Remember when Barack Obama was campaigning for President and he went to Detroit with a very unpopular message in Motown? In essence he told an audience filled with auto execs it was time for them to start building fuel efficient vehicles, hybrids, and models that would lead Detroit out of its money losing ways.
It was a smack in the face coming from a candidate who wasn't afraid to say something politically risky- even if it was the right message to send.
Now that he's President, Barack Obama faces a similar situation. The question is whether he will do what needs to be done or cave to political pressure?
This week, his auto task force starts meeting with executives from GM and Chrysler, the UAW, dealers, suppliers, bond holders. These face to face meetings in Washington are supposed to give the task force members a chance to question all the key parties about how to restructure an industry bleeding billions of dollars. Nobody knows how these meetings will end, but one thing is certain: somebody, actually many people, will lose.
The question is whether President Obama will show the same guts as candidate Obama? Will he have the gumption to tell one or both of the auto makers, "Sorry, but your company needs to go into bankruptcy court? Will he have political fortitude to handle complaints from cities where plants and dealerships are shuttering?
As one industry veteran told me yesterday, "It's one thing to rattle the sabre and threaten folks. It's another to have the guts to draw the knife and actually start cutting." That's especially true in an economy with unemployment rising, the market tanking, and an auto industry that has stalled.
The country will be watching when it all starts later this week.
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- Ford Motor
- General Motors
- Honda Motor
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