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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/2/2015 (2009 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
My favourite episode of the original Star Trek TV series was called City on the Edge of Forever.
You might remember it: A deranged Dr. McCoy escapes Capt. Kirk and Spock through a time portal (the Guardian of Forever) to 1930s New York City. Everything Kirk and Spock knew -- the Enterprise, the crew, Starfleet -- vanished as soon as McCoy disappeared.
McCoy had altered the timeline back in the Big Apple. He saved the life of a peace activist who, now having lived long enough, went on to successfully lobby the United States to delay its entry into the Second World War. The reprieve was enough for Hitler to develop the atomic bomb first, win the war and conquer the world.
For history as Kirk and crew knew it to be saved, the pacifist had to die.
I thought it would be fun to play a little time travel through automotive history, to see what alternate timelines we might create. This is a simplistic analysis purely for entertainment value. Temporal physicists are free to debate among themselves.
Ford Grand Caravan?
LEE Iacocca was fired as president of Ford Motor Co. in 1978. In his back pocket, as he drove across Detroit to take over as president of Chrysler, were plans for the minivan (at Ford, the project was called Mini-Max) and the K-car, two projects credited with pulling Chrysler out of the financial abyss into which it was most certainly about to plunge.
So let's say McCoy landed in Dearborn, Mich., in 1976, and in a moment of lucidity, ran into Henry Ford II at a restaurant. "Henry, I know Lee really ticked you off with that deal to put Honda engines into Ford cars. And that whole exploding-Pinto mess was a disaster. But hold off firing Hal Sperlich, and let Iacocca run with this Mini-Max thing. He's on to something."
The repercussions would be interesting, to say the least. There's a good chance Chrysler would have ceased to exist, and then what happens to Jeep? Does AMC remain by itself, or does it die, too? And, what happens to DaimlerBenz, which now doesn't have Chrysler on which to lose US$29 billion 30 years later? Does it devote that money to product development instead?
Now, let's say it is just the Detroit Two, and Ford has the minivan, the K-Car and the Dodge Omni. Say what you will about any of them, they were all runaway success stories for Chrysler. What would this mean for GM?
GM, like Ford, would probably pick up some of Chrysler's sales. And both would face the import invasion as stronger companies, perhaps not leading to the 2008 bailouts, unless...
Roger, Roger, Roger
THEN-GM president Roger Smith is often credited with the quote: "We don't have to compete with (imports) on quality. We'll just beat them on price," or words to that effect.
Well, we all know how that brilliant bit of logic turned out, don't we? Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Mazda -- and later the Koreans -- all staked out sizable chunks of the North American automotive pie.
And all of it built on the market soundly rejecting Smith's insulting implication North American buyers weren't smart enough to buy quality. There were a lot of dark days between Smith's apocalyptic decree (though he didn't know it to be so at the time) and today's GM, brimming with top-notch products that compete on value, not on price.
Again, McCoy: "Dammit, Roger, I'm a doctor, not a business analyst. But even I can see the foolhardiness of such a strategy. I can't believe I'm paraphrasing that pointy-eared, green-blooded Vulcan, but c'mon man, "It's just not logical!"
So, Smith turns around his decree and instead orders his deputies to begin fighting the imports on quality. What a powerful combination: a marketing campaign that -- truthfully -- says, "Buy a great car from us AND support your neighbours." Certainly works better than "Buy our mediocre cars to support your neighbours," doesn't it?
Of course, there are millions of variations possible when you start messing with history. If Chrysler died because it didn't have Iacocca lobbying the U.S. Congress for the first auto-sector bailout, maybe the precedent isn't set for when GM and Chrysler had to go back to the well? Maybe Jeep gets sold to Toyota, which then powers its way even more quickly to the top of the automotive world.
Perhaps without Chrysler boss Bob Eaton to trick into believing it really is a merger (ha!), DaimlerBenz goes out and buys Ford, or GM.
It's fun to speculate, but until someone goes out and proves Einstein wrong, we're just going to have to live with the history we have.
Kelly Taylor blogs on the Winnipeg Free Press website.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.
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