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Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road to Bankruptcy and Bailout-and Beyond Paperback – January 11, 2011
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“A fascinating inside look at how ego and hubris destroyed an industry . . . a gripping and riveting must-read.”—James B. Stewart, author of Den of Thieves and Disneywar
“Crash Course has the feel of a definitive account. . . . It’s hard to imagine anyone better than Paul Ingrassia to ‘ride shotgun’ on a journey through the sometimes triumphant, often turbulent, history of U.S. automaking. . . . [A] wealth of amusing, astonishing and enlightening nuggets.”—Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“In order to understand just how much of a mess it was—not to mention how it got that way and how, if at all, it can be cleaned up—you really need to read Crash Course.”—The Washington Post
“Ingrassia tells Detroit’s story with economy, vigour and restrained fury.”—The Economist
“A delightful mix of history and first-person reporting . . . Employing superb storytelling skills, Ingrassia explains in head-shaking detail the elements of a wholly avoidable collision.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
Paul Ingrassia is the former Detroit bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 (with Joseph B. White) for reporting on management crises at General Motors, Ingrassia has chronicled the auto industry for more than twenty-five years. He is co-author, with White, of Comeback: The Fall and Rise of the American Automobile Industry, and has made numerous media appearances on ABC TV's World News Tonight and Good Morning America, NPR's Morning Edition, and other programs.
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Top customer reviews
If you follow the auto industry, grew up in a town that heavily depended on an auto plant, had family members or friends affected by what "this thing of ours" in Detroit was and what it is now, this book explains a lot. The author takes EVERYONE to task and also points out the good times and the good things that happened as well. Very fair and balanced & an easy read too.
It's not clear if the short life span of those cars was an example of planned obsolescence or if the union just built crummy cars that looked good. I drove that Mustang for four years and sold it. I wish I hadn't because they are classics now. Ford had another problem. In the 1970s, in a story not well covered in the book, Ford was taken over by the financial people. The men who made cars, from design to the shop floor, were delegated to a back seat. Many large companies did the same thing, maybe to cope with the Carter inflation or the deep recession that followed the painful medicine to stop inflation. It ruined some of them for a while. One was Xerox.
Then came the Japanese car makers. It is an interesting story how the Japanese had to respond to government attempts to prop up the US auto industry and hold the Japanese back. Each step the Japanese were forced to take made them more formidable competitors. It was punitive import duties that drove them to build factories in the US. They found that the newly energetic South was eager for the jobs so they located there. They expected to be unionized but found they had settled in a part of the country that was not pro-union. This story is very well told in the book. When GM started the Saturn to compete with the imports on quality, they built a plant in the South, and the UAW chief at the plant happened to be a rare union leader who wanted to adopt new methods and study the Japanese quality circles and other innovations in labor management cooperation. Saturn was sabotaged by both the GM management, who resented the implication that their cars were inferior, and by UAW leaders as the president of the union at that time, Stephen Yokich, was fiercely anti-management and uninterested in innovation. The project failed but shouldn't have. This is the best part of the book.
I think the author has given the UAW too much of a pass and soft pedaled the Obama administration's rape of the bond holders. He implies they were predatory hedge funds that thought the GM bonds were a buy because the law places secured creditors first in a bankruptcy. The administration stiffed the bondholders, many of whom turned out to be auto industry pensioners and their pension funds. The effect of that act, a gift to the UAW for their support, will come to hurt bond sales in the future since contract law was violated for political purposes. Countries like Argentina do that, not the US, at least until now.
Aside from that quibble the book was excellent.
Despite Ingrassia's robust efforts to explain the events leading up to the bankruptcies of Chrysler and General Motors, there are - as others have noted - some factual errors in this book.
First, Studebaker did not declare bankruptcy in 1966; rather, Studebaker Corporation exited the automobile business, and in fact is still in business today.
The statement that most Japanese cars at the beginning of the 1970s had front-wheel drive is incorrect; almost all Toyota and Datsun (Nissan) cars were rear-wheel drive into the first half of the 1980s.
The author repeatedly refers to an SUV made from model years 2007 to 2009 as a "Dodge" Aspen, when it was in fact a Chrysler Aspen. The Dodge version was a car, produced from model years 1976 to 1980.
The Saturn SL2 is mentioned as being larger than the SL1. These two models were actually different trim levels of the same automobile; Saturn did not launch a larger, companion model until the L-series appeared in the 2000 model year.
Small errors, to be sure, and mostly confined to the part of the book where the author sets up the overture for the reader to engage in the actual tragedy that eventually unfolds. All in all, an excellent thesis on what happens when corporate leadership and culture stands in the way of making difficult decisions for the long-term viability of a company.