Fiat and Chrysler Merge??!! Will NASCAR run the Mille Miglia?

Header Photo: 1960 Fiat 1100B.  Notice the “suicide” front door handles.
One May Love Beer and the Other Wine, But, Oh, Do They Love Their Automobiles!

Americans May Love Beer and the Italians Wine, But, Oh, Do We Love Our Automobiles!

Holy MOPAR, Batman!  Fix It Again Tony!  If I had been asked to guess which international automaker the Obama administration would instruct Chrysler to join forces with to survive, perhaps to one day again be profitable, I wouldn’t have guessed the legendary Italian carmaker, FIAT (I use caps here, because, it originally was an acronym of  Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin).  Fiat has been around for a long time, being founded in 1899.  Fiat has been always been known for its small cars, even though it does have a major truck division, along with with major farm implements, etc., etc.

Over the years, Fiat has produced some fine cars of note, even if they were only known in Europe.  They withdrew from the American market in 1983.  Between 1967 and 2008, Fiat was awarded European Car of the Year thirteen times.

Of those cars, I find the 2006 Alfa Romeo (Fiat’s sport division) very attractive.  Small, but well styled:

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Once word of a Chrysler/Fiat merger hit the international media, this announcement, of course, or should we say thank the Stig, did not escape the notice of the guys at Top Gear:

With operations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, Fiat has vast resources and small car expertise. The Fiat 500 is one of the hottest cars in Europe, winning European Car of the Year for 2008, and the company wants to bring the car to our shores; initial reports indicate that Fiat plans to retool existing American Chrysler plants and sell it here. We say “non vediamo l’ora” and bring us the Abarth!

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

The Abarth is a performance model of Fiat 500. The 1.4L engine with IHI RHF3-P turbocharger is rated 135 PS (133 hp/99 kW) at 5500 rpm and 180 N·m (133 lb·ft) (206 N·m (152 lb·ft) in sport mode) torque at 3000 rpm. It includes 5-speed C510 transmission, low ride suspension, dualdrive electric power steering with SPORT setting, 6.5 x 16” aluminium alloy rim with 195/45 R16 tyres, 4-wheel disc brakes (front ventilated). Interior includes turbo pressure gauge, Gear Shift Indicator, aluminium foot pedals, Blue&Me MAP with Telemetry monitoring and GPS system.  Source: Wikipedia

Okay, I look forward as much as the next gear-head to the Stig (some say that he secretly keeps a ’70 Plymouth Superbird under a tarp in his garage and that he made Jeremy promise to never call it “rubbish.”) blasting around the Top Gear track in a hot set of wheels with a Five-Point star stamped into the valve covers of it’s 5-Litre motor putting out 600 brake horsepower getting 35 miles per gallon.  Let’s just hope it does not, and I mean DOES NOT look like the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Now, it’s disclosure time.  I owned a Fiat.  Yep, Lorette and I bought a brand-spankin’ new 1979 Fiat 131 Brava while we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, my last year in seminary.  Two liter, twin overhead cam engine, five speed, and a snappy clutch.  I loved that car, especially because it replaced a 1974 Ford Pinto station wagon with “country squire” fake wood vinyl siding.  When you shifted from fifth to third, and put your foot in it, something actually happened “accelerationwise” with that pretty Fiat exhaust putter that sang all the way up to the redline.

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

The ad above was a cleverly disguised code that only the likes of Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook believed during the dark years of the 55 MPH national speed limit.  Relaxed?  In third gear, the engine wasn’t even breathing hard when it blasted through 55.  Fourth redlined something over 80.  Relaxed, my….

Yeah, baby.  Here’s what my Brava looked like, with the “champaign” paint job:

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

The only difference I can discern, between my ’79 and this 1980, is the wheels.  If I actually can dig out a picture of my Brava, I’ll replace this one.  It’ll be like old times.  Replacing part after part after part, like the time the distributor cap cracked in Tillamook, Oregon on a trip with several other ministers to check out a site for a church camp.  On a Friday afternoon…but that’s another story.

Anyway, in the real world, only time will tell if this is a match made in heaven or if our esteemed colleagues in the White House should have chosen BMW, Audi, or even, believe it or not, Hyundai.  I’d love to see Chrysler survive (not to diss Ford or Toyota, by any means).  I just hate to have to watch those snooty Chevy commercials every time one of their cars wins a NASCAR race.

By the way, 30 years later I still like cars with names that are acronyms:

Vorsprung durch Teknik  audi-rings-wet-copy


Michigan, the Big Three Automakers, & the Death of Reaganomics

UPDATE: Dec. 19: I am feeling just a bit prescient (just a bit). In the post below, if you haven’t read it, I somewhat tongue-in-cheek suggest the Michigan could jump the U.S. Ship of State and join Canada, because the Canadians would probably welcome the chance to have their own auto industry. Turns out, they already do, and it is The Big Three. Just today, Ottawa announced that they were providing the Detroit automakers with $3-$4 billion in financial support because the auto industry is such a huge part of the Canadian economy. The conditions for the money, aimed at GM and Chrysler initially, but to Ford, too, if it requests aid, are similar to the ones coming out of Washington and the Obama office. What I find curious, from the perspective of media reporting, is that USA Today broke the story. At CNN.com it was buried as an add-on on their CNN Money page, and I couldn’t find it at all on MSNBC, ABC, or the New York Times’ websites. Read on!

Neoconservative Republicans (are there any other kind left?) apparently hate Michigan. Specifically, they hate Detroit’s Big Three automakers, General Motors, Chrysler and Ford teetering on the edge of the abyss. The Neo-cons see this peril as the moment to throw their last tantrum for “Free Market Economics” in a dramatic demonstration to avenge their losses, against the American electorate in the 2008 elections. (It might also be called political suicide by ideological obstinance.)

That is such a good idea! The economy is shedding 500,000 jobs a month, the economy is in shambles, the world is in a staggering recession, and so, of course, the absolutely most reasonable thing to do is enact, create, or threaten every possible wall to ensure another whole sector of the economy is beaten to a pulp. Yep, no bailout for the auto industry!

Abraham Lincoln may be rolling over in his grave over the Blagojevich affair in Illinois, but Ronald Reagan must be standing and saluting in his, as the standard of Reaganomics is hoisted high by the neo-cons: “I meant TRICKLE down. Fire the Lazy Socialist Bastards!”

Hmph. So, there.

Senator McConnell, tear down that wall!

There must be more than a hundred books written on unintended consequences in political, social and economic policy, but evidently the neo-cons have never read any of them. The primary unintended consequence of free-market Reaganomics, and its fatal flaw, is not that it abhors government regulation, but that it allows the individual to believe that morality and ethics are compartmentalized within that individual. Therefore, what happens to other people is of no consequence, as long as you are making money. The biblical Golden Rule is rewritten “Do unto yourself as you would have done unto yourself at a profit.” That whole idea of “doing unto others” in the original text is rationalized away by an ideological delusion that the others have exactly the same opportunity to succeed as you do, but they are completely on their own to get it done. If they don’t have the same opportunity to succeed, it’s their fault, because, despite any mitigating circumstances, they are supposed to have them because they are. Therefore, if others can’t succeed, it has nothing to do with you, but it’s all their fault, and they, not you, have not lived up to the Golden Rule -2.0.

Clever. Handy. Utterly immoral.

Where does this insight come from? I, with remorse, confess that I am a former Reaganomicist. Back in the early 1980s, fresh from graduate school, uncertain about my financial future, and having voted for Ronald Reagan (Jimmy Carter, after all, had been such an ineffectual president–although even Nostradamus hadn’t predicted George W. Bush and the cataclysms he wrought upon the world these past eight years), and so upon the invitation of a college friend, my wife and I joined up with Am___. (It is a word that must not be spoken.) And for the next five years we attended dozens of rallies and seminars, listened to hundreds of hours of tapes, all about how we would become fabulously rich by Am___ distributors who had become fabulously rich. We, however didn’t. We did spend a lot of money attending all that stuff, supporting all those SUCCESSFUL distributors telling us how easy it really was. To be fabulously rich.

In this world, the Gospel according to Ronald reigned unchallenged. Salvation by free enterprise. Liberty through personal wealth. Step into the great economic trickle-down and be showered by your wildest dreams. Ronald Reagan was a god to these people. Big problem, though. The masses at the rallies were nearly all professing born-again evangelicals, so their adoration had to be kept in the dark recesses of their souls, for to speak plainly of this truth would be an admission they were worshiping mammon and not the Lord.

Naively, I thought I’d be a shoe-in. I had a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. I was smart and well-educated, so moving up through those “diamond” levels was going to be a great ride to my dreams.

During that time, I learned two things about my “higher education.” One, was that in this crowd (many of whom would morph into Neo-conservatives when Newt and the Boys hit Washington), “liberal” education was not only looked at with open disdain and suspicion (unless you were a male athlete), for you might not believe in Biblical Literalism, but that you probably had been brain-washed by liberal faculty into thinking “liberally,” which meant, obviously that you were not to be trusted. I also had not attended one of the “right” seminaries (i.e., Wheaton, Dallas, Fuller, Bob Jones, etc.) so I was suspect right off the bat. Alas, I was evidently, one of those damned liberals (in the biblical sense).

The second thing I learned, despite my P.R. issues, was that, due to my education, I actually possessed the ability and capacity to think about what was being said in these mass rallies, and I began to have doubts that the party line had a basis in reality. Any basis. Hmm. This became troubling. I had been part of the organization long enough by that time to understand dissenting from the orthodoxy of Reaganomics would be called, at the very least “stinkin’ thinkin” and at worse, evidence that a SOCIALIST had infiltrated the ranks of the Chosen, and should be ostracized. Or have to buy a lot more cassette tapes.

That chapter passed. By the time Reagan’s second term finished, I was done with Am___ and Reaganomics. I still believe in free enterprise, as well as capitalism. But I will not, I cannot, rewrite the Golden Rule for my personal profit. Therefore, I hold to the principle that capitalism can be moral only in the context of how it protects those who are most vulnerable to impoverishment, and gives to them opportunities, with the benefits of assistance to raise their quality of life, while they, too, contribute to the common good. Now, I make no pretense that I am the first to view capitalism from this perspective; not being an economist, however, I just don’t know who to cite for the attribution.

Now, back to Michigan. First, I admit feeling some sympathy for those neo-con Republicans in the state’s government, as well as their Congressional delegation. They probably think they’ve been condemned to some new lower level of Dante’s hell. The one where the most faithful are hung out to dry by the leaders of the most faithful, because they are the “faithfuller” and do it, because they can. I shudder.

The good people of Michigan have a couple of other options. First, they could secede from the Union and petition Canada to be a new province. (None of that Alaskan miscreant secessionist baloney, however) After all, Detroit sits right on the border, now, and Lansing is about the same distance from Ottawa as from Washington, D.C. Canada would instantly have its very own auto industry, and the Parliament’s motivation to make it work would be enormous. The Queen could visit her new subjects so everything would get a fresh coat of paint. Think tax revenues! It would look a lot better on the maps, too, especially if they gave the upper peninsula to Wisconsin. That whole border outline thing always looks so messy in its current form.

The other option, which I find devilishly humorous, is for Michigan to declare itself as Upper Tennessee. Then watching Senator Bob Corker (R-Nissan) run for reelection would be the most fun we’ve had since watching that Iraqi reporter throw his shoes at W.

I do have one non-negotiable requirement regarding Chrysler (and I currently own a Chrysler product): Cerberus is a financial beast that should not be trusted for all the reasons I have discussed above. Before they are given a single buck of taxpayers’ dollars, they should be required to put up $10 billion in cash of their fund’s moneys to provide for the well-being of Chrysler employees, and then they can apply for a loan. They should be treated as Robber Barons until they show full faith through the common good that they are not! If you choose for your institutional identity an unrestrained ravenous beast, you should expect to be regarded to be exactly that (remember the fable of the rat and the scorpion) until you prove–beyond a shadow of a doubt–that you are domesticated and will faithfully contribute to the common good!

The common good. That is what I am saying is the only morally acceptable route to deciding how to deal with the automobile industry. And that will involve the United States government acting on behalf of the people who depend upon the industry, now. Require change? Yes. Require accountability? Yes. Require that they pay back America at a profit? Absolutely.