Detroit's Seven Deadly Sins
Way back in 602, the original Pope Gregory introduced the concept of the seven deadly sins. His text Moralia in Job was designed to help lay people differentiate between venial sins, which could be forgiven through confessions, and capital sins, which are Hell to pay. About a millennium and a half later it looks like the management at Detroit’s Big Two automakers should have paid more attention in their catechism classes. They seem to be harvesting a whole carload of karmic grief for their past corporate indiscretions, and wonder why it’s happening to them. Let’s run down the Big Seven in ascending order of purported theological severity and see how they stack up.
Lust – Year after year, Ford and GM both coveted the title “America’s Best Selling Car” so carnally they dumped cars into the rental and fleet markets to inflate their sales numbers. This succeeded in flooding the market with used cars, trashing resale values and destroying what reputation for quality they might have had. Now their products are associated so strongly with “rental car” and “fleet” many buyers won’t consider buying anything they make.
Gluttony – In an attempt to expand their worldwide empires they both hungrily bought up other companies around the globe, totally oblivious to what it could cost them down the road. As a result Ford keeps pouring piles of money into that black hole called the Premier Auto Group and GM is still reeling from the Fiat fiasco. You can’t post profits very long when your feeding frenzies culminate in flushing billions down the corporate toilet.
Greed – GM is the champion at stretching out product cycles to try to squeeze every dime out of an old design instead of investing money on product development (look up “hoary” in the dictionary and there’s a picture of the Cavalier). Ford puts all their best efforts into designing and producing high profit trucks and SUVs while ignoring and all but abandoning the much lower profit margin vehicles in the passenger car market. In the short term this kept expenditures down and the bottom line up. Today both have milked their cash cows dry and are standing by, watching helplessly as a whole bevy of modern subcompacts come ashore and roll into the awaiting arms of economy-minded consumers.
Sloth – Detroit has gotten lazy over the years. Domestic car makers spend much of their time whining, dragging their corporate feet, and having to be forced into complying with inevitable federal regulations and fuel standards. The manufacturers of imports quietly and industriously go about engineering innovative solutions to meet these requirements. Detroit was once the world leader in automotive technology and innovation. Now they license technology from the Japanese and bring out new models one product cycle behind the rest of the world.
Wrath – Since they seem to be incapable of beating the Japanese nameplates with competitive products consumers actually want to buy, execs from both companies are directing their vituperation towards those who purchase any vehicle not built by them. They’re out making flag-waving speeches and running ad campaigns designed to make anyone who drives anything "foreign" look anti-American and portray them as a threat to the very foundation of the economy. Most consumers see this for what it is – a last-gasp effort of an ailing industry and the backlash may cause more damage than the speech writers ever imagined.
Envy – The Japanese automakers are much better than either GM or Ford at producing and selling what was once Detroit’s bread and butter. Now they realize what they gave away and can’t stand someone else having it. They want it back very badly. But instead of working hard to retake it by producing competitive products, they cry “no fair” and go running to Uncle Sugar for government protection and corporate welfare.
Pride – Hubris reigns in Detroit. For years GM was smug in their belief “as goes General Motors, so goes America.” Ford went around thumping their chests about having the best selling vehicle in the country and resting on their laurels. Both totally ignored the warning signs of impending disaster, thinking they were immune to the basic economic principles of supply and demand. Sadly, both were wrong.
Well, it doesn’t look too good for the gang in Detroit, does it? The troubling part of all this is they won’t own up to their past behavior, confess their mistakes and do the necessary penance. With this much going against them even an Expedition’s worth of Our Fathers and an Escalade full of Hail Marys won’t be enough to bail them out. If they don’t change their ways soon, looks like both may have to spend time in Chapter 11 purgatory.
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