American automakers, American lives

I have served as immigration counsel to major automotive suppliers and to Chrysler since 1985. I believe The Times’ conclusion in its editorial “Bail out the Big Three?” is incorrect, harsh and unfair. The Times finishes its editorial with, “When government intervenes, it tells businesses that they don’t have to be smart, farsighted and nimble, they just have to be large.”

What the editorial board ignores is that Chrysler, General Motors and Ford have sought to meet long-established, so-called legacy costs and obligations. These obligations saddle automakers with huge costs and determine their future business decisions as much as they uphold prior commitments. One principle cost is medical care for current bargaining-unit and salaried employees as well as hundreds of thousands of retirees all across America. Medical expenditures have spiraled out of any meaningful cost control. German, French, Italian and Japanese vehicle makers are not saddled with any such legacy costs in their home countries.

Massive government subsidies, protectionist rules and direct-equity investments by governments have resulted in past and present unfair cost and tax advantages for foreign automakers. The playing field is not balanced, and with government subsidies for foreign vehicle makers -- including both direct subsidies and indirect investments made by foreign universities in research institutions, for example -- U.S. vehicle makers can hardly be accused of squandering any competitive advantage. Indeed, American vehicle makers have never stood much of a competitive chance in the global market.

No free market actually exists in the automotive sector -- never has, never will. Add to this local vehicle homologation (European Union and Pacific Rim) and protectionist rules that make exporting a substantial number of U.S.-built vehicles to foreign markets a pipe dream. Furthermore, currency manipulation by foreign governments results in another unfair advantage in favor of overseas vehicle makers. Taking all this into account, you can see where U.S. automakers are today.

The Times should not judge GM, Ford and Chrysler unless it can walk in the shoes of the executives and production workers who deal every day with the myriad problems that do not plague foreign vehicle makers. American vehicle makers contribute substantially, directly and indirectly, to the employment of millions of Americans. Vehicle makers, automotive suppliers and dealers all across this great country make huge contributions to public charities, including food kitchens, museums and hospitals. They have been at the forefront of technological development in many fields.

The Times is wrong to believe that we should sit idly by and watch GM, Ford or Chrysler fail when there is something very real that our government can do to help American companies retool and survive an onslaught of foreign competition. What U.S. automakers want is for Washington to merely provide the fair playing field they have been deprived of for the last 30 years.

The Times should reconsider its harsh and potentially devastating position. So many millions of Americans depend on our companies’ ongoing success and viability.

Steven Roby is an attorney based in Royal Oak, Mich.