So long, Big 3.
Guten tag, Big 2.
'American' automakers? Kaput.
No more American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Hey, Chrysler, you and your German masters can just take your technology and get the heck out of the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles.
Well, not so fast. Some things change with the merger of Daimler-Benz with Chrysler Corp. But some things remain the same.
Last week, I had an odd interview with Chrysler President Tom Stallkamp, normally a straightforward guy. Last week's talk began in strangeness. Daimler and Chrysler executives are in their 'quiet period,' imposed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
But once we started talking, we discovered Chrysler still exists. Executives are assessing rebates, managing plants, buying parts and developing the new Neon.
Chrysler is a strong third in the American light-vehicle market, with more than twice the market share of the next-highest participant, Toyota.
So let's look at three issues: Big 3; AAMA and politics; and PNGV and both politics and the environment.
Some have been quick to bury the term 'Big 3' (which was coined by Automotive News in 1928). It's the Big 2 or nothing.
I'm not so sure. The top three sellers take 72 percent of the market. Meanwhile, the Big 3 Japanese combine to barely beat Chrysler alone. And when Renault owned American Motors, people still talked about the Big 4. 'Big 3' isn't dead yet.
I do hope DaimlerChrysler kills off the concept 'Detroit,' which East Coast media use as synonymous with the Big 3 or sometimes even the entire auto industry, as when The New York Times recently referred to 'Detroit's' marketing departments inventing such names as Paseo, Elantra, Impreza and Boxster.
In its present form, the American Automobile Manufac-turers Association is history. In 1992, the Big 3 ejected Honda and Volvo so the AAMA could lobby against the Asians on trade.
One problem: 90 percent of the automotive issues in Washington are the same for Honda as for General Motors. And to be effective, the industry needs unanimity. Senators from Kentucky and California listen to Toyota.
DaimlerChrysler will be the most free-trading auto-maker in the world. With DC as a member, the AAMA no longer can be anti-Japanese or anti-German. Boot Chrysler out, and the AAMA would be about as effective in Washington as the Japanese ambassador after Pearl Harbor.
A truly effective lobbying group - for environmental rules, safety, taxes - would include all automakers building in America. Look for that to happen.
WHEN GOALS COLLIDE
The Big 3-government Partner-ship for a New Generation of Vehicles has two rationales: Cut fuel consumption while cleaning the environment, and give the
Big 3 a technological edge over 'foreign' automakers.
Those goals collide. If you're cleaning the environment, why hide technology from the 'foreign' companies that sell 28 percent of the vehicles in America?
The contradiction becomes too stark when Chrysler reports to Stuttgart. PNGV cannot hold in its present form.
DaimlerChrysler shows again that national boundaries are becoming irrelevant to the global economy. But if Chrysler had merged with British Telecon, would we declare the death of the Big 3?
For a while, at least, that phrase stays in my vocabulary.