The Wild World of Auto Shipping

From Domestic Production to International Consumption

This is a reflection of one of our retired autoworkers and longstanding members. Touched upon in this opinion piece is the history of American automotive manufacturing and the rise of the affordable import. All opinions and views expressed in this piece are solely those of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous. 


The Raging U.S Auto Industry

When I was a teenager there were only three options we had upon graduation. The first option was to sign up for the military. The army was hungry for young muscle and they offered a fair deal in terms of pay, adventure and security upon returning home. The second option was to go to university and pursue a degree in higher education. College degrees weren't deemed as necessary back then so this was something mostly academics, scientists and medical professionals pursued, and even they could often get jobs without official university certificates. The third option was to get a job at your local manufacturing plant. 

Back in my day manufacturing jobs were completely different than they are today. Whereas today shipping from China to the USA is so cheap and so common it has pretty much eliminated this career path, when I was young it was actually considered the best choice by millions of young working adults who didn't want to get shot at in the military or waste years at a liberal institution learning endless theories. 

This was a great time to be alive, America was booming, we were manufacturing goods for export all of the world and companies paid their workers solid wages for their honest work. Even though I've been long retired I still look back at this time period quite fondly. 

New Competition from Asia

As with most things in life though, the glory days of good-paying U.S manufacturing careers was not to last. Years after WWII and with financial assistance from the World Bank Japan began to slowly climb its way back into the world stage as a global manufacturing power. 

The United States was all to glad to aid Japan in their 1970s and 1980s miracle development as we were still preoccupied with the former Soviet Union and the instability its collapse created. 

Before WWII Japan was an economic powerhouse. It was their engineering prowness and massive manufacturing capabilities that allowed them to at one point control almost all of east Asia, from the northern reaches of China all the way down the the Marshall Islands, only a hop and skip away from our beloved terrirotry Hawaii. 

So once they Japanese began recovering from the war they looked to emulate the same industries that helpe make the United States so prosperous and helped create the massive middle class which I and many of my UAW brethern be able to live the luxurious life we enjoyed up through retirement. 

Unfortunately instead of increasing quality and investing more in new technology to beat the Japanese in the automotive industry, most U.S auto manufacturers turned to cheap marketing and "cost saving" practices of cutting labor benefits. This began a long slide into decline for the U.S automotive industry. 

Corporate Mismanagement

Entre the 2000's and America elects its first black president, Barack Obama. Wall-Street is riding high, but before long faces crisis due to irresponsible lending practices. This triggers a nationwide recession which hits the automotive industry particularly hard.

Now, I want to make it clear here that the auto industries woes were not 100% the fault of the crisis that started on Wall Street. In fact, the U.S had been losing market share to Japan for a long number of years as Japan pumped out ever more desireable cars in terms of technology and quality. Meanwhile, the U.S auto industry was beyond lazy in their research and development and sold U.S consumers crap for decades.

Eventually consumers woke up to the fact that the best of GM, Daimler and Ford were only half the quality of many Japanese exports, and none the more cheaper either! So faced with decades of declining sales and the crisis which froze consumer spending, U.S auto makers had no choice but to turn to the federal government for a bailout. 

Crisis and Bailouts

This asking for bailouts from the government, besides being one of the most uncapitalist things this great country has ever done was a watershed moment for the manufacturing industry in America.

In terms of benefits and quality of living we had come complete circle from the times when I was a young man and manufacturing was just taking of and promised all sorts of life security to post crisis where companies were billions of dollars in debt to the federal government and producing horrible quality vehicles. 

Looking back on it, all I can say is I am very glad I retired before all of this happened because while auto execs were making horrible decisions for decades, they never ended up paying the price thanks to their million dollar gold parachutes. Instead it was the working man who suffered the most with layoffs, lower pay and ever increasing levels of outsourcing production to places like China and Mexico. 

Electrification & New Horizons

All was not lost in the crisis however. In fact, it seems that after the humiliating experience of being funded by the federal reserve, America's automotive industry took note and has begun to slowly reform itself.

GM and Chrystler paid back their government loans plus interest. Ford paid back their private loans. All three companies launched a large variety of new vehicles featuring all sorts of new technology and better warranties. Competition has not let up as Japan still continues to dominate some segments with their economic offerings from the likes of Honda, Toyota and Nissan, and newcomers to the market Kia and Hyundai from South Korea are also stepping up the heat. 

Still, U.S manufacturers are doing their best to fill market segments imports have always struggled to occupy such as family-sized vehicles including minivans as well as larger country-focused vehnicles like big SUVs and pickup trucks. 

Additionally the growing popularity of electric vehicles, thanks largely to the visionary Ellon Musk and his company Tesla, has pushed U.S companies into developing and releasing more and more hybrid and fully electric vehicles. 

While the day of fully electric vehnicles may still be a ways away, the fact that Ford, GM and Daimler-Chrystler are investing in the technology would seem to indicate they are determined not to be left in the dust like they were in teh 70s and 80s.

Manufacturing may never fully return to the United States and the economic environment in which I thrived may never be the same again, but at least a future exists where young Americans can go to university to obtain technology-focused degrees so that they one day manage the digital companies of the future.

UAW Friday 14 July 2017 - 07:15 am | | Default
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