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Buchholz: Listen up, Detroit

Commentator Todd Buchholz

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: General Motors gave reporters a peek at the latest designs for its electric car today. GM said it'll have prototypes of the Chevy Volt ready by the end of the year. The battery-powered car's schedule for a 2010 release. GM says it'll get the equivalent of about 150 miles to the gallon. And that the lithium-ion battery pack should last 10 years or 150,000 miles. You'll be able to replace it when it dies for about $10,000.

Commentator Todd Buchholz says whether their cars run on gas or electric, it's time for the Big Three to catch up to their smaller competitors.


Hot Wheels, Barbie Jeeps or General Motors? Which would you choose? Believe it or not, Mattel Toys, the maker of Hot Wheels and Barbie, has a bigger market cap than GM.

Surprised? Hot Wheels are a lot more reliable than Pontiacs. And that Barbie Jeep? It scores 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon. The real Chrysler Jeep? Just 7.5 out of 10 in the Edmunds guide. And the not-so-Big-Three are surprised they've slid to less than half of the auto market?

Detroit is still playing catch-up to the Japanese.

When I was in a kid in the 1970s, I drooled when my teacher drove up in his new Ford Mustang. Now my kids just want the Barbie Mustang. Besides, it runs on batteries!

What happened? The problems of the Big Three predate $4 gas. Trucks and SUVs were a bubble, not much different from the NASDAQ in the '90s and housing in the 2000s. Nannies in Chevy Suburbans were crashing into each other in parking lots, sending shrapnel throughout suburbia.

The whole point of GM was to offer a diverse portfolio of products, not to throw the whole company into one irrationally exuberant SUV tailgate party.

Don't blame the American workers. When those Americans wear Honda jumpsuits, they rivet just fine. And don't blame healthcare costs either. Sure they add an extra $1,500 to a vehicle. That's nasty. But Toyota doesn't steal market share because their cars are priced $1,500 cheaper -- it's because GM cannot seem to build a Camry or Lexus at any price.

The fact is, management has been like a bowl of vichyssoise: cold, thick and hard to stir.

Now those executives in Michigan face a choice: Motown or "No Mo' Town." With its near 10 percent jobless rate and super-high taxes, Detroit is running a going-out-of-business sale. This has been an open secret since the 1970s. And you don't need to hear it through the grapevine. Just ask a kid.

Ryssdal: Todd Buchholz is a writer. He used to be an economic adviser to the first President Bush. His latest book is called "New Ideas From Dead CEOs."

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