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Saving the U.S. Auto Industry
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The U.S. auto industry is in crisis. Sustainable business leader Gifford Pinchot III offers an idea for converting catastrophe into opportunity:

By Gifford Pinchot III

In World War II the American auto industry switched rapidly from producing cars to producing planes, tanks and other weapons. To bail out the car companies today, rather than handouts or loans they cannot repay, give them massive federal orders for windmills. The windmills can be erected on government land producing energy that will be sold to repay the debt used to acquire them.

Buying windmills will employ autoworkers, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, give the government valuable assets for their money, shake up the rigid bureaucracy in the auto companies, and get the industry into a business that will flourish in a carbon constrained world. Compare this to giving the car companies money to fund losses that will continue into the indefinite future requiring them to come back for more bailouts later.

Gifford Pinchot III is co-founder and President Emeritus of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

Photo credit: flickr/Wisconsin Historical Society, Creative Commons license.

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I like your thinking, I had some simular ideas in which I posted in my class at University of Phoenix. I had very little rsponce. Here is my idea:

I know there are mixed feelings about bailing out the "big three" car manufacturers. I was upset when I first heard about it but then I got to thinking, this could be the chance to change the way cars are made. Think about it, if the Government bailed out the big three we wouldn't see any benefits from it even though its our money. What if the government made a stipulation on the money given to the big three, what if the government said if they were bailed out that they could not build anymore fuel cars and instead every car had to be a hybrid (or electric) and cost the same to consumers as regular gas powered cars? It would be great for the environment, great for consumers who no longer have to purchase a ton of gas and could actually afford such a vehicle, and great for the manufacturers because (they were bailed out for one) they would be getting a lot of car sales because consumers like the "normal" price for a hybrid car. This would start a competition between US cars and foreign cars. Foreign cars would eventually go hybrid to keep up and then the big change would have happened and our earth would be better off. I know, I am thinking big, but if we are going to give them our money, why don't we let the money work in our favor? Anyone have any thoughts? Is it feasible??

Posted by: Jessica McGettigan on 7 Dec 08

Bringing auto makers into the green energy producing infrastructure would be a great step in mobilization for a new economy.

Consider the resources that we have and the needs that we have, and how they might most effectively be optimized. We need wind power to reduce our carbon footprint, displacing some of the 50% of our electric power generated from coal, and supplying expected growth in primary energy use. The U.S. has an industry of skilled engineering and manufacturing workers who need a bridge to get through the rough patch and to retool for a plug-in future, which can be supplied by wind.

Combining these is a great infrastructure play compared to current bailout plans, which seem to be pouring water onto the sand.

Posted by: Bob Hiltner on 8 Dec 08

Production capacity at currently-idled auto plants, utilizing prefabrication, preassembly, and modularization [PPM] for accelerating the manufacturing process, can play a central role to the transition towards an economy based on clean energy. Assembly of wind turbines is only one of many potential roles for these plants. At the University of Chicago, I conducted research into the economics of deploying nuclear reactors as a climate change mitigation measure and noted that auto assembly plants could be retooled to produce reactor components, potentially enabling nuclear power plants to be built in three years or less. The US nuclear industry would thus be able to sustain a reactor deployment rate of one 1GWe unit per month, more than enough to triple US nuclear generation capacity by 2050. Since these new reactors will only supply the increase in electric power demanded by then, 'crowding-out' of other clean energy investment should not be an issue; assuming that current fossil fuel generation capacity remains unchanged in 2050 (albeit fitted with carbon capture and storage equipment), renewable energy would need to supply roughly one-third of electricity production, a 30-fold increase from the present level excluding large-scale hydro.

As Thomas Friedman stressed in The World is Flat and his most recent work Hot, Flat, and Crowded, revamping the energy production landscape will require a new 'New Deal' similar to Franklin Roosevelt's plan to counter economic depression. Recent indication that the current recession might become the most severe post-World War II recession the US will face serves to justify such measures to decouple economic activity from fossil fuel consumption.

Posted by: Yangbo Du on 8 Dec 08

Years ago, after WWII, the auto industry decimated street car tracks and trolleys. The time has come for that industry to fix and make work that which it broke. The same plants that have built automobiles can build buses, railroad cars (and many more tracks for them to travel, made safe for riders and in the right locations), commuter cars, etc. That is, if our long-gone steel industry can be revived so materials necessary become available for production here in the USA.

Of course, windmills can be manufactured at auto plants, as well as buses, rail cars, etc.

Posted by: Yvonne Hansen on 9 Dec 08

Not to rain on any parades, but what reason is there to believe that any bailout given to the auto sector would be anything but "no strings attached"? If we look at the unfathomable billions that have already been thrown at the financial sector with no accountability to speak of, why should the auto sector be any different?

Getting what we want (and need!) out of this is going to take a lot more than just blog posts and letter writing. (This isn't to say that blog posts and letter writing aren't a fine preamble - but until we see some direct action, there's little reason to expect our wishful thinking will sway those who pull the strings.)

Posted by: Chris L on 9 Dec 08

I am afraid not enough strings will be attached. Any bail-out will be a bonus for underperforming companies, loosing market share since decennia, an overpaid dealer system and bad for the competition who produces smaller, energy efficient cars. Why would the government not put the money in a fund with which there will be a US standard for hydro or battery fuel created as well as the infrastructure. Within 5 years USA will lead the world in this area. In the meantime. Integrate the US car companies, reduce the number of brands and dealerships and give the one or two remaining companies loans on normal interest rates.

Posted by: mirjam on 15 Dec 08

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