Let the marketplace determine what survives, they say
Not that the US auto industry has been a lively player, light on its feet, moving in a complex wide picture real world. In fact, it seems to have grown so big and powerful it thought it ran the show and made all the rules: bigger-faster-cheaper inspired at times; and substituting buyer dazzling with style, for the much harder preparation for the needs in the rapidly growing (and shrinking world) system. The massive inertia of the transportation system, of which the auto industry is a major player and generator of much of that inertia, would seem to dictate all possible next moves. Follow the market that it in part shaped, but not in all ways; the gas-guzzling behemoth SUVs became soccer-mom daily commute transportation even though its purpose was to be able to quickly load survivalist stuff in quickly when the quake or riots or whatever hits the fan, take the deer rifles and head for the mountains to survive on deer and rabbits, while the non-escapees perish in the cities. Some 50% of new personal vehicles purchased in California were SUV's, showing the extent of the problem; the automakers geared up to meet that demand for huge vehicles to man the home garages; nevermind that the world petroleum reserves are limited and huge one-way money flow was leaving America to go to the mid-eastern countries for oil we just burn to oscillate back in forth in our SUV's, big numbers. Nevermind the CO2 contamination of the atmosphere, aren't the trees going to gobble it all up? Not the automaker's problem; they are there just to make and sell the product, go home and watch TV.
Is the marketplace, the world-sized bazaar, sufficiently wise to fully guide civilization, including our individual little parts of it? It is too easy to focus down on something small and easily manageable, and assume all the world is going to work together with everybody doing the same thing, nobody minding the store. Isn't that quite a lot like the ancient hunter-gatherer mentality that worked well when Mother Nature had abundance aplenty for mankind to plunder endlessly; all man had to do was figure out how to plunder enough. When the resources of Mother Nature faded, mankind went for agriculture, being responsible nurturer to some staked out territory; yet the world is round and of limited size, and even in the vast oceans and deserts we bump into each other's territory and Nature's nature and limits. A Nature that has a new major player on the loose in it, which is us.
The chunk of it that is America produces 3% of the world's energy supply, and yet consumes 25% of the world's supply. What are we trading for that energy we import? Especially are we trading our resources that are as vanishing as is the oil we import to just burn and have nothing to show for it remaining? This shows an inkling that there is something wrong and unsustainable about our guiding principles. There have been big "danger ahead" signs all over the place, all long ignored; after all, the marketplace determines what thrives and what perishes, right? Ever consider that we are subject to that same maybe-perish principle, if we are not getting it all right? The neighbors are not worried, so why should we be worried ourselves? Life is good.
Our transportation infrastructure consumes a significant amount of that unsustainable energy level. The automobile grew to survive in a world populated by horse and buggy, had to travel the same dirt roads across town and wilderness terrain. It had to carry its own energy supply, enough to get to the next filling station easily all the time. The energy density of gasoline burned in the freely available omnipresent air, enabled the adequate range. Yet the dirt roads have morphed into paved streets and freeways; and they are shared by semi trucks and buses ... and an occasional bicycle. The needs of the average person to travel the daily commute and shopping activities, is still largely being done in vehicles stemming from that long-ago competing with horse and buggy travel. The wilderness terrain may lurk at the perimeter, but most of our travel is in highly controlled and determined environs. Surely there are lots of more convenient time & energy efficient ways to provide the needed normal average person's transportation needs. Evaluate, just what do we need re movement; get from home to the job site in a safe, rapid, efficient means, and back home again after work; to get to shopping and bring back purchases, or at least get needed items somehow into our homes for our uses. Occasionally take longer journeys, such as for non-typical purchases or visits elsewhere; but do they need to be by the same means as daily routine commute?
(I won't dwell at this point on the transportation needs of those millions of survivalists, to spring on cue with the mob riots or earthquakes or nuke button-pushers or whatever, toward the hills with their SUV and deer rifle, to raid the few thousands of deer and rabbits in the mountains for a quick extinction. Wouldn't their skills be more useful in building a better thriving world instead?)
However, things need to morph to a new system; can't just drop the old ways and go for an entirely new and more appropriate mode of getting around. That is no excuse for not doing the morphing all along, and the automakers could have been helping that all along all these decades. But no, they are just the businessmen, going for the fastest easiest buck, no responsibility for the overall transportation system, no more than the hunter-gatherer hunting mastodons had responsibility for the sustenance of the mastodons. And somehow our whole "free enterprise" economic system is supposed to work, composed solely of such hunter-gathers, automakers included, and on the block now. If we get "regulators" in to rule the automakers, they will be drawn from the same mutual-predator mentality, could they be trusted with the responsibility for the big-picture America full of Americans, with all their needs?
Perhaps it is time to step back and look at the big picture of the transportation needs of America, at least temporarily fending off the easy solutions offered by ready builders of light rail and buses, but really looking for what can really work in the scenario of daily life in America, an America that needs to do the same and more, but with only use of its own energy resources. There are alternative commute system conceptual designs that have been strangled by the existing big suppliers, that is fair play in a free-enterprise system, right; the customer cannot buy anything that the businessman does not offer; and the customer does not care if the businessman ruthlessly killed off that fledgling competition which would have far better filled the customer's needs. Perhaps now it is time for the customer to declare what is needed; instead of the businessmen limiting the options.
History shows that in the desperation of changing times out of control, people grab at that which looks familiar, unfortunately. And then they are stuck with building their future upon that, a crumbled foundation that eventually, like now ongoing, fails to carry the load. We are patiently awaiting a new administration's installation that declares change to be acceptable; this may be America's chance to pull our head out of the sand of business-as-usual, and use our wits and strengths to survive, and survive well, once again. Is the pompous CEO truly a wiser observer than the grunt down on the job dealing with a dynamic real world? How much does the CEO really, really know what it is all about? There is guiding wisdom to be found at all levels.
And yet, change is stressful, even helpful change. We will thus also need to adopt the ways of incorporating only the stress needed at the moment for the immediate task, and not store yesterday's stress to add to our load; we can thus be freer to more clearly see the present moment as it morphs into our future, much more efficiently and cleanly.
Are there ways that our country's automakers can become more compliant to the evolving needs of changing world? The automakers create and build truly marvelous machines that do amazing things, and reliably so for the average driver. Absolutely amazing contrivances, those autos. Much of its interwoven machinery has been forged by finding what works out there in the real world. And yet, they have been stuck on doing their assumed franchise, that of making cars. Is there some way, or several possible ways, of adding to the automaker's roles, such that they are conscious players in the overall transportation system that is arm in arm with the rest of the world? They have survived in part by controlling the market, clever trick. That's not good enough, as has been found recently. (Or is it thought they are mere casualties in the fall of the housing pricing expanding bubble bursting's repercussions, not their responsibility in the big picture?)
The automakers are really players in the transportation system of America, unconscious as it has been up to now, other than rival game playing stuff. Can the automakers become conscious, responsible activators in the overall transportation scenario in a constantly morphing, interacting big picture of a nation in a bigger picture world? Become significant providers of far more efficient, comfortable, safe, and convenient transportation options for Americans?