I'd recommend the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? for anyone curious about the events around the EV1, which was GM's aborted attempt at an electric car.
Once you see this, though, you're likely to be so angry at GM that you'll want to see the company go bankrupt. GM certainly had a chance to get a head-start on the rest of the world, but they decided not to pursue it, for whatever reason.
Here's my thought about bailing out the Big 3: I'm against it. Yes, Mike, you're right, there will be bloodletting, and many people will be hurt by it. But at this point, I don't see how you can make GM/Ford/Chrysler change their ways. Just giving them 25 Billion dollars when they're already burning through 1 billion a month will not change anything. Give the Big 3 that money now, I guarantee they'll be back in a year, asking for another bailout.
Someone has to be allowed to fail. The industry will fight change until there is a catastrophic loss that makes them realize the old way of doing things is done. Declare bankruptcy, restructure, reorganize, and streamline your operations. There has to be outside oversight. There are still gas-guzzlers on the drawing boards there. Didn't GM just introduce a new Hummer? That kind of thinking needs to stop Today.
It takes years to get a car from the drawing board to the showroom, that's just the nature of automotive design. Once GM makes the choice and says, 'Yeah, this is our next car for the new year,' a plant somewhere has to begin the massive retooling effort to start manufacturing those cars. None of this happens quickly.
If our money is to be used to bail these companies out, it is perfectly reasonable for us to demand that those resources and money be directed into forward-thinking, efficient cars that will eventually replace the cars of today with cars that take the company, as well as the country, into the future. Left on their own, the executives will try to continue business as usual. They are already fighting the suggestion that they be told how to spend the bailout money.
The union stranglehold on the companies will have to be loosened as well. They will have to make concessions on their end. The joke in the auto industry is that Ford, GM and Chrysler are these huge medical care providers that also happen to make cars on the side. The operating costs for retirees alone are staggering.
None of this could be done without shedding thousands of people and jobs. The companies, unions, contractors, line workers and support companies, etc, would all be profoundly affected by this. Not to mention the cities and states that would be devastated by the effects of a vastly reduced auto industry.
But the alternative is to watch at least one of these companies suddenly stagger and collapse under its own inertia, as Lehman Bros. did. Watching one of its own die will be the catalyst that makes the other car companies finally see the light, and start working together.
Adapt or Die.
And no one wants to buy these cars anymore anyway. They want to pay less for gas, people want cars and vans that allow them to get around, and for soccer moms to get their kids around. And we know there are cars out there that will deliver, but they're not coming out of Ford, GM, Chrysler. They can offer incentives to buy these cars, but you can't take a young family with 1, 2 kids and shoehorn them into a new 8-cylinder Ford Mustang Bullitt.
The mindset in Detroit still seems to be muscle cars and Hummers. People would like to drive more fuel-efficient hybrids, if they could plug them in at night. I see very little effort at the state level to offer support for hybrids. A couple token spots to refuel your electric car....
Change comes from within. Let's see what GM's current 5-year plan is, and then decide whether it's worth rescuing. If there's no real fundamental shift to newer technology that puts hybrids on the streets in massive numbers within, say, two years, then clearly the company isn't planning ahead, and our money shouldn't be used to prop up an outdated business model.