The first decade of the 21st century had been very unkind to the American auto industry. An ongoing cycle of boom and bust led to the biggest bust yet for the big three. Once Upon a Car the nadir of the American auto industry after the turn of the last century. The author focuses on the business, political and management dynamics that drove two of the three American manufactures into the arms of the US
government and ultimately into bankruptcy. Vlasic covers the behind-the-scenes strategies of the three automakers during this period:
how—through massive mismanagement, unbearable union contracts and a world economic collapse that saw the US auto market fall from 17 million annual car and trucks sold to 10 million—these three American institutions were brought to their knees. In addition, I think one final force that really drove these three corporations over the ledge was a level of corporate hubris that rotted these organizations from the inside out.
The most visible indicator of Detroit’s death throes were the
Senate committee hearings where car companies GM and Chrysler went hat-in-hand asking for a US bailout.
Here sat the CEOs of these three famous and historic American icons, men who were supposed to be the finest, most capable corporate officers in American business.
Had the impact on so many for jobs and livelihoods not stood in the balance, the entire proceedings would
have been almost comedic. The CEOs came off as inept, incompetent and sounding like buffoons. The final nail for any vestige of goodwill from the American public was the now-famous discovery that all three execs came to Washington, DC, on separate corporate jets while asking the American taxpayer for billions in loans.
Vlasic touches on prior down-cycles of the American auto industry, mostly
referencing some of the issues during the early Nineties. While the book does a very good of chronicling the events of the first decade of this century, he fails to mention how historically poorly the American auto industry has been able in coping with changes in their industry,
from totally missing the initial invasion of the VW Beatle in the Sixties to the market-voracious appetite of the Japanese manufacturers in the
Eighties to the new threats from Korea and now China. Detroit has always puts its collective head in the sand, and Once Upon a Car misses the bigger historic picture: that Detroit has built terrible-quality vehicles that were more often than not out of step with what the American consumer wanted during any given decade. The foreign brands have been eating their lunch and gaining market share for over the last sixty-plus years. This is really the backdrop for the final death knell that befell the
Big Three over the last ten years.
The book is subtitled "The Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Automakers." A better subtitle might have been "The Ongoing Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Automakers."