford Ranger. The tax effectively killed the importation of light pickups in the US and protected the domestic automotive manufacturers from knowing any true competition. Quality and engineering dropped because US consumers really didn’t have any other choice, and the domestic auto manufacturers started the long decline into the above mentioned program of shoving shit products down our collective throats. We all now know how well that turned out.
This truck is more American than any Ford, Dodge, or Chevy.
However, there was one upside to this. The US economy has benefited from the movement of production facilities into the US. Toyota and Nissan now build their popular and uncontested champion light trucks here in the US. Hell, the Toyota Tacoma is more of an American pickup than anything cranked out by the Big 2.5. Honda and Subaru have joined as well, and even BMW, VW, and Mercedes are building here in the states. These facilities have created countless jobs across the spectrum of manufacturing employment, and have boosted local economies in a number of states.
The automobile is part of American culture.
Our society was built on the idea of free movement; the idea that when stuff starts to suck, you can get up and go somewhere that it doesn’t. The car is more than just transportation, the car is one of the most visible forms of freedom that we enjoy. It allows us to travel at our leisure, protecting us from the elements as we traverse great expanses. Therefore, it is no surprise that the auto industry has been politicized the way it has. Just don’t think it started with a bail out because GM was
too dumb to succeed too big to fail.
The Ford Ranger that the rest of the world gets…
*I’d like to thank local radio host Ed Wallace, as without him it would have taken me a lot longer to learn about the Chicken Tax. Because of his show, I’ve known about this esoteric piece of legislation for a number of years now. If you are in the DFW Metroplex, or can at least hear our radios, I highly recommend getting up early on Saturdays and listening to his show on 570 KLIF.