By BOB CHAFFIN
As a 35-year veteran of the automobile industry and a native of Middle Tennessee, I would like to weigh in on the facts surrounding the requested bridge loan for the Detroit 3 automakers.
I grew up in Carthage and went to Detroit to work for General Motors in 1966, having graduated from David Lipscomb College. It was a time when many of us had to leave this area to find good jobs. My wife Jan and I lived in a number of locations through out Michigan and Ohio and I spent a career in the GM Financial organization, working toward things that would make General Motors more cost effective and profitable. It was, however, in the face of ever declining market share as Japan and Germany, having been able to start with a clean sheet and U.S. Government Aid following World War II, cranked up their car production in order to fuel their economic recovery plans.
When I started with GM we produced 52 percent of all of the cars in the world, and we had hundreds of thousands of workers, both hourly and salaried.
In fact, there were often government rumblings of breaking up GM, in the days of active anti-trust legislation. We were, over these years, faced with environmental legislation that impacted plants and products, safety regulations, fuel economy mandates, labor legislation, and a powerful union which aggressively pursued the interests of its membership and thereby, built a strong and prosperous middle class in America. All the while, our German and Japanese competitors were aided by an industry friendly government which provided subsidies and currency manipulation, as well as trade protection, to ensure that the playing field was never level.
Did we make some mistakes? Of course, as all businesses do since only hindsight is 20-20.
Let me provide some of the facts however:
Critics and pundits ignore the substantial changes U.S auto makers have made already. Over the past 10 years GM has reduced its US hourly workforce by 52 percent, or 69,000 workers, its salary workforce by 14,000, and reduced the executive ranks by 45 percent.
Quality and productivity gaps have been closed and new products have included a number of fuel efficient crossovers and the Chevy Malibu is a customer hit, leading its segment with a 33 mpg EPA rating. They have committed to the versatile, all electric Volt by 2010 and continue to work toward hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
In 2007, more than 9.3 million people bought GM cars and trucks, keeping the brand in a dead heat with Toyota as the world’s largest automaker. It was the second-best sales year in GM’s 100-year history.
Contrary to myth, no GM hourly worker makes $81/hour or $72/hour as various opponents and talk show hosts are making it appear – GM has thousands and thousands of retirees who were contractually given health care for life as part of their total wage package. Health care that was much cheaper then than is now the case, and thankfully, people are living longer, thanks to good health care, than was expected a number of years ago.
These are all good things in our society, but those costs are a part of the total “Labor Costs” of the Detroit 3. Therefore when you divide these costs, plus the costs of working and laid off employees together, then divide them by the hours expended by hourly labor hours, you arrive at a large number when compared to Toyota and Honda, who do not have these legacy costs since they are either government borne or they have yet to reach that stage.
There is also a popular myth that the Detroit 3 are “idiots” for investing in pickups and SUV, but the reality is that Toyota, Nissan, and BMW have all spent billions breaking into this full sized market because it is historically large and profitable.
Automakers are business men who are compelled to build what the public wants – and trucks and SUVs are what we all wanted – until gas went to $4/gallon. It is also a fact that the more fuel efficient full-size pickups from GM, Ford and Chrysler all have higher EPA fuel economy ratings than Toyota and Nissan’s full-size pickups.
Finally, we all need to note that U.S.-based companies have 105 assembly and component plants in 20 states, including Kentucky and Tennessee. They purchase $156 billion in parts, materials and services, supporting millions of jobs in all 50 states and these suppliers are dependant on the survival of all three, a collapse by one would be likely to bankrupt hundreds of suppliers and stop the flow of parts to the other two.
The overall fact is that a government bridge loan will enable the domestic automakers to continue as an engine for prosperity and as a creator of both vehicles and technologies that America needs. Millions of jobs will be saved and enormous benefits will result for years to come. Hold their feet to the fire for a plan prior to receiving on penny in taxpayer money. They expected that, they just did not expect to be required to produce one at the initial hearings.
They have collectively paid billions in state, local and federal taxes and now failing to support them with a loan – not a bail-out, a loan – will surely have an impact upon us all, which will have unforeseen and unintended repercussions for decades to come.
Editor's Note: Bob Chaffin resides in Lebanon.
To the Editor:
Good front page story on Bill Burch in the Dec. 10, 2008 edition of The Wilson Post.
It is totally proper and fitting that we recognize not only outstanding persons in our community, but military heroes as well. I want to relate to you just a few words about Bill Burch, from a personal view. Bill was my wife’s tennis coach at Cumberland University. She told me about his teaching methods, especially one of them, how he told his class one day, “I don’t believe any of you are going to be tennis pros.” He was right, but Bev and the others learned a lot from his class.
Later on in 1994 we talked Bill and his lovely wife Helen into giving us ballroom dancing lessons. Another couple in the group was Chris and Amanda Crowell. Bill and Helen were, to say the least, accomplished dancers. Bev and I learned a lot and have since practiced what they taught us many times.
On the military side, I am positive that Lt. Bill Burch, U.S.N. shot down at least two Japanese Zeros, the pride and super effective fighter craft of the Empire, with his F4F Wildcat during one mission in the Southwest Pacific, near the New Georgia Islands on May 21, 1943. “Missions Remembered, Recollections of the WWII Air War” book, however, says he shot down one. At any rate, he was a genuine hero and he will long be remembered.
Lt. Col. Jim D. Henderson (USAF ret.)
To the Editor:
I have stood quietly by for a long time now on issues regarding the new Lebanon High School. I believe that it is now time for my voice to be heard on this issue.
I have not yet heard anyone mention the idea of upgrading the existing Lebanon High School to 21st century standards. It is always about building a new Lebanon High on new land, with a new stadium, etc.
Couldn’t an upgrade to the existing school be done for a fraction of the money that is to be used in building the new one?
I am a graduate of Lebanon High School. I attended LHS from 1972-1976. When I was a freshman in ’72, the school was in the middle of major renovations. We had no lunch room, therefore we had to bring sack lunches to school every day and eat it during our fourth period class. There about 100 freshmen who had to be bused to the old Wilson County High School (The Annex) in the morning, and the same number in the afternoon for three periods every school day. We got by just fine with all that commotion.
The same common sense will still work today if we have the will to do so.
If I was $12.5 million in debt, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to go another $48 million in debt. It reminds me of a child who whines “So-and-so has a new one, so I want one, too!”
This is the new millennium, where debt is dumb, cash is king and the paid off home mortgage (or retired municipal bond) has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.
If the school board and the county commission would take a common sense approach to this issue, then perhaps one day when Channel 4 comes to Lebanon High School for being a “Cool School” and they ask “What’s cool about Lebanon High School?” the principal can proclaim most proudly, “Our school is paid for. How about everyone else?”
To the Editor:
We are so fortunate to have a wonderful organization here in Wilson County who “gives and gives” to many folks from all walks of life when they need help. That organization is the Wilson County Community Help Center.
In thinking of the many needs of our community I wonder if any of us give pause to think that perhaps they might need help, too. What I am suggesting is that if any of us have used clothing of any kind that is still in good shape that the Help Center can always use donations. They also need furniture of all kinds and small appliances plus any and all kinds of food items, canned and boxed.
If anyone is thinking of giving a financial donation, they could especially use funds. They also help people in need pay their utility bills.
Please put them on your list of Christmas giving. I know that they will be grateful for your help.
Ann Evins Doak
By JENNIFER HORTON
The Wilson Post
Christmas is going to be merrier for some local children thanks to the generosity of a group that donated $10,000 to Wilson County Christmas for All this week, but even so, donations of toys and money are still needed by the organization.
Christmas for All has 3,100 names on its list so far this year, an increase of some 700 from Christmas 2007, said Jim Harding, president of organization.
“We had a group that came in and gave us a $10,000 donation,” Harding said, adding the group wanted to remain anonymous and that the funds are a one-time gift.
By CONNIE ESH
The Wilson Post
Lebanon’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Task Force says the city is on track in meeting the requirements of a lawsuit filed in 2002 and settled two years later which said the city did not have sidewalks that were accessible to citizens with mobility limitations.
Lebanon will begin work on the sidewalks on Gay Street between West Main and Maple Street on Monday. That particular section of sidewalk has been an issue because there is a 4-inch drop where it crosses Sinking Creek. This project will correct that so that people limited mobility can use them.
By spring 2009, said City Engineer Lanette Phillips, the sidewalk repairs and ramps required by the federal regulations will be ahead of schedule.
By CONNIE ESH
The Wilson Post
Karli Costley, 3, Mt Juliet’s littlest cheerleader, diagnosed in August with a rare form of eye cancer, is getting some help from numerous “big names’ this weekend.
Karli’s Angels have lined up a special benefit concert for 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Mt. Juliet High School Theater, and the program reads like who’s who in the Nashville music scene.
“We met with the up and coming artist, Will Peppers tonight for a minute,” said Karli’s mom, Amy, on the Caring Bridge website which documents Karli’s progress. “He was a true pleasure to visit with and we look forward to the show. We have heard nothing but awesome things about him.”