25 Oct

Our Cars, Ourselves

What incentive does it have to sell? It already has my money, your money, our children’s money.

By MARC FITTEN, Op-Ed Contributor, NYT, October 25, 2009



I DECIDED to buy a car. Actually, I didn’t decide so much as realize that at 198,000 miles, even my ever-trusty Honda couldn’t last forever. Now, I didn’t trade it in with cash for clunkers. I got rid of it the old-fashioned way. I sold it for $500 to a college student who was thrilled to have it. She took my old/her new Honda to a mechanic, gave it a wash, put a Coldplay bumper sticker over the dent and went on her merry way. And I decided to get out there, do my part and buy American. I grew up in a Chevy family, after all, so I figured I’d return to my roots.

But then I drove by the very empty General Motors plant in Doraville, north of Atlanta. One hundred and sixty five paved acres is a lot of land, and in the middle of a city its silence is obvious. I slowed down to take a closer look. The plant was eerily still under the open sky. Its smokestacks loomed over my head with nary a puff. Nature was struggling to reclaim the space, and grass was growing through the cracks around the lot. It looked as if a meadow was trying to break through the asphalt. But the grass was already turning yellow.

Luckily, the folks in Michigan have a sense of humor, and they put a billboard up to lift my spirits. A billboard advertising a Chevy pickup towered above the empty plant. It’s arranged so that folks stuck in traffic on the Interstate alongside can see it. Well, then I got kind of angry.

You want to know what G.M. means to me? Twelve-hundred people out of work at this plant, four to five times as many other people affected in the Atlanta area, and a blow to a proud, struggling town. The whole thing is a fiasco. I’m not even going to mention the three empty G.M. dealerships down the street. And G.M. can’t even let a meadow be a meadow.

But later on when I’m test-driving a not-Chevy car, I hear something that makes my stomach start doing flips: the 165-acre tract where the G.M. plant stood for 60 years is not even being marketed to sell. It’s being left to rot. A ruin. In the middle of the city! There are real estate prices to think of, I guess, and G.M. is looking for top dollar, maybe $70 million or so. The county appraises the land at only $53 million, but counties are silly that way. And while there was a $45 million bid, fair by today’s standards, G.M. said no thanks. Why should it? What incentive does it have to sell? It already has my money, your money, our children’s money.

So, to recap: G.M. closes said plant and lays off 1,200 people in time for the economic crisis to begin. G.M. gets $19.4 billion in government bailout money. This doesn’t help G.M.’s problems and it goes bankrupt anyway. So G.M. gets an additional $30 billion. The company sheds brands and more jobs. Real estate nosedives. Developers move in to buy the tract, but G.M., with its corporate coffers full of our billions, doesn’t sell. Nature tries to take over and make a meadow out of the lot, but can’t break through the asphalt. Employed economists say the recession is over. I sell my Honda to a college student who needs one, and now that I’m buying a car, I’m supposed to open my wallet and give G.M. $20,000 plus interest?

This sort of nonsense is why most car buyers are abandoning their old brand loyalties. And the craziest part of all? G.M. is my company! Mine and yours — 60 percent of it owned by us. It is in all our interests for all of us to buy their vehicles and get G.M. off the dole. I get it. Save American manufacturing. But I can’t do it. G.M. already got $50 billion of my money and your money this year. What problem could you possibly have that $50 billion can’t fix? With that kind of cash, every driver in America, every 10 years on our birthday, like clockwork, should get a Chevy free for life… along with a card.

So I won’t be buying that Chevy, not for a long while. Not until General Motors has responsibly sold every empty plant across this country to the benefit of every American town that had its back for the last hundred years. At the very least, it should let the grass grow.

Oh, I forgot to mention what I bought. It was a car from the one American automaker that didn’t take any bailout money. A Ford! Can you believe it? It’s as if the sky turned purple and we all speak Martian.

Comments are closed.

© 2021 | Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

Global Positioning System Gazettewordpress logo