Posted on March 23rd, 2011 No comments
Straw men are easy to construct and even easier to knock down. That’s really the idea isn’t it? Create a fake issue, then counter it, voila! Your argument is made and won, all in the same breath.
So it goes with Marty Padgett’s piece on carconnection, “Why Detroit Isn’t The “New” New Orleans“.
I was directed to this piece by John Voelcker, an associate of Padgett’s. I’ve read, argued with and agreed with John’s writing for years. Basically, John is a good guy and so, I am sure, is Mr. Padgett. Which leaves me wondering, what was the impetus for carconnection to deliver what’s really a flame at the people of Detroit. Was it really one sentence in some Jalopnik piece? And how many sentient beings out of their teens really take Jalopnik seriously about anything?
Let’s start with the straw man. Padgett writes…
They’re both withered and pretty much defenseless–but does that mean Detroit is the new New Orleans? Does it deserve some kind of federal intervention? Here’s what our colleague, Jalopnik editor @RayWert says:
“Detroit’s New Orleans-like loss of population received no telethons or FEMA assistance. America doesn’t care about Detroit people.”
About what I would expect from Jalopnik. And Padgett deftly explains that no, you don’t get FEMA assistance for the kind of slow burn economic disaster that’s befallen Detroit for the last two decades (or more). That’s obvious. And without reading the Gawker piece (after years of wasting my time, I just don’t bother giving Nick Denton the click) I can’t really further delve into why Wert wrote what he did. Nor do I care to. I’m much more interested in what Padgett wrote for his site.
My argument with Padgett begins here:
And yet Detroit got cash anyway. The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions in bailout loans in 2009 that probably prevented the city’s head count from falling twice as far.
We have to parse this one carefully to really see the folly contained inside. On the exterior, it seems to a reasonable, common sense remark but it isn’t and here’s why.
“Detroit” didn’t get the “cash”. GM, Chrysler and Ford have been getting the cash. The difference is enormous. That, for the most part, GM, Chrysler and Ford care really care less about Detroit and the other former locations where they once made cars is self-evident. In the rush to “stay competitive” the big three have off-shored as much production as they possibly can ignoring any tie to the communities left behind in the desolation.
Then Padgett drops the trickle down bomb, “The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions” but it’s a weapon of misdirection. Again, the people of Detroit, the city of Detroit didn’t get this money. The automakers who have become pseudonymous with the city they once built cars in got the cash. Some of that federal largesse went to facilities in Detroit, much of it, arguably most of it, did not. None of it went to the people of Detroit or the city of Detroit to help them grapple with the problems they face.
That doesn’t even begin to account for the ongoing subsidies Detroit gets indirectly from federal programs for investing in green-car technology and in sub-federal money that keeps factories alive when they probably weren’t viable on their own account.
Again, the difference between the city receiving monies and the car companies, two thirds of which are now located the suburbs surrounding the city, cashing in is enormous. In many cases the big three have invested that subsidy money, as they have to, domestically. Have that money been spent in Detroit? No, not in its entirety by any means.
As for factories that “weren’t viable on their account” who is to blame for that? The people of Detroit? Are they somehow less productive employees than other places? Or maybe it’s the city of Detroit, maybe the city itself is to blame? I think the blame for the viability of factories rests solidly, but not solely, on the car companies, their managers and executives. Those same executives, by the way, who have been real benefactors of the government bailouts Padgett mentions. Those execs have been collecting their salaries and bonuses while their former factories decayed and their business models were invalidated. Blaming it on the city or on the employees isn’t just wrong, it’s malicious.
Padgett continues to erect straw creations for ceremonial burning…
The second point’s much worse. “America doesn’t care about Detroit people” is political plutonium.
And then he launches into some sideways thing about George Bush. Look, honestly, America doesn’t much care about Detroit any more than it cares about Wilkes-Barre, Cleveland, Gary, Pittsburgh, Rochester, South Bend, Flint or Milwaukee (to name just a few cities). America, passively or otherwise seems to be pretty comfortable allowing the industrial part of our economy to wither and die only to be replaced by the service economy, yes, a nation of fast food and hotel employees. I don’t want to get off track and dig into the politics of all of that but I do think it bear mentioning that if we, as a nation, cared about this sector of the economy and the cities and states that depended on it, we might have talked about building other things or modifying the ways we build things here. Instead, most of us were perfectly content to encourage and subsidize the big three to move as much manufacturing out of this country as possible. If that is “caring” I’ll take apathy.
It’s inflammatory, much like the Jalopnik post that inspired Padgett to write what he did but I do think there is something valid in the comparison. Not a direct one to one comparison, life and reality is seldom that simple. But as a metaphor things like the image below help us see things differently. They force to re-evaluate the so odiously misnamed common wisdom and perhaps, see more truth than we did before. This is one of the first page of Michael Moore‘s 1996 book, “Downsize This!”
The top image is the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that was bombed by Timothy McVeigh. The lower image is a closed factory in Flint. Before you dismiss the comparison, again, not a direct one, consider the following. The Murrah tragedy was the act of one man intentionally trying to destroy federal property and maim and kill. The second image, the Flint factory was the direct result of auto executives making intentional decisions to close a local factory, fire workers there and demolish the building. They’re not the same acts by any means but the point Moore makes in his book is simple and obvious, both acts had much the same results. Lives were ended prematurely. Families were destroyed. Communities were devastated. Was this the fault of those workers? Were they just not good enough? Did they deserve what they got?
In his second to last paragraph Padgett blames Detroit’s ills on, “the unions, and an overbearing, overburdened city government”. Notice what’s missing?
Padgett won’t get an argument from me that some unions have, at times, been out of control. But it’s difficult to blame the big three’s ills on the unions, after all, did the big three also sign onto all those contracts? If those contracts are burdensome or badly negotiated, why did they agree to them?
And Detroit’s civis issues have been well publicized. Their laughable civic government is, well, laughable. And not defend them but allow me to add this. Anyone who has ever run a business can understand this. A growing business is one that is typically much more simple to manage than one that is shrinking. Detroit has been a basket for a long time because of an ever more eroding tax base, and ever increasing burden of costs associated with managing a shrinking economy. For anyone, even the best of civic leaders, Detroit would be a serious challenge.
And ponder this for a moment, what’s been run worse? The city of Detroit, with no federal help and a shrinking economy or the big three car companies with tons of federal assistance and a mandate from the government that they are too big to fail?
Padgett closes with the follow…
New Orleans has levees. Detroit has denial. They’re both Achilles’ heels, but one doesn’t have to be.
Wow, game, set, match. If only Detroit would just pick itself up by its rusty bootstraps and be a real city, it wouldn’t be losing population at a ridiculous rate, turning over entire blocks into improvised gardens and still be host to innumerable empty factories, homes and offices.
I would say that there is some serious denial taking place but it isn’t on Detroit’s part. No, it’s denial from those of us who think that a city devastated by outsourcing, rampant with private enterprise management as malfaisant as the very worst of its civic mishandlers, can just bounce back with a good attitude and the power of positive thinking. Detroit, as a place full of people, is emblematic of the what’s happened to once vibrant middle class this country had. And we ignore that lesson at our own peril.
My note: The title of this piece is, obviously, a line from Pink Floyd’s “Time” which, for some reason I only half understand, was resonating in my head while I wrote this. -russell
Posted on January 11th, 2010 No comments
I can’t say I think much of the video game music used during the reveal but I love the car. I would, quite frankly, love to see a small, two-person vehicle as well.
The most interesting thing is Mr. Lentz’s recapitulation of this morning’s press release announcing that Toyota USA would be working towards building a family of Prius models. Something which, if you haven’t been following too closely, was raised about two years but apparently squashed by Japan. With the go ahead from Japan the question becomes, how will Toyota fill out the Prius family? What will see first? I still the natural would be a Prius wagon and a Prius sports coupe. Maybe, since Toyota has not yet announced a US hybrid mini-van, maybe a Prius mini-van (though I think that whole mini-van concept is really played out).
I am also glad to see Toyota talking, publicly, about moving towards an entire line of electric vehicles. I think that is what the future holds for us and to pretend that gas will (or even should) be around forever is silly. If for no other reason, we need oil for a lot of other important things, we can use electricity to move us from place to place. So cheers to Toyota to taking a big public step and saying, yes, we’re going electric.
What do you think?
Posted on January 11th, 2010 No comments
Straight from Toyota to you…
DETROIT, January 11, 2010—Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A, Inc., today unveiled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit. The FT-CH is a concept that would address Toyota’s stated strategy to offer a wider variety of conventional hybrid choices to its customers, as it begins to introduce plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery electrics (BEVs) in model year 2012, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCHVs) in 2015 in global markets. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted on January 10th, 2010 No comments
One way to find out what will not be happening in the consumer trends for just about anything is to listen or read “industry analysts”. I tend read a lot of this stuff and I’m astonished at how often these people can be staggeringly wrong and go on to make fourteen new predictions the next week as though they’ve never stumbled.
Here’s a piece from the Detroit Free Press on why EV’s will continue to be a very small niche product until at least 2020 according to the Boston Consulting Group. BCG is a gun for hire, management consulting company. The obvious question here is, who’s paying for this study?
Curiously enough, there was an interesting link in the Free Press story by Justin Hyde, this blog post from, of all places, gm-volt.com, says that the Mini-E chokes in the cold, badly. I’m somewhat surprised to hear this but this is exactly companies test prototypes before going to production.
According to the writer of the gm-volt.com blog post, who is testing of the Mini-E’s, not only are the batteries battered by the cold but the driving performance in snow and ice renders the car almost unusable. The writer admits he hasn’t followed BMW’s recommendation to change the all-season tires to snow tires however.
Posted on January 8th, 2010 No comments
Toyota is officially teasing people with a portion of the new dedicated hybrid model they will debut at the Detroit auto show on Monday. It seems obvious it will be the Scion iQ. I could be wrong, but I’m not unsure. Sure, Toyota could be debuting a brand new, never seen before model but that seems unlikely and a bit un-Toyota-like. It seems more likely to me that the iQ will be the vehicle for two reasons;
-First Scion hybrid (Scion needs one hybrid in their lineup)
-Cheaper hybrid than the Prius or Camry, so it makes sense that it’s a Scion rather than a Toyota
All told, my blathering doesn’t matter much and we’ll know in a few days.
Here’s the iQ concept shot:
And here’s the teaser pic from Toyota:
It’s close, not a perfect match but very close.
Posted on May 29th, 2009 No comments
Come on Mark Phelan of the Detroit Free Press, it’s your job to cover cars, this is obviously dumb…
The Insight’s styling screams hybrid, largely because it’s nearly indistinguishable from the Prius. Honda insists that’s coincidental — looks dictated by aerodynamics, not a calculated marketing decision. Perhaps, and maybe the $10 knock-off purses sold on the street just happen to look a lot like designer Gucci bags.
And this is from an article that’s otherwise halfway decent.
Posted on April 2nd, 2009 No comments
Note to the Detroit Free Press’s Mark Phelan.
-Comparing the Kia Rio, the Chevy Cobalt to the Toyota Prius is at best stupid, most likely disingenuous. The Corolla, no, that’s just dumb. You should have gone for the Yaris. (/head-desk)
-The great part of your article is obscured by the above need to paint the Prius as somehow not a great car. Your solid point, it’s awesome when (and “if” I would point out) someone in a large vehicle can save additional even just a few additional MPG. Those seemingly piddly few miles can make a big difference.
Posted on March 19th, 2009 No comments
From the Detroit Free Press…
The program would apply only to new vehicles built in North America, with cars having to hit at least 27 miles per gallon on the highway if built in the United States and 30 m.p.g. if built in Canada or Mexico. Truck models would have to make 24 m.p.g. on the highway.
The old vehicles traded in under the program would have to be crushed or recycled. And in a nod to plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt, the bill would offer a $7,500 voucher toward any U.S.-made vehicle that garners 100 m.p.g.
All the new vehicles would have to carry sticker prices less than $35,000.
This is a proposal for a bill in congress. While I do think it has some merit the next time an “American” company starts whining about government support or crying for “free trade”, I want to remember this.
Posted on March 13th, 2009 No comments
Via Toyota PR and the kickingtires blog, an outline of trim packages for the new, 2010 Prius…
Electronic stability control
Tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio and climate controls, plus Touch Tracer system
Hybrid informational display
Auto up/down power windows on all four windows
Prius III adds
Eight-speaker stereo w/CD changer, XM Satellite Radio, eight speakers
Prius IV adds
Advanced smart key system
Leather seats with heated front seats
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Prius V adds
LED auto-leveling headlights w/washers and fog lamps
There are three option packages, which cannot be included on every trim level:
Navigation Package with backup camera (available on Prius III, IV, V)
Solar Roof Package includes Navigation Package and adds solar ventilation system and remote A/C system (available on Prius III and IV)
Advance Technology Package includes Navigation Package and adds pre-collision system, dynamic radar cruise control, Lane-Keeping Assist and Intelligent Park Assist (available on Prius V)
Kicking Tires expressed some confusion over the combinations of options available. For instance, why you can’t get the sunroof with larger wheels and some fo the advanced technology options. When I asked this question at the Detroit debut a Toyota executive told me it had to do with parasitic weight and vehicle performance. I suspect that’s not the entire story. I suspect it’s also the result of negotiations between TMC (Japan) and TMS (US) on how to package these options. Sometimes things don’t make sense, they just are though I agree with David Thomas at Kicking Tires, it would be nice to have seen some of the advanced technology stuff available with the sunroof. If you think there is some self-interest on my part involved, you would be correct.
Posted on March 10th, 2009 No comments
Political commentators now feel it’s time to get clever when writing about cars. Problem is, most of them aren’t all that clever when writing about politicas, take them out their own realm and the writing gets even worse. To wit;
The Plank and The New Republic is their blog, except they’re too cool to call it a blog, it’s a journal. And the problem they tackle today is this great, awesome hybrid that is so cool you don’t even think it’s a hybrid. And it gets great MPG.
Surprise! It’s not one of those Japanese cars, it’s a Ford! Woo-Hoo!
Reality check, it’s great Ford is making and marketing another hybrid, more choices is good for the consumer, that’s us.
That said, the Fusion is left standing at the curb MPG wise. The new Prius (and the old Prius) stomp it on MPG. And, the really bad news, the Fusion is more expensive. Again, if you want a Detroit alternative, there it is but let’s be clear about where that alternative ranks amongst the competition in price and performance.
Posted on March 5th, 2009 No comments
In this case old school isn’t just a nostalgic of way of looking at things, it’s dumb. Here’s the money quote from this article at motorauthority.com about Toyota US scaling back plans to produce a new Supra (or other sports cars)…
Toyota’s FT-HS concept, shown in 2007 at the Detroit Auto Show, had revived hope that Toyota still retained some of its former interest in providing vehicles that were more than just transportation appliances.
Do I even need to point out where most of us are financially right now? Do I need to point out how immature and silly it is to pine for something that is ever more out of context with where we’re going as a planet, much less a country.
Look, the FT-HS is a beautiful car. It’s a shame we may not see it any time soon. But surely we can find some better way to work out our collective petrochemical masculinity than sports cars?
Whether or not motorauthority gets it, I think many American car buyers do get it. The end of the horse powered era didn’t kill horse racing. It’s odd to see these people clinging to an ever more irrelevant past.
Posted on February 24th, 2009 No comments
Now you have a chance…
The Prius Team would like to extend a few extra Prius Connection invitations to our online enthusiasts. For those of you who reside in the Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, we’re offering the opportunity to get well-acquainted with the 2010 Prius before it’s available to the general public. In fact, for these events, there’s a special surprise planned so follow the link below if you’d like to be considered to attend. (Please note: These events are intended for local residents and Toyota is not providing reimbursements for any travel incurred.)
If you’d like to be considered for one of the following local events, please click on this link to our website Prius Connection for submitting your request to attend.
Los Angeles, CA: Sunday, March 1, 2009; 11am-2pm
San Francisco, CA: Sunday, March 8, 2009; 11am-2pm
All invitation requests received in the first 48 hours of this post will be reviewed by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. All invitation decisions are the sole decision of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. Please understand that space is highly limited so we would appreciate submissions from those certain they plan to attend apply.
If you live in or near LA of SF, I highly recommend you put in a request. These are unique opportunities (as you’ve seen from the photographs I’ve posted from Detroit, Washington D.C., Chicago and New York). Don’t miss this opportunity if you can make it.