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tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  November 6, 2011 11:00am-12:00pm EST

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how these companies got to the brink out of these great american icons, really come to this point where in some cases they almost ceased to exist. how did this agreement this crisis come about? >> guest: the big three automakers were dominant for so many years, 1960s, '70s, and still commanded 50% or more of the market until the middle of the last decade. there was sort of a slow acting point. i was going on with the auto companies and it was a legacy costs. these companies were supporting hundreds of thousands of retirees and surviving spouses, with health care, with pensions. gm's case i think it was to retirees for every active worker. this was part of what made these companies so great was that they did have this great retirement
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plan and pension plan. unfortunately, those were written when the companies were incredibly successful and owned 90% of the american market. times have changed so dramatically that those costs were not sustainable with the kind of volumes and sales that they had fallen to. on top of that, it's pretty well known that the detroit companies had made some mistakes. they have since been exposed but their product portfolio became much heavily weighted towards large vehicles, trucks, suvs. these were the profitable products for them. a neglected the passenger cars and some more fuel-efficient models that the japanese competitors were so strong in. over time, i think they lost their way in trying to improve
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their products, and it was more a matter of survival and trying to sustain what was working for them. and in the end, they couldn't support these enormous organization, these enormous obligations that had built up over the years. >> host: which had been apparent to the companies that the legacy costs were not sustainable? >> guest: has always been debate about who was at fault here. isn't a union, united auto workers are asking for too much, demanding higher salaries, more benefits? or is it the companies who gave away the store, and to do that a lot. people criticize general motors, they just gave everything away to the transit. people have to remember that these great contracts that the union negotiator done when these companies were making a lot of money. maybe they didn't look down the road far enough. but maybe in the '90s, maybe even later when gas prices were not such so low that everybody
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wanted to on a seven passenger suv might have been the time to look at hybrids, at least direct more resources towards smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that a lot of americans wanted and were not getting from gm, ford and chrysler. >> host: were you surprised at the mechanism that companies use to move some of their legacy costs off of the balance sheet? >> guest: 2007 labor talks were a watershed, and the unions should be given some credit for understanding that general motors in particular could not afford the billions and billions of dollars in health care that they were spinning on retirees in particular. i think for several years for every 1 dollar gm spent on health care, they spent 1 dollar on products. not too many bases can survive that kind of drain on their cash.
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so it was, these companies were on thin ice if you will for quite a number of years. and sort of trying to make a quarter to quarter, but the 2007 agreement allows them to offload these costs to health care trusts, but even that, now in retrospect, was a little bit like monopoly money. gm committed nearly $30 billion in '07 to retirees health care, and that money just wasn't there. and i think it became clear a year later that sort of the whole of the battleship had sprung a big fleet and gm financial structure, and ford for that matter as well, just couldn't meet these obligations in the longer. >> host: you mentioned the similarities that some of the companies face but they all took very different paths, the three companies did, as they moved
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through the crisis and restructuring, and now in some ways they are all profitable and creating jobs, but very different ways to get there. you might talk about those three different paths and why you think those companies to the social past that they did, individuals involved and the personalities involved. why did forget about that it took versus gm's obvious choices, and then chrysler of course. >> guest: let's start with general motors. they've always been the biggest, the dominant company, the leader in many ways of the industry in america. very proud company with a lot of success and somewhat resistant to change. i'll be charitable here, some people can cast stones at gm and the corporate culture, but what worked for them for many, many years is what they believed in. general motors as a corporation had a hard time admitting
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mistakes. i think that's a lesson to be learned. not so much their senior executives in private but the corporation itself, very resistant to any kind of criticism or suggestion that maybe they should do things differently. they are ceo, rick wagner, grew up in gm. i think in the book i describe here the perfect gm resume. he had been groomed from the top for many years. he was a defender of general motors. when gm was attacked, mr. wagner and his people defended it. in hindsight perhaps some of those criticisms, some of the suggestions that gmu to go in a different direction were heeded they thought change rather than embraced it. ford motor company was a smaller version of gm and, operational
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operationally, same kind of structured, same kind of global strategy. but the difference, controlled by the ford family, from the legendary henry ford. so they could make some adjustments based on their leadership, which at the time was bill ford junior, henry ford's great-grandson. bill ford after becoming ceo learned pretty quickly that his company was having the same kind of troubles as gm, and in what i would call a very admirable decision on his part, decided to look for answers outside of detroit, begin looking at other auto executives for foreign makers, such as daimlerchrysler and nissan, perhaps hire their ceos to come in to ford and bring fresh ideas. ultimately, he went way outside the auto industry to the boeing
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corporation and recruited alan the lolly who was a senior executive of building commercial airplanes and brought him to detroit to take a different look at fort. what was wrong with his company? how could they do things different? and mr. -- mr. mulally had an epiphany when he arrived in detroit which was cordoned the change in change drastically. all these things start at the top. you have to have the wherewithal, and i believe the sort of guts to make some of these hard choices. and ford made our choices a lot earlier than gm did. the biggest of which was in late 2006 when they decided to mortgage the entire company and borrow as much money as they could, $23 billion, to have a rainy day fund, if you will, when things got tough.
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and more importantly to start transitioning the company away from its reliance on suvs and trucks, to smaller, more fuel-efficient passenger cars. >> host: one of the things you touch on in the book, and i'm sure a fact of the heart of support, you do spend a lot of time with the emotional connection between bill ford and the company. you might talk about that a little bit because it really is compelling. it's moving actually. >> guest: bill ford is a passionate, dedicated, emotional man who was in a very unique position. he was an owner, and he was an executive at the same time. he had a family that had history and other financial wherewithal with the corporation, yet he was close to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of the men and women on the line, design studios, engineers. he lived and breathed his company since he was a kid.
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and i felt that mr. ford always had the company's best interest at heart. however, he had a legacy to protect as well. when he became the ceo ford was so profitable, and suvs are still making a lot of money, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. and i believe that it was an unusual and difficult decision for him to admit that i might not be the best person to be the ceo of this company. where do you hear that in corporate america these days? someone saying, you know, that somebody else might be able to do this job better. >> host: humble and courageous at the same time to. >> guest: is extraordinary. but it was wise to it was a wise move. bill ford understood that the industry was changing and ford was not changing fast enough. and whether it was because he
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was just a familiar figure in the company and perhaps people, their emotions got the better of them which was bill ford, hear the ford family is back in charge, ford will be okay now. bill ford saw it a little differently. he realized that his company, to maintain its stature, integral, it had to go back to basics. and he wasn't perhaps the best guy to do. you need someone who is experienced turning around and industrial corporation. >> host: think about the three companies and the company that maybe have the least predictable path was chrysler with foreign ownership and then private equity ownership and then, of course, now the partnership with fiat. talk a little bit about their path and sort of how that all came together. there's lots of different options. there was only some discussion
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of a chrysler merger with some of the other american based companies. that didn't come to fruition. and it's of a diversion that and, of course, is now doing extraordinarily well. >> guest: chrysler was always the hyperactive, youngest sibling of the big three. gm was the dominant one. ford was the more conservative but follow the footsteps the chrysler had a boom and bust history for decades. and i covered the merger with dimer bins in 1998 which was an extraordinary situation. that was the biggest merger in automotive history i think and maybe the biggest industrial merger of all time. looked to be a great marriage of sort of german luxury cars, german ingenuity with mass-market american trucks and minivans and suvs. it turned out to not be a
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marriage made in heaven. these companies didn't mesh but they didn't have enough in common. and chrysler found itself in a position where it's german owners actually look ahead into the future and saw chrysler as a drag on daimler and a threat to daimler. the chairman and ceo of daimlerchrysler realized very early on when he got a position in early 2006, that legacy costs and obligations and the paperthin profit margin to that chrysler head could turn into a real problem for daimler is the market turned. there's some uprising in sunday copy but then chrysler was adrift. it was sold to private equity firm on wall street, which had a game plan of kind of stripping
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it down to its essentials and rebuilding the company. i guess we'll never know how that worked out because, how would you forgot because they only on the company for a year when the financial crisis hit this country in 2008 and auto sales went off a cliff. chrysler was incredibly vulnerable. and at that point scrambling for a partner. trying to merge with general motors. their executives are traveling around the world looking for foreign automakers to link up with. at that point detroit was in chaos. the crisis was unfolding day after day, and chrysler really was saved from extinction, if you will, by fiat. i think we detroit went to washington, for government assistance, i believe the first bush administration and then the obama administration saw general
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motors going out of business as a disaster for the economy. but chrysler, they weren't even sure was worth saving. but this, kind of a little car company that could, call that company, $60 billion in revenues compared to the other two, really needed a hand and a partner to succeed. >> host: sure. questions obviously and a port and commitment they make about as many cars and unisys as others until recently the largest car company in the world. so it was important that it remain a viable going enterprise. so i think it was interesting to see how you laid out the path what occurred in the book and led to this partnership now with fiat this seems the extraordinarily successful. do you have any thoughts on the partnership? >> guest: absolutely. i've been covering the three companies on a daily basis, i don't think a lot of people give chrysler much a chance when they came out of bankruptcy.
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i think fiat was a bit of an unknown. they haven't sold cars in this country for a number of years. they don't have a high profile that daimler-benz did or toyota, for that matter. but again, sergio, the ceo of fiat and now also the ceo of chrysler was an outsider. one of the themes and lessons i think i take away from my coverage of the industry is an outsider ring something to the party in detroit. for the longest time outsiders were not welcome here. their ideas were suspected they didn't understand a business. they didn't have the business. alan mulally afford prove that was a fallacy and an executive with experience and vision can succeed in the auto industry by applying sort of the basic turnaround principles.
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matcher marketeer production, improve your product for consumer, what do consumers really want. and stick to a plan. sergio marchionne has come in and seeing the good in chrysler, in what christ is capable of doing. which may be people close to it has sort of given up on. he is applying a lot of the fiat engine technology to chrysler. is going to be a new car built here in the united states, 40-mile per gallon passenger car with fiat technology. and it's interesting to see that the same people who were kindly to throw dirt on crisis grave sort of trumpeting the fact that his company has the resiliency and sort of the know-how to come back and make cars and trucks that people want, which really is the secret. >> host: it's an exciting story. one of the areas in your book where you reveal some new facts
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was related to the gm ford merger discussions. and gm's real interest in pursuing that, you might talk about that process and then maybe thoughts of what that would've meant for the industry if something like that had occurred. >> guest: we have talked about just the conversation for years what would happen if gm and ford, two biggest american car companies were the big one. it would even be a big three. just one company through all the resources together, all their market share, kind of a good hypothetical. there's never been seriously approach because these companies are bitter rivals, have been for years. i think i made the analogy the yankees and red sox emerged. i don't think that would work out. there's a lot of overlap, but also very distinct identities. and a tremendous competitive
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spirit. and that's why bill ford and alan mulally was so surprised in the summer of 2008 at rick wagner and the general motors executive team approached them about a possible merger. in fact, i would say they were shocked. but what you learn very quickly was, just demonstrated how desperate general motors had become at that point. between the second quarter and the third quarter of 2008, gm went from being a quote healthy company with plenty of cash reserves to a company that was running out of money and was going to be insolvent within 6490 days. really extraordinary when you think about it. but because they were just spending so much cash to keep their head above water. so when mr. wagner approach to bill ford, and they had worked together on a variety of issues over time, to each other, trade issues here in washington, union
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contracts. so they knew each other well, and there was a healthy respect. but the ford contingent was stunned that gm wanted to merge with them, totally out of the blue. and quickly realized that this was, this was indicated that gm was desperate. they have nowhere else to turn. they had been shut out from borrowing money on wall street. their restructuring options have dwindled down to just cutting jobs essentially and cutting costs. and ford was looked at as a potential lifeline. forward for their part wanted nothing to do with gm, in that state. and actually felt that they were coming to them because they did have cash. they did have the money then barred from banks. but shortly thereafter it became clear that ford had college into
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washington to see if general motors had get a lifeline they are, because the prospect of gm going into some sort of uncontrolled bankruptcy, liquidation, would have affected forward dramatically, the whole supply base of the country would have been offended. passion of ended. it's an indication that the big three were sort of cracking apart, if you will. gm was going one way to the bush ministry and congress, later the obama administration for financial assistance. ford was going to go on its own path and tournament on its own. >> host: sure. ivc companies have made a lot of changes as you mentioned it in 2008 we did go into a deep economic crisis. and everything from just obviously with the collapse of the financial industry, the dramatic decrease of people's
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homes which can affect the second largest purchase which is a car. and then the collapse really of the car, sales rate from about 17 million units to 10 million units is just stunning, a stunning development. how much of what happened in 2008 was really beyond the control of the companies? what happened to the american car companies was really beyond their control and how much do they have to take ownership? >> guest: when you go from 17 million units, to 10 million, this is a 40 plus% drop. this is extraordinary situation. i'm not sure any business can survive very long after 40% of their volume. should have seen this coming? i can anticipate how they would have seen that. and it affected all the car companies come. the japanese companies, european
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companies. it was battened down the hatches time, and the fact is gm could have picked a worse time to go to washington because the t.a.r.p. loans and the assistance to wall street and the financial community already had people very upset, concerned, worried. there was a real election for congress going on at that time. it was the presidential election going on. it couldn't have been a hotter seat to sit in and to testify before congress and ask for money to safeguard companies. you asked about ownership. they had to take ownership for some of the animosity that had been building up for years against detroit, whether it was for the quality of their products, or the resistance to
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change on fuel economy or the environment, crying foul every time a foreign automaker made gains to the united states that it was the fault of washington and trade policies. it was extraordinary how a lot of the emotions, and any other negative, about detroit car companies. and i think general motors in particular, just poured out at the congressional hearings. frankly, these executives were stunned. they thought when they came to washington that the politicians would understand immediately that this was in the national interest to bail these companies out. and if gm went bankrupt, the ripple effect on jobs would be in the hundreds of thousands and maybe even larger. but instead, all of sudden the vitriolic and the anger that had been building up about how
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detroit had conducted its business for years all came pouring out, whether it was the people he didn't like unions, didn't like gas guzzlers, didn't like the way detroit built cars, a lousy pontiac they didn't work for them 20 years ago. it all started coming out. and it was pretty, it was pre-surprising, but one of the executives said something interesting to me in aftermath of that. if nothing else, and they've been a lot of apathy about the auto industry. we needed -- do we even need an american auto industry? but these hearings in this crisis forced americans to address this issue. how much do we value having an auto industry? is it important for america to have a homegrown company that makes cars and trucks?
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and apathy that may have existed for years earlier, just a feeling of we're stuck with detroit, became how can we support these companies and can they be better and valuable to the economy? >> host: sure. i would argue that we have to. if they're going to make anything in the united states we need to make cars. cars are the logical thing for us to make and something historically at least we've had a knack for. and certainty today americans are turning out tremendous great, great products. some low-skilled things are not going to be made in the nested, and then there are things like fighter planes and mris, things we make extraordinary well. if you think about something that will have scale, we can make 12, 13 minute of every single year, it creates a lot of jobs and a lot of economic activity, really has to be cars. cars has to be the central thing our manufacturing would focus
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around and it really is the underlying foundation of our manufacturing infrastructure. what with we be like if one of the countries had just collapsed? particularly if general motors or ford had just collapsed and ceased to exist? what with that event for the united states? >> guest: in detroit it would have been a disaster. and it would have rippled out from detroit very quickly. whether dealers, suppliers. we have people make the very lowest tech stuff to the very highest tech. >> host: imagery it's the largest manufacturing sector in the economy. >> guest: and misery is a great production stake you. cries out a couple of manufacturing plants. this assembly plants are like small cities. they may have to, three, 4000 jobs in the plant themselves, but for every job in the plant there's two, three, for other
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jobs, trucking companies. all the retailers and restaurants that serve as the plant. this applies to bring parts in and out. they are a network, and the assembly plant closes, these things that immediately. if gm, for example, had gone belly up and had to liquidate it would have been a matter of weeks before all their suppliers would have to shut down. and not to mention their dealers. geezers are a big source of employment in the country. it kind of touches every part of american life, the car does, i think. it's part of our birthright, part of our heritage. we invented -- henry ford invented the modern assembly line, and other companies, other
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countries learned a great deal about building cars from us. there would be a big hole in the american economy. and i think in the psyche of industry, if one of these auto companies or all three of them went out of business, one of the things that have been discussed for a while, we didn't touch on the book because it never came to fruition, was the idea that maybe these three companies all should have merged into one. we would have one american motors, u.s. motors. i'm not so sure that would have been as preferable to what we have now which is the competition of the three. competition is healthy. these companies drive each other, force each other to improve. i think we're seeing that now. ford, for example, has become a real leader in ncar technology.
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the shoe is on the other foot i think most people would assume the asian automakers would've been leaders of the bluetooth and technology in your car and in car tech. it's ford and microsoft, powerful and successful american company to bring some of the data and voice connected phones and all the stuff that people love into the car. so, touches all these other industries as they grow. and as companies grow, the car companies grow, it draws in the software companies and others who want to be part of what's really a lot of people is their second home, their core. >> host: i think companies are doing a great job. they are bring those types of
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things, people take with them one way or the other. they will take this on and some other applications and things that have become important to modern life. they will take it into their car. companies have been focus on doing that anyway that enhances safety and ensures that they are not diminishing the focus on the primary purpose of driving which is driving. getting from point a to point b. they're making improvements and making the driving expensive and, obviously, in safety. the number of vehicle miles driven continues to rise and increase over 320 miles today. fatalities and accidents actually continue to actually decline. so there's a real focus i think companies have on safety and trying to ensure that those applications are an important part of modern life are available in a car and the failed in a way that doesn't distract the driver. you do a good job in the book of pointing out this isn't just --
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you almost specifically say two or three times. this isn't just a michigan industry. there's been a lot of great production facilities are in states like kentucky and missouri and oklahoma. and really all across the country. and, of course, suppliers are such an important part for our economy. even in cities like california which would think of as a traditional automotive state. you might talk about the national scope of industry and what that means for america's economy. >> guest: some of the best assembly plants gm and ford have in the country are in texas. not in oklahoma anymore. but missouri, kentucky. it's a national industry. these jobs are valued very highly. when i was at the oklahoma city plant when it closed in 2005, it was the largest single taxpayer in the state of oklahoma.
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and these jobs were valued down there, and people still in the heartland have a real affection towards american made products and american made cars and trucks. on the coasts, the companies have lost a lot of market share but i think part of the issues due to the tremendous competition for those dollars. this really is an industry that touches many lives. and the fact is it's important that they maintain these large assembly plants around the country, because it's where their buyers are, it's whether consumers are as well as the workers. michigan has borne the brunt of the downside. we still have plans that are close that will never reopen. i think that's part of evolution
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of the detroit companies. it can't be that centralized. it has to be a broader base. and, of course, these companies are doing tremendous amount of expansion overseas. japan is the largest. now the death of their straightened out, pouring many resources into expansion in asia and elsewhere. even christ it is looking to expand around the world. but if you don't have the senate assembly in louisville and in dallas, kansas city, you are losing sort of the real heart and soul of the company. >> host: you mentioned market share the companies are gaining market share for the first time in years. they are different companies than they were just a few years
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ago, whether it's much more competitive cost structure and labor cost structure, product design and quality is beating much of the competition. they are winning the quality and design awards. i think one indicator of it was their willingness to accept and agree to some very aggressive fuel economy standards, both for 2016 and then 2025, which will really change the type of product that rolls off an american assembly line. you might want to type with a new fuel economy standards will mean for the companies and the environment and then, of course, individual consumers. >> guest: the new fuel economy standards, take was spent and evolution to revolution. these are high goals, and i don't see any reluctance belt on the part of the detroit
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automakers to embrace these goals. alan mulally told me we can make this, we can hit 54 miles per gallon by 2025. it's going to take a tremendous shift though in what people expect from their vehicles. we've already, again, the evolution has been happening. the v-8 engine is almost extinct now. you see in some high-performance cars, but very few mass-market models. the four-cylinder engine is now the most popular engine for cars sold in the country. which when you think about it, a huge change. the technology though that the companies have pursued with turbocharging and direct injection at a lot of things i'm probably not technically capable of explaining have made these cars just as fun to drive and reliable as the larger displacement engines of figures
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past that were getting 12 or 15 miles a gallon. now we are getting returning 25-30 miles per gallon uzbek and the force on engines is a different. ford and general motors spent on their own about four times what apple spent on research and development every single year. so what the four-cylinder engine can deliver today is significantly different experience as just a few years ago. >> guest: absolutely. the driving experience hasn't changed. in fact, ford is putting six cylinder engines in pickup trucks which seemed like a real gamble at the time because they got equal to the eight. 40% of their sales are six cylinder. in fact, i just interviewed a guy the other day who, he paid extra to get a smaller engine because he wanted to save on gas. so people's mindsets are changing. they are accepting things, because the products fulfill the
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needs, and they want more fuel efficiency without sacrificing size and power. and so hybrid technology will be a big part of reaching these new goals, and all of the auto companies are spending tremendous amounts of money in improving their hybrid technology. and then, of course, electric vehicles, very small segment of the market yet to this point, but they are coming. sometime this fall for it will begin during the first american made electric car, and electric ford focus. right at the same assembly plant where they are building regular internal combustion engine focus, hybrid focus, plug-in hybrid, and electric. let the consumer choose. and a flexibly in the plant will allow them to go more electric, if that's what people want, or more hybrid if that's what people want. so these numbers that are out
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there, 54 miles per gallon, may seem a little futuristic or awe-inspiring. how could we possibly get there? but the pace of change is extraordinary, and a lot of that is being driven by competition because hamdan toyota and honda, they want to be the first ones to get to the stage for miles. in the end it's all good for the consumer because have more choice, better vehicles, and we ended and will use far less oil which i know is a concern for everybody in this country. >> host: what are some of the impediments of this new generation vehicles? the plug-in hybrid, electric. there's a lot of interest in your. some acceptance of tasha what are some of the challenges from the industry as you think through some of those technologies? >> guest: with the electric article about the battery. we are building a battery
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industry in this country, sort of from scratch. a lot of it is subsidized by the government, which is not that much different from the way battery industries have been developed in other countries. korea in particular. highly subsidized because they are very r&d intensive, and it takes time to perfect batteries that are going to last long enough to get the kind of performance that's required in an automobile. a little different than an appliance or a computer. so i visit some of these battery plans. they are expanding slowly but surely, but there's not enough volume right now to support large fleets of electric cars, which is probably the way it should be because i think consumer acceptance of electric cars is an impediment. my thing was most people don't read too much about how the traditional car works.
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they just want to make sure it starts every morning, it's them to what you want to go. and it's going to take time for people to be comfortable with the electric car and to realize that this is a solid, reliable vehicle that they take care of it and they charge it, it's going to serve a lot of their needs. there's a lot of talk about range anxiety, any how far can i try my electric car. and the companies are dealing with that by offering alternatives. gm, for example, has the chevy volt, primarily runs on electric power, it also has a small gas engine to recharge the battery if you need to go further than 40 or 50 miles. but this is changing every day now, and i understand general motors has an electric model they will be announcing very soon. >> host: all electric. >> guest: all electric. so people will be able to decide
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what fits their lifestyle best if you drive 20 or 30 miles a day and feel like you're happy with an electric car that you can plug in at night, that's going to serve your needs, great pic if you need a second car, you want use your electric car as your primary commuting vehicle but, on weekends maybe you need something a little archer, gas powered engine, that may be a way to serve your needs as well. but this going to be a lot of choice. i think the impediments are going to be basically technological and how quickly can we have the kind of battery that can allow people to really make this their primary car. >> host: sure. some of the options present some issues, particularly compressed natural gastric but i think you're right. consumers are going to enjoyed an extraordinary range of choices that wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago.
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and i do think companies, if people wonder if the cubbies are different today, i think you just have to look at whether you are in fuel economy, where as you point out, pretty vigorous defenders of the status quo, and other companies in fact are the ones post under pushing the envelope. what's it like to write a book about companies of this size, magnitude? these are massive industrial enterprises. so what's it like to really begin and go through, find all the data you need? you had a reservoir of interviews and a lot of knowledge he built of covering the industry but what it's -- but what isn't like to write a book? >> guest: well, i felt that the story may come it was the biggest business story in the world for a good solid year, and there were a lot of things going
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on in washington. a lot of discussion about, you know, what these companies none, should we say then, do they really matter? i wanted to tell the story. i felt that there's a lot of opinions and a lot of emotions surrounding this, and still to this day the american taxpayer owns 26% of general motors. some people are comfortable with it. some people just can't stand that concept. but it's what had to be done to keep gm alive, which was a bailout, if you will. i wanted to kind of strip away the emotions and get to the heart of what really happened here. what were the decisions that were made. and it was not easy. i have been a reporter for the new times for three years now, covert stuff on a daily basis. can't say i've ever worked harder in my life that i have these last few years because of
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such a challenging story to cover. and i was lucky enough, fortunate enough i was given time off to do some research and do some interviews and try to hear what went on behind the scenes. for example, in his for gm merger discussion, or what was happening with daimlerchrysler when people thought perhaps that this merger was going to be a success but, in fact, german site of the company was already planning to sell chrysler. i think we learned a lot. i learned a lot about how people operate under pressure. i learned a lot about leadership. and i learned a lot about teamwork, too. no matter what, what the organization is, you have to have a teamwork at the top. and the ford motor company's turnaround i think is a great example of how bill ford and
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alan mulally sort of put their egos aside and worked as a team to set a vision for a company that really needed dramatic action to survive. alan mulally came to detroit and said, as an outsider, these companies have been slowly going out of business for 70 years. so to be able to get that kind of candor as a reporter and let people open up what they really saw and what was really like. they were faced with a bright lights and congressional hearings, put on the spot and forced to defend sort of the indefensible which is a company that general motors was so proud, and so prospects for so many years, coming to washington. literally begging for help from
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the people it had sold so many cars do over the years, the american public. to know what that was like, to hear about it, to tell it in human terms, i think it was a privilege for me. i appreciated the opportunity to cover this, this industry for almost 16, 17 years. and to get the kind of insight and to have people trust me and tell me what really happened, again was kind of a privilege for me and something that i, i saw as a learning experience as well. don't ever, don't think this is what you see on the surface is what's really happening. there's a lot more involved. >> host: we seem to have extorted access and a lot of candor from everybody you talk about the industry. and what they were thinking, what was really going through their mind, some pretty critical moments. and people were willing to admit their human weaknesses and that
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sort of thing. is there anybody you would have loved to talk to the two didn't get to talk to? somebody that you would like to know what's going on in their mind. >> guest: i was only turned down for one interview for the book. everybody else cooperated, and that was wrong, the head of the united auto workers. i interviewed ron many times over the years and observed in many events. and interviewed a lot of people around him, but he went out the way he came in which is i will talk about what goes on behind closed doors at the bargaining table. which i respected. i would like to have had a chance to ask about some specific, some specific dates and places and events, particularly when the final negotiations were going on with the president automotive task force on fgm would go through bankruptcy and what concessions
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had to be made. but other than that, and i respected his decision. once a union negotiator -- >> host: you do seem to i forget a lot of his perspective almost, things he may have told others. >> guest: i did do i talk to a lot of people were close within. and, of course, i interviewed him many times before. so i do on all of that as well. and i observed him. i have a lot of respect for ron, and that his principal. and i don't blame him. he turned out a lot of other people, too. so i didn't feel too, special case there. but the fact is most people were willing to talk. some talk of a cold that you took a little longer. when you lose your job, i don't care what it is, it's tough to kind of look back and discuss it. but to the credit, all the executives at general motors and chrysler, and even afford, too,
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came forward and were really, i think they wanted their story told. and i appreciated their trust and the candor because it's an important story. i think people need to realize that this was a story of survival. we came very close to losing the american auto industry in this country. and i don't have a firm opinion about the politics. but i do think that the administration and congress ultimately realized that leading these companies fail would have been far more harmful than -- hosting arguably we would have ceased to be a manufacturing power. >> guest: for years to come. >> host: talk about, a couple miniature, your thoughts on the automotive task force the president obama established, talk a little bit about their work and what that meant.
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>> guest: they came together so fast and accomplish a generous amount in a very short period of time. i mean, i spent quite a bit of time with them, they conducted a total crash course understanding what these companies were, what the situations were and the whole industry and how it was and related. it makes them very expedient decisions, time is of the essence. i think the obama administration was under a lot of pressure on two fronts. one, do we give them more money, and if we do, what control do we require over them, general motors in particular. the bush administration gave bridge loans which can't them alive long enough for the obama administration to decide should they stay alive.
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and i think they did an extraordinary job on the task force of boiling down to the essence what needed to be done. general motors, for example, much like alan mulally come into, steve rattner our ron bloom coming from his background, looked at this attack could gm have so many divisions, so many cars that are not selling, so many unprofitable models? for the longest time gm was reluctant to give up anything. we don't want to give up saturn. we don't want to give up on it. the automotive task force force them to make our decisions which were the right ones. gm is a smaller company now add a more profitable, more effective company. so i think in a compressed time frame and the pressure that the task force was under, they really distilled the needs of the companies, what had to be done. if, in fact, taxpayers are going
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to put up more money, some hard choices have to be made. and they really pushed those through. >> host: another interesting thing in the book is president obama, president-elect at the time, president bush talked about keeping the companies alive really even through a period of transition. might touch on some of, almost unilateral decisions the president made, president bush made to ensure that was the case at an president obama would be able to then deal with this challenge as he did. >> guest: well, president bush, my understanding is, told mr. obama that i won't turn this over to you as a family. i will keep these going until you have an opportunity to assess what you want to do with it. which is the craziest move on his part. i was sort of against some of his core policies, in terms of assisting private enterprise.
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but to his credit, he understood that general motors liquidating when a new administration came in would be a tremendous burden and challenge to an economy that was already struggling. president obama, i give him a lot of credit for believing these companies could succeed with assistance. there were a lot of people who said no matter how much money you give general motors, it is a lost cause. it will turn around. and to his credit, you know, with the right kind of direction and ipc with the financial assistance, that there was enough talent and commitment and know-how in detroit to succeed. and that was a leap of faith on his part i think. it has paid off.
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these companies are now growing again. they are adding jobs. of course, there's not enough to replace the hundreds of thousands that lost, but this is an evolutionary business and right now gm, ford and chrysler are kind of hot again. just got finished covering the latest round of labor talks, and we're adding jobs and it seems that detroit lives to fight another day. >> host: only got a couple of minutes but the covers are all successful but how are they different? >> guest: ford motor company by not taking government assistance, this is a decision and an experience that will benefit them for decades to come. they are the american car company. they made it on its own, and they should be congratulated for that. and the fact is i think it will resonate for years, that that's something that some people in america feel very strongly abo
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about. and they are gravitating to the product. gm is evolving as we speak. new management, changing the product structure, and trying to retain that humility that was long in coming. it didn't come overnight and i think it's important for them to remember what almost happened. i think they will be conservative in some things going forward. and chrysler is -- hosting but they will regain their position as world's largest on automaker almost surely this year. >> guest: it's amazing, isn't it? people thought that was done forever, and toyota would be the biggest company in the industry going forward. and gm is back on top. i don't think size is quite as important to their success as focus. and continue to improve their products. and i think the most telling effect about gm's rebirth is the
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number one passenger selling car in the country today is chevrolet cruise, small car from general motors. >> host: we've been talking with bill vlasic was the author of "once upon a car." i enjoyed your book and certainly enjoyed visiting with you. >> guest: thank you very much. appreciate it. >> that was "after words," booktv censure program in which authors of the lives nonfiction books are interviewed by judas, public policymakers, legislators and others familiar with the material. "after words" airs every weekend on the tv at 10 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on sunday, and 12 a.m. on monday. you can watch "after words" on line. go to click on afterwards in the upper
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