Summer of 79

Unsold Cars

Unsold Cars

In my last year of high-school I had a summer job in Windsor as a security guard. We were contracted to watch the Chrysler cars that weren’t selling. Parking lots full of cars all over Windsor; ironically we guarded the cars parked at the old speedway and drive-in theatres. Now I’m seeing this all again.

The Chysler Cordoba and Volare were actually sold as “small cars” for the period. And no one was buying.

I recall the outcry from CAW and UAW workers in Windsor of the Japanese cars being sold. There were protests on both side of the border in Detroit and Windsor. Friends of mine working at Chrysler that owned Honda Civic or Toyota cars weren’t allowed to park in the company parking lots at the plant. They had to part across the street from the plant.

And even after the ‘revival’ of Chrysler under the $1 a year man Lee Iacocca the business was never really viable. Yes, Chrysler had the legendary JEEP brand that they acquired when they swallowed up AMC and the K-Car proved to be a inexpensive North American alternative but there wasn’t much innovation coming out of the engineers at Chrysler. Lee Iacocca even brought back an old favourite of his; Shelby, to help with reviving the Charger and Omni. It didn’t help and only showed that Lee was a one trick pony.

History repeats. Yes, Chrysler came back from the brink of disaster and had a revival in the 80’s, but rather then adjust and use the reprieve to make changes it once again faces the end. An old adage of “a high-tide floats all boats” applies here. It’s hard even for the auto industry to fail during the boom of the 80-90s. Economic good times, lower interest rates, lower and abundant gas and oil. Cheaper labour cost. Yes, this is true. Ask the unions of the concessions made to keep Chrysler solvent in 80-82. Now reset the clock to 2008. Another recession, rising gas prices and tighter capital markets. The high tide has rolled out and exposed the true shape of the boat. Again without taking action Chrysler seeks to be saved. Perhaps it is time to let it go.

The lament is for the workers, of course. Yet, the workers have been treated by the Chrysler execs as the cause. Rather then blaming their own in actions, management is quick to claim the cost of labour, not the quality of their products. The decisions made in the boardroom shape the product more so than the guy who assembles the product. I think about the worker too. But how does saving this dinosaur help?

We need to build new sustainable companies and sometimes that means letting the old ones go. How many horse-carriage companies are still around, how many were kept going by the government when the new economy made their products obsolete. Is the car obsolete, perhaps not, but Chrysler seems to be.