by Eric Henry and Eric Michel

I recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of running my 2000 Volkswagen TDI on locally-made biodiesel. That’s over 100,000 miles on a fuel that was made from waste vegetable oil, collected from restaurants right here in Alamance County. People frequently ask me why I drive a foreign-made car when I put so much emphasis on local food, local energy, and local manufacturing. I also co-own and manage a business that prints on US-made t-shirts, 60% of which are made right here in North Carolina.

There is a good reason I drive a Volkswagen. The US car companies are not interested in making a diesel car smaller than an aircraft-carrier-sized truck or SUV. Ours is a country of great technological innovation, yet the Europeans and Japanese are far ahead of us in automotive technology, and apparently in corporate leadership and vision. It boggles my mind how companies like GM, Chrysler, and Ford can be so far behind the rest of the world, when we are supposed to lead the world in innovation.

When asked last week by Congress why GM, Chrysler, and Ford were not making smaller, efficient cars, spokesmen for the big 3 US car companies said that their customers did not want them. I guess Toyota, Honda, and Volkswagen have snickered all the way to the bank, somehow fooling the American public into buying something we, apparently, really don’t want. Or maybe the more obvious answer to that question is the right one: US car companies are completely out of touch with their own consumers. When it comes to American automobiles, our CEO’s can no longer innovate, but only blindly follow what has worked in the past.

You may have noticed, during the Olympics, that GM resorted to advertising a product they do not yet offer and will not offer until 2010: the Chevy Volt. These companies missed on hybrid technology, and could not anticipate the fuel crises and the need for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Instead, they continued to build large, oversized SUVs and trucks, wondering all the while, despite access to millions of dollars of market research, why Americans were not buying their products.

Despite their unwillingness to provide us an automobile for our times, GM, Chrysler, and Ford sent their outrageously compensated CEOs to Washington, in their private jets, to beg for $25 billion of our tax dollars to save their businesses. In a capitalist system, you do not get to capitalize your profits, but socialize your losses. When NAFTA destroyed US apparel manufacturing in 1994, our industry didn’t receive a government bailout; my business, TS Designs, survived by changing its business model, innovating new technologies, and finding new markets. Now, irresponsible government and inefficient big business threaten it again.

I understand the economic effects if these companies go out of business, but what is our alternative? I have seen no comprehensive plan from these businesses to reform their models to meet current consumer demands. A bailout will only extend the American car companies until they run out of (our) money again. These companies remain too poorly run and out-of-touch to be competitive in a global market that demands innovation and eco-efficiency.

It is time to trim the fat of inefficient American manufacturing. Will thousands lose jobs? Yes. Is it a travesty? Yes. Nevertheless, it is the fault of massive failures in management on the part of Ford, GM, and Chrysler, not the fault of the US taxpayer. It should not be the responsibility of the US taxpayer to allow these companies to limp along for another few months before begging for yet another bailout. Visit this website: www. to sign the petition or, better yet, contact your congressperson directly to demand that they keep our tax dollars out of the hands of failed companies.