Should We Keep Bashing Detroit?

It’s time to re-evaluate our opinions of U.S. automakers. Over the years, I’ve witnessed a certain smug dismissal of the big three. Bloated, sluggish dinosaurs, right? Perhaps. It may seem to many that they deserve their fate and should not be granted federal assistance. But consider that in the plea for bail out assistance, U.S. automakers have already achieved some critical turn-arounds.

Unions are now considered part of the solution, as they have partnered with management to raise quality. Innovations in design and reliability have created cars that perform competitively and reliably. Prices are within reach of most consumers. And the industry spawns a range of economic development in parts and services that creates jobs. Advertising has been robust, fueling $4.6 billion in measured spending, reports Ad Age.

The problem lurks, it seems to me, in the industry’s collusion with our collective denial as consumers. Heavy production and promotion of SUVs kept people deluded about the real state of oil dependency and the impact of emissions on the environment. The auto industry kept us asleep at the wheel of the larger issues we now face.

In this time of renewed nationalism, it’s time to reconsider our shared role with American manufacturing and become citizens first and foremost. If U.S cars are reliable, well priced, and hybrids are preparing to roll off the line, then what is our true beef? Do we want to bash Detroit because it failed to be visionary? That’s a fair criticism, I suppose. But in reality, people bought a lot of SUVs. So we all share a bit of the blame.

As free-market, un-regulated consumers, we’ve believed for years that we can bash American companies and it won’t make a bit of difference to the national economy. We’ve separated our lot from the companies that produce goods here. Especially the big three. Now we are facing having to pay for bailouts. Rather than debate the size and conditions of a bailout, I’d rather pose a simple proposition: It’s time that we as Americans reconsider the power of buying American goods.

Sounds old school, I know. But I’d rather live in a world with jobs, great automobile brands and some semblance of a GNP. I am a citizen consumer. In that order.

Full disclosure: I drive a 2005 Mazda 6 wagon. It was made in Flat Rock, Michigan by Union workers. Based on past experience, I’ll drive it another few years.