Thursday, November 13, 2008

The US version of British Leyland

US policy makers would be well advised to take a look at the history of British Leyland before deciding on a bailout plan for General Motors.

The problems with GM are remarkably similar to the problems with British Leyland: workforce paid more than its productivity merits, obsolete plant, defective designs.

After a series of government bailouts in which the company shrunk at each stage, Britain's only native volume car manufacturer went out of business completely and the plant was shipped off to China.

The only way to save the company is going to be to shut down a large percentage of the plants. Gas may be back to $2 a gallon, but there is no sign that the SUV fad is ever coming back which means that much of GM's model line, including almost all the profitable models are simply obsolete.

It could have been different of course. Detroit could have invested in fuel efficient vehicles instead of lobbying Congress to prevent fuel efficiency standards being raised. Luxury car makers in Europe have been building high end cars out of aluminum for a decade now. They are lighter and do not rust. The Japanese have been building hybrids. The US makers have been turning 1960s truck designs into cars.

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