Is Detroit Too Black to Fail?

What Obama's car commission needs to look like.

A fix-it guy—There’s one in every neighborhood. He’s the dude who you take your car to when you don’t want to pay dealership prices for an oil change. You need a friendly brotha who can let clueless management types know when they’ve taken things too far with the car’s guts. Picture Craig Robinson as Mr. Goodwrench. 

A pitchman—to help figure out how Americans who like the sound of “E-Class” and “3 Series” are gonna buy a car called “Volt.” Thirty years ago folks might have been hyped by cars named “Malibu” and “Impala,” but nowadays all we really want is something that gives us that deep, reassuring, made-in-Japan “thunk” sound when the doors close. Let’s see if we can get Berry Gordy to come out of retirement for this one. 

A haiku… 

It’s pretty clear now:

GMAC financing—

You’ll subsidize it. 

Bailing out banks is one thing. Everyone has to deal with them. Not everyone has to buy American cars. That simple fact should give Obama’s team the leverage it needs to wrest a few big concessions from management and labor before coughing up additional cash. 

Mark the cars at 10 percent over invoice to get rid of haggling over the sticker. Get rid of “options” so dealerships and supply chain outlets can focus on two or three different trim levels of each model. Cap auto execs’ pay at $500K just like banks receiving TARP money, and use the savings to increase the wages of salesmen and people on the line. Up-armor as many Humvees as we possibly can—these wars aren’t going anywhere. 

Whatever you do, think outside the box. All the Kate Walsh TV spots in the world won’t turn a Cadillac STS into an Audi. The Bob Seger “Like a Rock” demographic and the Mary J. Blige “Real Love” set stayed loyal to American cars all these years, but the rest of the country moved on to gluten-free corn flakes, iTunes and Volvo. 

The task force will rethink American cars—who builds them, who buys them and who’s making the payments. And Obama has to remember what happened to Bourbon Street. While he’s saving Wall Street and Main Street, he needs to look out for 2300 Jackson Street. Washington, D.C. might be Chocolate City, but Obama also has to look out for Motown—the Chocolate-est City. 

David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root.