Since the auto industry entered crisis mode a year or so ago, I’ve often thought about the horrid and simplistic perception of the industry in the public mind – “stupid” and “greedy” people who only make “gas guzzlers” – in contrast with the very different perception I’ve gained from reporting on automotive electrical and electronic technology. The auto industry employs some very smart people who are enabling features that make driving safer and more enjoyable. In my opinion, the engineers developing that technology don’t get the credit they deserve.
Paul Ingrassia’s excellent new book, “Crash Course – The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster,” due out next week, doesn’t change my opinion of automotive electronics engineers, but it does leave me wondering how much more innovation we’d have if car companies had been better managed.
“Detroit’s disaster didn’t have to happen,” Ingrassia writes. “It occurred because the solutions were painful, requiring not just brains but courage. For too long neither UAW officials nor company executives had been able to muster that courage. As a result, many good people were caught in a bad system, and couldn’t escape its consequences.”
What could executives, especially at GM and Chrysler, have been thinking? Same for the GM board, and the leadership of the United Auto Workers. How could they not have seen that times and tastes were changing? How could they not have realized the impact of their decisions – or failures to act?
Ingrassia, a former Detroit Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal, tells a story reminiscent of a Greek tragedy minus the gods, unless you count the intervention of the U.S. government. Who would have thought that government employees lacking automotive industry experience could save two iconic corporate giants, or at least give them more breathing room. Obviously the next chapter has yet to be written, but Ingrassia provides a great summary of the story thus far.