Tuesday, January 17, 2017

An Argument Against Bailing Out Car Companies

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
That's it, and that's all.  Considering the money the Obama administration spent to save what was left of Chrysler and helping Fiat buy it out and return to the U.S. market, we were probably better off spending that money on high-speed rail.  
When Fiat took over Chrysler's assets in 2009, it seemed like a dream come true for American enthusiasts of European cars - Alfa Romeo would finally make it back ti the States, the once-popular Fiat brand (it really was popular in the U.S. - back in the mid-seventies, the 128 sedan sold like hotcakes, and someone on my block owned one!) would be reborn in America, and the Dodge and Chrysler brands would be restored to their former glory.  Jeep, meanwhile, would retain its glory.     
Yeah, right.
The new car models put out by the Dodge and Chrysler brands - sold alongside Jeep and Ram (formerly Dodge) trucks in a four-brand dealer network devised by Fiat boss Sergio Marchionne  - got lost in the the U.S. market, maybe because they were overshadowed by all those Cherokees, Compasses and Ram pickups in the same showrooms.  Not to mention by Dodge-branded and Chrysler-branded SUVs as well.  As SUV and light-truck sales have soared, Fiat Chrysler has reduced the passenger-car lineups of the Dodge and Chrysler brands to almost nothing; the 200 sedan (above) is in its last year, having ceased production in December 2016.  The re-imagined Dodge Dart - meant to restore the brand's performance reputation - proved to be little too exotic and too Italian for American car buyers, as its independent multi-link suspension and its sophisticated engines.  Thus, the Dart is also going out of production.  There's a weird irony to this; after all the pseudo-Italian compacts Lee Iaccoca thrust on the American public in the 1980s, including the infamous Chrysler-Maserati TC (which combined Maserati's expertise in inexpensive cars with Chrysler's European-style engineering - yes, that was a joke!), Dodge gives us a car based on Alfa Romeo's Giuletta and it did no better than Iaccoca's decal-engineered insults, like the 1981 Dodge DeTomaso (below), based on - HORRORS! -the Omni.
So the Dodge and Chrysler brands are down to one or two sedans and a sport coupe between them, with minivans and SUVs filling the void.  Fiat, meanwhile, remains a specialty brand in the States, offering little more than the 500 retro car and some really silly crossover offshoots of the retro 500 itself.  Its most interesting model - the 124 Spider - is a cousin of the Mazda Miata.  
Fiat-Chrysler quality remains abysmal, reminding consumers of the all the crappy cars of yore that emanated from both companies before their merger (back in the 1970s, Fiat, whose name is the Italian acronym for Italian Automobile Factory of Turin, was said to stand for, "Fix It Again, Tony!").  And after having been fined by the government for not properly fixing automobiles under recall, which I examined in greater detail back in August 2015, it's under investigation again for the same problem Volkswagen is facing - cheating on diesel emissions!
Marchionne, in responding to the federal government's charges that computer software allowed Jeep SUVs and Ram pickups equipped with diesel engines to skirt emissions standards, insists that the software most likely had been misprogrammed by mistake , saying there was no intent to "break the bloody law."  Maybe.  Given Fiat Chrysler's ineptitude with product in the past eight years, that might very well be the case.   But if incompetent engineering is an alibi, it makes you wonder why Fiat Chrysler is still in business.
Gotta love that Alfa Romeo 4C, though.
Back in 1980, when Chrysler faced its first (but hardly its only) fiscal crisis, then-U.S. Senator Gary Hart voted against a federal bailout, saying he saw no reason to try to save a sinking boat.  What remains of Chrysler is going down for not the third but the fourth time (the second and third times being, respectively, the 1992 slump in the aftermath of the Bush 41 recession and the Cerberus purchase of Chrysler assets from Daimler AG in 2007).  I'm beginning to think Hart had the right idea.            

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