Wednesday, December 03, 2008

As America Prepares to Rescue the “U.S.” Auto Industry…

Post-WW II Japan has the distinction of being the main target of U.S. attempts at protecting its manufacturers from the predations of their Japanese counterparts in four sectors: textiles, steel, automobiles, and semiconductors. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but off the top of my head:
Textiles: Some niche manufacturers remain, but most of the manufacturing has been outsourced.
Steel: Micro mills emerged to claw back U.S. share from Japanese manufacturers and away from U.S. blast furnaces.
Semiconductors: Intel became an industrial leader by moving out of commodity memories and dominating the microprocessor market.
I think there’s a lesson here somewhere for the U.S. Congress and the Obama Adminstration-Elect.


dr kildare.D. said...

yep there is.

dont bail out GM,Ford or Chrysler

Jun Okumura said...

kildare.d.dr: I could also give any number of Japanese examples where government protection has gone against the greater good in a major way. Having said that, in these times, I think that easing the way into Chapter 11 through, for example, guarantees for bridge loans would be understandable. The way to go, I think, is a process where labor (including retirees) and creditors give up what it takes to salvage viable auto businesses (a business?) out of the mess with minimal Congressional or administrative intervention. Shareholders will be wiped out, while the new owners (Kerkorian? Buffet? Toyota? AvtoVAZ? Beggars can’t be choosy) do what they need to do with the incumbent management. It’s not the financial industry; on the one hand, there’s no fear of systemic risk from hurting creditors, while on the other, there’s real demand out there, albeit shrinking, some of which will have to be met by the existing production capacity of the Detroit Three. The response should be tailored accordingly, as free from politics as possible; bankruptcy court appears to be the only place for that.

My economics are conservative, but you can see that it’s somewhat squishy at the edges.

Martin J Frid said...

I'm very interested in how the bailout of the Big 3 will affect the other carmakers such as Nissan, Toyota with factories and research centers in the U.S.

Nissan, for example, would be in trouble if GM cannot survive. But really, what we are seeing is a gigantic shift in consciousness. Yes, we can call it a "crisis" and go on and on about it, but like you point out, there is still real demand for good cars.

Jun Okumura said...

Martin: I assume that when you say as an example of the knock-on effects that Nissan would be in trouble if GM went under, are you referring to the loss of common suppliers to bankruptcy? I’m sure that there is a good chance that Nissan and other production lines will be temporarily disrupted, but I’m sure that the remaining auto manufacturers and banks and other creditors will find ways to keep the suppliers producing the necessary parts and components. Beyond that, Renault-Nissan, like everyone else, must be looking discreetly at GM and other Detroit Three assembly lines, supply chains and dealers as a matter of due diligence, just in case.

I’m not quite certain what you mean by “shift in consciousness”. Is it the same thing as the “major shift” that you mention in this post on your blog? A major global realignment of the auto business? A sea change in what the buying public demands in an auto?

Martin J Frid said...

Yes, the impact on the entire industry, including suppliers, is noted by US media, but I havn't been able to find anyone talking specifically about the effect on the other car manufacturers, including Nissan, Hyundai, VW etc. with plants in the US.

The "shift" is towards Asian and European cars, which are smaller, smarter (eg. more fuel efficient), but require a new way of thinking. The US is also going to need massive investments in public transportation, when the economy no longer can support the two-cars-per-family lifestyle. Instead of bailing out the Big 3, it would make sense to debate that. Obama is talking about "green jobs" and a new green deal, that has been noted here in Japan as well:

Anonymous said...

You asked for corrections: the US textile (fabric industry) lives on, and they mainly use Japanese Nissan and Toyota weaving machinery. They are a power in the bedsheet market. However, the US apparel industry has long since moved offshore. The US textile industry has supported market access for offshore clothing under various preference programs (Caribbean Basin, Africa) if the access is tied to use of US fabric or thread. The textile industry is now pressing for relief from imports of Chinese apparel because the apparel competes with Caribbean apparel made with US fabric.

Jun Okumura said...

Well then, Martin, those are my assumptions regarding the other auto manufacturers. If somebody paid me enough money, it would be an interesting issue to follow.

Now, where public transportation and lifestyles are concerned, you’re really talking about the entire national landscape as it has evolved over the last century. That’s a hell of a lot of infrastructure and real estate, and existing highways and bridges won’t wait for that contentious debate.

Thanks, Anonymous. That’s a lot of information packed into a brief comment. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the textile industry, the apparel business is highly labor-intensive and footloose while the fabrics (textiles in the narrow sense; there is no single term for the entire industry; in Japanese, we use 繊維 in its broader sense—narrowly defined, it means fiber) business is more capital-intensive and somewhat less mobile. Nissan sold its water-jet loom business to Toyota (not the automaker Toyota, which it spawned and is connected with through large mutual equity holdings) when Renault came in, and is no longer in the business.