August 17, 2009

On my way from Chicago O'Hare airport to our office in Evanston today I saw powerful evidence of the state of the auto industry in this part of the world. As we drove along Dempster Street we passed a large auto dealer for Chevrolet and Toyota. The forecourt looked pretty deserted and there were relatively few new vehicles on the lot. What there were, however, were about a hundred old SUV's and minivans, parked inches apart, all with the same word scrawled in large yellow letters on the them - CLUNKER. It was a surprisingly powerful site. On the one hand it was evidence of a shift in allegiance from the old gas guzzlers to new, presumably, more economical vehicles. On the other hand it was a sad image of what was once an all powerful industry that just got it wrong. As far as I could see almost every one of those clunkers had a Ford, GM or Chrysler badge on it. (Apparently the Ford Explorer was the top trade in during the first two weeks of the program.)

No doubt the cash for clunkers scheme has tipped thousands of people towards new, more sustainable cars but it as also served to underline how poorly the US auto industry has been managed for the last couple of decades.