Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31: Give 'Em Hell, Barry!

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Kudos to NBC's Chuck Todd for incorporating history into his report last night: In his stand on two of the Big Three U.S. auto companies, President Barack Obama is essentially doing what President Harry Truman did with Big Steel almost 60 years ago.

Clearly someone had to act, because General Motors and Chrysler haven't been doing it themselves. The glory days when Lee Iacocca rescued Chrysler (with the help of a federal bailout) are long gone. The Chrysler history that goes back to the late 1800s may end with a whimper.

Then there is General Motors, the gold standard of American business for so many years. Then, former CEO Roger Smith began a battle with the unions that continues today. (For South Floridians, that battle serves as a reminder of the late-1980s struggles between Eastern Airlines and its machinists union, struggles that eventually brought that airline down.)

Obama blamed CEO Rick Wagoner for the GM-union battle, and Wagoner has resigned from his post. Like Chrysler, Wagoner's GM relied too much on the behemoth, gas guzzling vehicles until it was almost too late.

(On a personal level, I blame Wagoner for getting rid of Buick's most profitable and fuel-economical models, including the Century, which my family has driven in one form or another since 1976.)

Can GM and Chrysler save themselves by turning leaner and greener? Obama, at least, has given them that chance.

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