Sunday

Opportunity is Knocking on Detroit's Door. Is Anyone Listening?


Detroit's Big 3 have a unique chance to take back market share and prove American engineering and know how are still King. But is anyone listening?

Like the gasoline crisis of the 1970's, here we are again. And just like it was then, Americans (being the fickle lot we are) are running away from SUV and other gas guzzlers as fast as they can and heading toward gas-miserly, efficient cars again. The cure of choice for politicians in the 1970's gas war was just to import more gas. No one tried to fix the problem.

The problem? Cheap gas itself was the problem. Okay, maybe the American attitude of bigger is better, I'll pay for that tomorrow, conserving and the environment are just not for me ... maybe that was part of the problem too.

But now, Detroit has a chance. Opportunity is knocking again. Maybe this time Detroit's Big 3 will listen.

Building fuel-efficient cars isn't impossible. Plenty of small businesses and entrepreneurs have proven it can be done. Even GM built an electric car, once upon a time. Daimler and Smart proved that an inexpensive fuel efficient car can be built for the masses of people living in big cities and the millions of people living in small town who just don't need to drive that far that often.

So when is Detroit going to get in on the action? With business-savvy investors now in charge at Chrysler, they've got the best chance of taking the lead. GM? It's just too slow with too many chiefs in charge of decision making. And Ford? Ford just needs someone named Ford in charge of everything again. A pretty PR face with a corporate business card doesn't make a dime worth of difference.

Chrysler, on the other hand, has investors and money people in charge. Odds are, they've got the best chance of making the corporate attitude turn on a dime and go after this fuel-conscious market faster than the others. But then again, that's not the real question.

Question is, will the Asians beat Chyrsler to it? Will Prius take over while Chrysler managers meet with committees who meet with managers who meet with committees who meet with ... and on and on.

This is Chrysler's time. If the new owners want to really prove they know how to run a car company, this is their chance.

On the other hand, if they're just in it for the short term profit, then they can follow GM's geriatrics and Ford's flatulence into the sunset. Chrysler is at a crossroad. Let's hope they know it.

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