Image: Auto bailout
Shawn Thew  /  EPA file
Leaders of the top U.S. automakers return to Capitol Hill this week to make a second bid for more than $25 billion in federal help. From left are Ron Gettelfinger of the United Auto Workers union, GM's Rick Wagoner, Chrysler's Robert Nardelli and Ford's Alan Mulally.
updated 12/3/2008 3:39:19 PM ET 2008-12-03T20:39:19

Lorin Crandall believes America's Big Three automakers need to accelerate plans to slash the number of vehicle models they make and equip the nation with cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars if they are to survive.

"They should reduce to maybe a dozen or less vehicles," said Crandall, of St. Louis. "This will allow for the engineering, manufacturing and retooling process to be simplified. Since the engineering process will be focused on less vehicles, the quality of engineering can improve as well as quality of manufacturing."

Crandall is among hundreds of readers who sent their suggestions on what a plan to rescue the auto industry should look like.

Some expressed compassion and sympathy for the reeling industry, but they also offered painful solutions, including cutting executive pay by 90 percent, capping employee salaries at $40,000 and closing overseas plants. Other readers were outraged by the industry's dire situation and said the automakers shouldn't be spared.

"Let them die," wrote Mary McMyne. When contacted by telephone at her home LaFayette, La., her pleasant conversational tone belied her disdain.

"I'm disgusted, and we've been heading down this track for a long time. ... I feel bad for the employees," she said. "There are stand-up companies out there that are trying to make it work, and trying to save the Big Three is making a big mistake."

But doing nothing is worse, said Bill Rustic, a retired GM employee of 30 years. For Rustic, who lives in Viera, Fla., "accountability is key."

His rescue plan includes reductions in wages and elimination of bonuses until 2010. He also said an independent, non-government firm should audit auto company budgets and that union benefits should be halted if a plant were shut down or temporarily idled.

'A level playing field'
Detroit’s automakers, making a second bid for more than $25 billion in federal help, have presented Congress with plans to restructure their companies. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler LLC say they would refinance debt, cut executive pay and seek concessions from workers.

The United Auto Workers union said it was open to contract changes to help the struggling industry.

Some readers, like Tom Daiek of Auburn Hills, Mich., like what they have heard so far.

"I believe that given a level playing field the Big Three can compete with any foreign manufacturer," Daiek said. "As a country we need to put tariffs on goods coming into our country the same as we are taxed by countries we export to."

Crandal spoke for many when he said the industry needs to go green.

"From an ecological standpoint, the idea that our cars last five to seven years and then we're ready for a new one is very troubling," said Crandall, a former St. Louis urban planner and landscape architect. "This is why we should make cars that are designed to last for much longer and have interchangeable or modular upgrades ... to help them keep up with new technology."

Crandall, a urban planner and landscape architect, said he was recently laid off and spends his days driving to interviews in his 1993 Toyota Celica.

"Even last night, I was looking at cars and didn't even bother going to any American company," he said. "Honda and Toyota are known as the most fuel-efficient and not many American cars can come close."

James Arseneau, owner of a commercial van dealership in Elmhurst, Ill., said that's only part of the problem. He said November was his second-worst month in 20 years.

His solution: Woo potential buyers.

"You can make these factories as green and modern as possible," Arseneau said. "But if they don't sell vehicles it will all be a waste. Help out the buyer, who then helps out the dealer, who then helps out the manufacturer. Give a 10 percent refund, not tax break, to U.S. customers who buy an American vehicle, both used and new. So if a customer buys a $30,000 Ford, either new or used, they will receive a refund of $3,000 along with all the deals from the dealer and manufacturer. You have to get people buying again. Fixing the plants won't get people to buy now."

Other readers and their ideas:

  • "The American auto industry is an integral part of our economy and should be saved. But they have to be willing to tighten their belts and do business in a way that is profitable. They must protect their commitments to retirement and pensions plans while increasing productivity. ... Run lean and efficient production plants like Toyota and Honda. Let us save the auto industry, but help us be confident that you are willing to change with the times so we can support you in sales and loans and buying stock."
    — Stephen P. Sanders, La Verkin, Utah
  • "They need to structure bankruptcies to promise service and warrantees and parts. Any rescue funds should only go for new, innovative, high-mileage, safe vehicles; not to subsidize business as usual."
    — Tom Nelson,Canaan, Maine
  • "The companies need to get a better grip on what's going on and aim their products to the consumers. The auto industry needs to reinvent itself in a more positive manner. There should be a point that the auto industry become more green in their thinking and think out of the oil companies' box. Maybe a hybrid that uses compressed air technology and small gas engine or electric motor should be included."
    — Daniel R. Cunliffe, Florida
  • "We should require any company receiving federal aid to file for bankruptcy protection, then void all existing union contracts and fire top executives. Ensure any business plan is viable, and if so, provide whatever funds are necessary to get them 'over the hump.' "
    —Art Conover, Doylestown, Pa.
  • "They should be completely streamlined. i.e., Ford should manufacture trucks, Cadillac should produce luxury sedans, Buick should produce mid-size economy cars, etc. The America car companies produce far too many makes and models — less is more and definitely more "green."
    — Melissa Quesenberry, Florida
  • "Establish a "$5,000 tax credit on new Big Three purchases through next year and make interest on loans on vehicles tax deductible. I work at a GM dealership and we need to move cars."
    — Wayne Leach, Greenwood, Ind.
  • "All top and mid-level executives should take a 50 percent salary cut. No golden parachutes and no bonuses now and in the future. Government should allow interest on vehicle purchases and other personal property to be tax deductible. There should not be any reservation clauses or other hidden perks allowed in the proposal."
    — Daniel L. Byers, Nunica, Mich.

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