Where is Brother Lee when we need him?

sunriseI’m not sure whether I have anything to say about the Chrysler bankruptcy or not. I am about as well informed about the auto industry as I am about the swine flu, which is to say not much. Mostly random reading and stories on NPR. But hearing the news today, I couldn’t help but think of a time back in the early 80s when Chrysler was going through a similar (?) crisis. Maybe all the vee-hickle companies were, I can’t quite remember. We went to the Detroit auto show that year and sitting at a table in Chrysler’s area was none other than their new CEO, Lee Iacocca. As far as I know, it is fairly unusual for an auto company CEO to present himself as accessible to the public in a public venue but there he was, big as life. And he went on to lead Chrysler back into prosperity for many years. Ever drive a minivan? Chrysler invented them under Lee’s leadership.

We don’t go to the Detroit Auto Show every year. I did when I was a kid. Actually, I probably didn’t go *every* year. After all, it was at least five hours from my home in Yooperland and it happens in the winter, not that winter driving conditions ever deterred Grandroobly from driving down south. But my Granddaddy and Bolette lived in Detroit when I was a kid and since we had a convenient place to stay, we went to the auto show often enough to create a little routine. We would drive downtown from the grandparents’ house. Grandroobly and The Engineer would go straight to the auto show. The Commander and I would go to the downtown Hudson’s store, where I would always get a new outfit or two. She had worked at the downtown Hudson’s store as a buyer in her youth and she knew her way around that huge store fluently. Eventually we would walk from Hudson’s over to Cobo Hall and spend the afternoon walking around the auto show with the boyz. I was never all that interested in the vee-hickles but I was *fascinated* with the beautiful models and their clothing and it was all fun and we would return to Granddaddy and Bolette’s house, big-city treasures in hand. One more breakfast in their breakfast nook and we’d be off back to the boring wasteland of Yooperland. At least that’s what I thought about my beautiful and beloved homeland back in those days.

I don’t know what’s next for Chrysler or the American auto industry. Grandaddy and Bolette moved out to Birmingham after the ’67 riots and they’ve been dead for years, and now Grandroobly and The Engineer are too. The old Hudson’s store is long gone. Detroit is a shell of a city. I’ve been living my life out on the Planet Ann Arbor all these years, going home to the Yooperland whenever I can and dreaming of California. I hope the auto companies can be revived. As for Brother Lee? According to the good old Wiki, he’s only a few years younger than our own Commander, so I guess he’s excused from trying to rescue Chrysler this time.

6 Responses to “Where is Brother Lee when we need him?”

  1. Marquis Says:

    I think that you miss the point of Lee Iacocca’s impact and its relation to the auto industry crisis. I worked at Chrysler in 1978 and 1979 when Brother Lee saved the company. The rank and file loved him. He engineered the 1979 bailout and also engineered the subsequent repayment of that bailout that lead to a resurgence of Chrysler. He was always a strong force in American automobile industry, but he was only one man. With his retirement the systemic problems, left unsolved eventually reared themselves again.

    Fast forward thirty years, the length of my career so far. All of the American auto companies are in deadly trouble. Problems identified in the seventies have not been addressed thirty years later. No matter which side of the management-labor divide you fall on, this is your wake up call. Wake Up Michigan!

  2. Pooh Says:

    We have a similar boy vs. girl auto show story. Bob and Mark took Meaghan and Danny to the car show when they were little. Noreen and I stayed home. When they came back, we asked Danny what he saw. “Big, red TRUCKS!” We asked Meaghan what she saw. “Oh, Mommy, it was so cool! There were these dancers and they had red costumes that were really pretty and spangly. They put their hands on their hips and danced like this, all across the stage.”, pirouetting as she told us. We asked Bob and Mark if the kids had been at the same show.

    Remember that Meaghan is almost six months younger than Dan, and at the time, that was a big percentage of their short lives. Dan has caught up just fine on his verbal skills, as we who know and love him can attest. Raising kids in what we tried to be gender-neutral fashion was certainly an eye-opener for Noreen and me.

  3. kayak woman Says:

    I only had girls but for a while a set of male/female twins lived with their grandparents next door here in A2. And yes, their mom had visions of raising them in a gender-neutral fashion. When she would take them for walks as toddlers, the boy would head straight for any open garage they encountered!

    As far as the auto industry, I am pretty neutral. Not sure which side I fall on. My entry was pretty much unfocused and more of a remembrance of a different era in Detroit, which really was once beautiful, vibrant city. I didn’t spend much time there as a kid. I don’t really remember it well, we only visited a few times a year.

  4. gg Says:

    I think Michigan Industry has sacrificed long term welfare on the altar of short term gains. That is why they can no longer survive routine short-term economic slumps. Maybe they are just using an economic slump to outsource work overseas as well as shed pension and health care obligations.

  5. Dog Mom Says:

    I second GG’s comment. I’ve worked in several different capacities at GM and Delphi, and of course The Engineer was a 21-year veteran Engineer of GM/Delphi (my, did HE have opinions about the industry!).

    What I learned, particularly in my last GM assignment, was eye-opening… and jaw-dropping in the full context of The Engineer’s experiences, my experiences, and what we are currently living through. Sadly, I could see this coming… when I know that the “altar of short-term gains” was the rule (although it was spelled out something like: “take as much COST as possible out of each component right now, and negotiate even more cost reduction over the lifetime of the program”. Then the Customer is left wondering why the wipers on his U-van or W-car no longer “park” properly, or why all GM full-size trucks have a DRL burned out on one side, or why Trailblazers & Envoys all seem to have the taillight on the same side non-functioning. Hell, we had an older S-10 Blazer that – when we put it into 4WD the first time – made the most horrid sounds & shakes (turns out a shaft was bent & out-of-round – GM replaced it under warranty, but SHEESH, that qualifies as a “first-time quality” FAILURE).

    Then…. when I chose to leave the contract world and hire in directly to a company, I get laid off 10 months later…. because the Big 3 are in it up to their eyebrows, and holding up 3 fingers….

  6. Margaret Says:

    I will be sad if they all go under…but they do deserve a spanking! However, it seems to always hurt the people who have the least control over the situation.