Clown Cars: The Disastrous Results of Lawyers, Not Gearheads, Running the Auto Industry

For years, the lawyers have not been able to resist instructing the auto industry. Since Ralph Nader began tinkering in the sixties, cars have gone from iconic to ridiculous. We have seen great cars like the Impala turned into a tiny little go-cart filled with airbags and other safety equipment. While I do not begrudge those of us who like safety equipment (after all, that’s why God created Volvos), I long for some of the breathtaking muscle cars of my youth–the proud beasts of an era gone by.

Lawyers cannot fix cars. The talent required for turning a wrench is not the same talent you use when twisting a contract. Most attorneys are not as comfortable working beneath the hood of a car as they are running behind an ambulance. So a wise nation keeps attorneys as far away from their automotive plants as possible.

But change has again found its way into the auto industry. No longer content to direct the industry from the back seat, this Administration has planted itself firmly behind the steering wheel. After taking over General Motors and selling Chrysler to Fiat (an Italian manufacturer best known for its expensive short-lived replacement parts), they invested half a billion taxpayer dollars into the the Fisker–Al Gore’s car of the future. There is no question who is driving the industry into the second decade of the new millennium.

But it’s not going as smoothly as planned. Just recently, the electric Fisker recalled its entire product line for problems that could lead to the cars catching on fire. I guess the future just came a little too early. It seems the problem is not unique to the Fisker either. A Chevy Volt burst into flames while ironically parked over at the Safety Administration. Nothing says “Green” more than black smoke car fires.

In an effort to stem the worst PR event since the Ford Pinto, GM offered Volt owners loaner cars until they could figure out what caused the fire. When two more blew up, they actually offered to buy them all back, resulting in the largest one-day sale of Volts in the history of the nameplate.

Just yesterday, it was announced that all 8,000 were being “called back” to the dealers for structural modifications. It’s exactly like a recall… without being called one.

After all, GM knows what a real recall is. Last week, they announced a recall of all 4,296 Chevy Sonics, out of concern that many might have left the plant without brake pads. Apparently, to a government owned auto company, small parts like brake pads are as irrelevant as the Constitution, the proverbial brake pads on the federal government.

This is the same plant that Obama visited last October and claimed that it was a sign of the comeback of the auto industry. The factory was a joint venture personally overseen by Korean President Lee Myung-bak working in collaboration with the Administration, and it was much heralded for its green technology. President Obama personally took credit for retooling the plant “churning out ground-breaking fuel efficient cars like the Chevy Sonic, the only one of its kind made and sold in the United States of America.”

Apparently, the Secret Service was aware of the safety issues with the car, because according to the President, when he sat in one, they took away the keys.

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What made the American auto industry great was not the league of academics in Washington; it was the garages full of gearheads across the nation who have a passion for mechanical things. While academics often look down on the humble grease monkey, it requires a different skill set that they just don’t teach at the Kennedy School of Government. If you left one million bureaucrats in a machine shop for an infinite amount of time, they could never produce a single exhaust manifold.

It’s time to get Washington out of the auto industry. Let people who love cars go back to building cars, and let Washington do what Washington does best. And let me know when you figure out what that is.