There were plenty of bumps along the way: Toyota's unintended-acceleration crisis, GM's ignition-switch snafu, Takata's unstable inflators, and VW getting caught cheating on diesel emissions. And a few people died — tragically and gruesomely — because they or others relied too much on immature technology to drive cars at high speeds with fragile humans inside or nearby.
Lessons can be — and have been — learned. We're still learning how to balance the desire for a lean supply chain with the need for backups when unexpected calamities strike, whether it's a tsunami in Japan or an explosion in western Michigan.
The invisible hand of supply and demand is still working through the appropriate level of employment and compensation. Managers who had to make cuts in 2007-09 are understandably wary of adding jobs they may not be able to sustain.
We still have a number of big issues to grapple with, especially as we head into a U.S. presidential election year:
- How should we balance the medium-term desire for a healthy auto industry with a need for clean air and a livable planet for our descendants?
- What's the best way to approach our long-broken health care system: a singular government-run program, an evolution of Obamacare or a return to the lightly regulated system that heaped ever-increasing burdens on employers and employees alike?
- How do we advance the safety potential of self-driving autos with the need to protect citizens from being casualties of progress?
- And how do we improve the process of selling autos without abusing the franchise agreements that preserve so much of dealers' wealth?
It's remarkable that an era of such health and prosperity in the industry ends with so much rancor: GM accusing FCA of racketeering, the UAW at risk of federal takeover, Nissan laying off its U.S. employees for two days.
As we bid farewell to 2019 and take our cup of kindness, may it bring wisdom as well. It could be another rough year.