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EDITORIAL: Free-market Ford laps Government Motors

Bureaucrats can’t run a car company, let alone the whole country

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2011

Ford Motor Co. beat General Motors in March sales, another small but significant victory of private enterprise over government micromanagement. Since the 2009 government takeover of GM, competition between the two leading domestic auto manufacturers has taken on strong ideological overtones. It serves as an ideal test case, a microcosm of the competition between two worldviews, the automotive equivalent of North vs. South Korea. Right now, the good guys are winning.

Ford has been giving GM a run for its money since the competition began. In October, Ford recorded a 68 percent increase in its third-quarter net income, the sixth straight profitable quarter during the worst economy since the Great Depression. The blue oval passed Toyota to become the second largest auto brand sold in America. In March, Ford sold 212,295 vehicles, beating GM by 5,674 units - only the second time since 1998 that Ford won the monthly sales race. It did this without the supposed "benefits" of government intervention, except to the extent government minders have kept GM from maintaining its historically dominant position.

March sales numbers also highlight the lax public response to the Obama administration's continued emphasis on "green" technology. One of Ford's mainstays is the F-series pickup, sales of which are up 25 percent over the previous year. This full-sized truck gets 19 miles per gallon, very fuel efficient for a pickup in its class but not exactly a poster vehicle for environmentalists. At the other end of the conceptual spectrum is the Chevrolet Volt, the new electric car that's been excessively hyped by earth muffins and bureaucrats but only sold 608 in March, about three-tenths of 1 percent of GM's total sales for the month.

The White House wants Americans to foot the bill for its boring-car agenda above the $70 billion or more taxpayers already have lost on the bailout. As The Washington Times' Kerry Picket reported this week, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, wants to jump-start stalled Volt sales by giving electric-car buyers a $7,500 instant cash incentive, paid to auto dealers by the U.S. government on the back end. This subsidy is designed to take some of the sting out of the Volt's ridiculous $41,000 list price.

Mrs. Stabenow's "Charging America Forward Act" is similar to the 2009 "cash for clunkers" program that used taxpayer funds to manipulate consumer behavior, which she also spearheaded. The comparison isn't positive because the $3 billion giveaway was a clunker itself that disproportionately benefited foreign companies at the expense of American carmakers. Either way, a new experiment in corporate welfare for luxury-priced cars isn't what America needs when budget-cutting ought to be the order of the day.

Government should take a lesson from Ford, which has retired debt, cut bureaucracy, shed nonessential services and operations and gotten back to basics. Not all the decisions were easy, but Ford's belt-tightening has paid off. And unlike GM, government has nowhere to turn for a handy bailout when the Treasury goes belly up. When it comes to cleaning up the mess in Washington, it's Ford's way or the highway.

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