From Car and Driver Magazine, October 1979
(David E. Davis, Jr. and Frank J. Winchell)
I had a chance to have dinner with the smartest man in Detroit the other day, always a treat, and he not only provided me with a pretty nice lobster, he gave me a lot of food for thought as well. He’s not as depressed as he was five years ago, but I don’t know if that’s because he’s mellowing or because he sees some hope for the future. Judge for yourself.
Halfway though the second-pre-dinner Perrier, he said: “You know, this’ll be the first generation since the dawn of time that was actually slower than the one that preceded it. I’m prevented by government decree from driving as fast as my father did, even though he was driving really crude vehicles on roads that were essentially unimproved. Speed saves time, and time is not only an unrenewable resource, there’s no substitute for it. Horses go faster, year after year, airplanes go faster. Men run faster than ever before. But our government has decided that progress in ground transportation technology has to stop here. This is as fast as man should go. Historians in the next millennium will look back on this period and call it the Dark Ages. What we now call the Dark Ages will look like the Enlightenment by comparison. Medieval scholars can be forgiven for all their foolishness and superstition; they didn’t know what we know, nor did they have the tools that we have for mining information. Equipped as we are, knowing what we know, I think we can absolutely count on God to exact some kind of awful punishment for our profligate misuse of these gifts.
“I only hope that my great-grandchildren, looking back on this period with all its stupidity and institutionalized superstition, will appreciate the fact that I was against everything. Take crashworthyness. Nothing else made by man or God is designed to crash. Ships aren’t designed to sink. Jet aircraft aren’t designed to crash. Only cars. Try to imagine a rainbow trout or a tiger that was designed to withstand a 30-mile-per-hour barrier impact. A wild duck designed to survive the federal barrier test would be the funniest-looking organism you ever saw. It wouldn’t be able to lift of the water, much less fly. Have you ever noticed that virtually everything in nature is beautiful? That’s because it’s been allowed to evolve along lines that make it most efficient for the tasks it has to perform. Nature protects them with mobility, and the instincts to take advantage of that mobility. Creatures that persist in crashing into barriers don’t become better adapted to barrier crashes, they become extinct, as they should.
“The same thing holds true for the corporations. Doug Fraser says that the government ought to bail Chrysler out. I don’t know about that. Will Chrysler make it? I guess I don’t care. GM and Ford were supposed to beat Chrysler, just as Chrysler was supposed to beat GM and Ford. If memory serves, about 1,996 car companies have bitten the dust since the beginning of the automotive era. I don’t know how badly those guys, the losers, got skinned up, but maybe it’s just as well that those original 2,000 got pared down to four. There are about 10,000 automotive product variations available right now, and that may not be enough, but it’s a better choice that you get with panty hose or underarm deodorant.
“Right now it costs about a billion dollars to tool up for a new car that you sell to the public for roughly the same price-per-pound as hamburger. The industry seeks a natural balance, much like the foxes and rabbits. Slow rabbits get eaten by fast foxes. Slow foxes don’t eat. Both species fool around with colors, long ears, sharp noses, keen eyes, and a lot of other high-tech evolutionary stuff. If the rabbits get the edge, their numbers begin to increase, which then provide extra food for the foxes, whose population goes up in turn. At some point there may not be enough rabbits to go around, but the foxes never eat them all, and the best rabbits survive. When the rabbit population dwindles, the bottom line for the foxes fall off, and invariably the incompatible foxes are the first to go. So everybody makes out. It’s a perfect plan as long as nobody screws around with it. I guess I feel sorry for those slow rabbits, but I sure don’t think they ought to be protected from those foxes. Chrysler Corporation may never get to be one of the foxes, but it could evolve into a faster rabbit, provided the government doesn’t step in with a lot of money to guarantee that it’ll be a half-dead rabbit forever.
“The adversary relationship between our government and our industry must be altered, however. If something doesn’t happen to ease the burden on the automobile companies, we’ll wind up with General Motors fighting single handedly against the Japanese for automotive supremacy. And GM won’t be fighting a Japanese automobile industry that’s all alone – it’ll be fighting the combined resources of the Japanese government, the Japanese scientific community, Japanese labor, and finally the Japanese auto industry. Without the support of its own government, General Motors will ultimately lose that fight. There are adversary relationships that work and there are others that don’t. They only work, it seems to me, in completely independent of parallel relationships like Dodgers vs Yankees, or Ford vs General Motors, or foxes vs rabbits. They don’t work at all in independent relationship like catcher vs pitcher, engineering vs manufacturing, labor vs management, or government vs industry. As adversaries, these inter-dependents are bound to self-destruct. The fundamental forces for improving the breed are pulling in opposite directions. They become problem makers, not problem solvers. Their selfish survival instincts point away from common objective. Just to keep the whole thing from becoming self-energized requires almost as many umpires as players. Very few consumers are adequately equipped to make decisions in their own self-interest. It;s a terrible burden to put on the best informed, let alone the poor slobs who only know that the bad guys are the ones with the most money. It creates an environment in which con men and opportunists like the ones who perpetrated the 84-mpg-Capri hoax can flourish, to society’s detriment. The fact that so many members of our government were taken in by those clowns is eloquent commentary on their fitness to make regulations affecting the cars we drive. What it tells us about the daily press is unrepeatable.”
– David E. Davis, Jr.