Over the years, I’ve become inured to the mainstream automotive press’s mindless Motown cheerleading and irrational optimism. But every now and then, they really get my goat. The Detroit News ran a feature today by Bryce J. Hoffman clunkily entitled “How would Henry Ford react to today’s automakers?” It’s bad enough that Detroit’s zombies have suckered the federal government into endless subsidies by re-writing recent history. (We were doing GREAT until the economy tanked!) But for a journalist to raise an important historical question and then let Detroit apologists spin it without question is, uh, enervating.
Hoffman lobs the question to an industry titan: Crazy Henry’s genetic progeny.
“Most of this wouldn’t shock him because a lot of this happened during his lifetime. He failed a couple times,” Bill Ford relates. “He saw a lot of car companies come and go. And he saw his own company go bankrupt and then go on to the verge of bankruptcy several times during his lifetime.”
Yeah, well, great. Who cares if Henry Ford would have been shocked or not? What would the founding Ford have made of Chrysler’s federally subsidized [mock] salvation and GM’s nationalization?
Historian Douglas Brinkley, author of “Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress,” almost tackles the topic.
Henry Ford — the consummate self-made man — would have been disturbed by the big role the federal government now plays in the U.S. auto industry. But he would be far more interested in new technologies like battery-electric and ethanol powertrains that are emerging in the industry today.
That’s it? Henry Ford would have been “disturbed”? And then, what, forgotten about it to go chase unicorn fart-powered economy cars? I don’t think so. This article is more than a whitewash. It’s a washout.
Hoffman’s lazy, laissez-faire journalism aside, it’s an extremely interesting question. What would Henry have made of Uncle Sam sticking his nose in Detroit’s business (albeit by invitation)? Brinkley intimates that Hank would have condemned the fed’s interventionism. But is that true?
Lest we forget, like the current Chairman sharing his name, Henry Ford was happy to court and fill big, fat government contracts—from any government. In fact, Hank was an active supporter of European fascism.
For those of you unfamiliar with Ford’s involvement with Nazi Germany (and GM’s, but that’s another story), here’s a quick precis from a report printed by the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1974:
Ford was also active in Nazi Germany’s prewar preparations. In 1938, for instance, it opened a truck assembly plant in Berlin whose “real purpose,” according to U.S. Army Intelligence, was producing “troop transport-type” vehicles for the Wehrmacht. That year Ford’s chief executive received the Nazi German Eagle (first class) . . . .
The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted inevitably in the full conversion by GM and Ford of their Axis plants to the production of military aircraft and trucks . . . On the ground, GM and Ford subsidiaries built nearly 90 percent of the armored “mule” 3-ton half-trucks and more than 70 percent of the Reich’s medium and heavy-duty trucks. These vehicles, according to American intelligence reports, served as “the backbone of the German Army transportation system.”
As stated above, in July of 1938, Henry Ford accepted the Verdienstkreutz Deutscher Adler (the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle) from the Nazis. It was the highest award the Nazis could bestow upon a foreigner.
Given his political sympathies, I think it’s safe to say that Henry Ford would not have questioned President Bush and then Obama’s decision to “save” Chrysler and GM. I reckon he might have called for one overarching, government subsidized American automaker, with “disincentives” for transplanted competition. And himself running the show, of course.
But that’s just my take. Over to you, our Best and Brightest.