Mitt Romney Offers Opinions for Detroitby Tim Manni
Mitt Romney is making a lot of sense. The former Republican presidential candidate has said what a lot of us have been preaching for quite some time. His article in the New York Times mirrors what seems to be a growing opinion regarding the possible government bailout of the auto industry. Romney believes bankruptcy is the best solution for Detroit. The son of an American Motors executive — one who turned the once-failing company around — offers this:
First, their huge disadvantage in costs relative to foreign brands must be eliminated. That means new labor agreements to align pay and benefits to match those of workers at competitors… Furthermore, retiree benefits must be reduced so that the total burden per auto for domestic makers is not higher than that of foreign producers.
Second, management as is must go. New faces should be recruited from unrelated industries — from companies widely respected for excellence in marketing, innovation, creativity and labor relations.
Investments must be made for the future. No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options. Invest in truly competitive products and innovative technologies — especially fuel-saving designs — that may not arrive for years.
Just as important to the future of American carmakers is the sales force. When sales are down, you don’t want to lose the only people who can get them to grow. So don’t fire the best dealers, and don’t crush them with new financial or performance demands they can’t meet.
It is not wrong to ask for government help, but the automakers should come up with a win-win proposition. I believe the federal government should invest substantially more in basic research — on new energy sources, fuel-economy technology, materials science and the like…
The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk.
In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.
Robert Reich, who headed the Labor Dept. in the Clinton administration, argues that bankruptcy is the best solution. When a staunch conservative and a liberal Democrat agree, it’s either the apocalypse, or they’re both on the right track.