March 4, 2009 12:00

MEMO TO GM: We're as mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore

One week before President Obama delivered his first address to both houses of Congress, General Motors and Chrysler announced they were planning to ask the US government for an additional $22 billion in loans to stay afloat for the next three months.

The two automakers have already received more than $17 billion in taxpayer dollars. GM executives are claiming that without the additional billions, they will run out of cash as quickly as this month.

On Feb. 26, GM chief executive Rick Wagoner met with the auto industry task force created by the president to explain how the automaker managed to lose $9.6 billion dollars in the fourth quarter and nearly $31 billion in 2008. Last year, GM’s sales fell 11percent, making Toyota the world’s largest automaker and ending GM’s 77-year reign as No. 1. As part of its restructuring program, GM estimates it will close 12 plants and lay off more than 16,000 workers.

Let me see if I can get this straight: We’re supposed to give our tax dollars to two automakers that are going to turn around and put thousands of Americans out of work? GM and Chrysler say the government financing of their bankruptcies could cost the American taxpayer $125 billion.

Based on that estimate, each of us is expected to donate $1,000 of our hard-earned money to an industry run by incompetent idiots who have exhibited zero loyalty to their employees, spent the last century producing vehicles that have done irreparable damage to our environment and who decided to kill the electric car. We, as a nation, should reject giving another dime to these buffoons unless they can guarantee they will put hybrid and electric vehicles on the market in the next 12 months. In addition, GM and Chrysler should start those vehicles at under $20,000 and GMAC should offer attractive loan and lease offers to assist Americans struggling with bad credit.

In his speech last week, President Obama said, “Everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices.

But we are committed to the goal of a retooled, reimagined auto industry that can compete and win.” The only way to ensure that we’re not throwing good money after bad is for the US government to receive GM stock in return for its multi-billion dollar investment. Then, the US taxpayer would become a majority stockholder in the company, and we could determine if thousands of job layoffs are warranted. We could decide how quickly assembly lines are retooled to produce hybrid and electric vehicles. And we could help set price points for fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicles. A brief review of history reveals these auto executives are not to be trusted with our money.

In 2000, one month after GM acquired Hummer, company officials said there was no need to continue building the electric EV1 vehicles the company introduced in California in the late 1990s. Instead, most of the hundreds of electric vehicles that were manufactured were taken off the road and destroyed by GM. That’s right, destroyed as in crushed in the desert. For additional info, check out Chris Paine’s 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?. The movie’s website: GM now says it will drop Hummer this spring if it can’t find a buyer for the SUV maker. Apparently, no one wants to repeat one of the worst business decisions in US history.

Here’s the killer: At the time GM acquired Hummer, it had at least a two-year jump on the world’s carmakers with its electric car technology. Instead of capitalizing on this lead with hybrids and more electric vehicles, the geniuses at GM dropped the program and, in effect, dropped the ball. Now we, the American people, are being asked to pay for their monumental mistake.

Not only did GM drop the EV1, the carmaker worked in collaboration with the oil and gas industry and the Bush administration to help keep gas-guzzlers on the road. The unholy marriage between automakers, the White House and Congress has been part of the problem for nearly a century, and it simply has to stop. A prime example: In 2002, the Bush administration joined General Motors and Daimler- Chrysler in their lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board because the state agency adopted auto emission standards that were tougher than the federal standards.

Under California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, 10 percent of all new cars sold in state would have been electric by 2003. But CARB eventually caved to pressure and it never happened.

Automakers’ resistance to building hybrid and electric vehicles ultimately spelled doom for GM, Chrysler and others. The decision of former GM executive Roger Smith to close plants in Flint, Mich., in the 1980s and ship those jobs to Mexico also contributed to GM’s tenuous position. Smith’s decision to lay off 30,000 workers in Flint destroyed the city’s economy at a time when GM was enjoying record profits.

Today, Toyota sells 70 to 75 percent of the hybrid vehicles sold in the US including the most popular hybrid, the Toyota Prius. Do you think

Toyota taking the lead on producing hybrid and electric vehicles might have something to do with their dominance in the auto industry? Hmm. Something to think about.

The environmental facts are the most alarming. Burning a single gallon of gas in an internal combustion engine puts 19 pounds of CO into the atmosphere. Think 2 about that. A single gallon of gas equals 19 pounds of pollution.

The White House and Congress has not only been complicit in this injustice to our economy and our environment, it has been an equal partner. Case in point: Fuel efficiency standards for US vehicles have not changed in a quarter century. So last week, when President Obama stated the nation that invented the auto industry should not walk away from it, I applauded him. But we as a people are sick and tired of greed taking precedence over fairness and environmental responsibility.

The current recession could be seen as a great opportunity for those who are simply willing to take big risks. Automakers are playing with house money, but rather than move forward, what are they doing? Making job cuts, production cuts, and rolling out the same old tired technology that no one will buy anymore. When are these morons going to get it through their thick skulls? American consumers demand hybrid and electric vehicles today. Why should we have to wait until 2010 for Chevy to introduce the Volt? “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” — Peter Finch’s famous line in the 1976 film, Network — should be the mantra for the American people these days. If you’re angry about bailouts of Wall Street and automakers, you should put pressure on your representatives to do the right thing. Being happy to just have a job is the wrong approach. We find ourselves in dire economic times because of greed run rampant. We should not just be satisfied with living paycheck to paycheck, just barely getting by. We should ask for more. Republicans have criticized President Obama for going too far with his proposals to get our economy back on track. I would argue the president has not gone far enough.