- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

“Government Motors” is driving Americans away.

There is a groundswell of disdain for the federal bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler, even as polls show that a growing “Buy American” sentiment is boosting sales for the only Detroit automaker that avoided bankruptcy and federal rescue - Ford.

GM and Chrysler say some buyers are coming back to support them, even trading in their Mercedes for Chevrolets.

But it is bailout opponents who are the most visible - and audible.

Conservatives thunder that the country has taken a socialist route with President Obama at the wheel.

“I won’t buy a socialist car,” columnist and radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt thundered last month.

Others agree - at least about GM.

“Over the years, we have mostly been a General Motors family. Since GM has become Government Motors, we will never again buy a GM product,” said William Crowley of Spicewood, Texas.

However, Mr. Crowley already drives what some would call a “socialist car.”

“We libertarian-conservative Texans recently bought a Volvo after we roll-over-crashed our Chevy Suburban,” he said. Volvo is owned by Ford, but made in Sweden and Belgium.

It’s not just conservatives who are turning away from two of the Big Three. The bailouts were opposed by most Americans, including substantial minorities of Democrats surveyed in March and June polls, according to Gallup.

That could mean bipartisan support for Ford.

“You could say even Obama supporters don’t like [it],” said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of car-buying site Edmunds.com. “I’m not sure you can put a party label on it.”

Kate Internicola of Arlington Heights, Ill., drives an old Hyundai but said there will be two Fords in her driveway soon.

“My husband traded in his 12-year-old Jeep, and he is one of those ‘buy American’ kind of guys. We decided to go with Ford, and our reason was that they didn’t take any money from the government,” she said.

Mrs. Internicola loves the couple’s new Escape sport utility vehicle, and is waiting for Ford’s 2010 lineup to replace her Hyundai, she said. “I’m definitely going Ford.”

Ford’s U.S. market share has risen in eight of the past 10 months, and surpassed Toyota’s in April. Ford is now second in U.S. sales, with 17.2 percent of the market, behind GM, with 20.2 percent.

Ford’s U.S. sales in June fell just 11 percent from a year ago, while sales at GM, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda fell 30 percent or more.

Sales at GM and Chrysler have been hurt by production shutdowns and the slashing of fleet sales to businesses and police departments.

Retail sales have been better in recent months, the two automakers reported.

But Ford’s new high-mileage products - including the Escape and the Fusion midsize sedan - are gaining more traction with consumers.

“We’re definitely benefiting from the struggles at the other two, but more importantly, Ford just has good products,” said Vince Sheehy, owner of 17 Washington-area dealerships with a variety of domestic and foreign brands.

Matt Gregg, 22, of Springfield, was shopping for a Focus at Sheehy Ford in Springfield Saturday with his mother.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen with GM. If you get one and GM or Chrysler is out of business, are the dealerships going to take care of it?” he said. “You see a lot of Ford cars on the road. We like them because of the accessibility and the great gas mileage.”

Mr. Sheehy, who also sells Chrysler brands, says he has not seen an influx of buyers seeking to support the bailed-out companies.

Others say they have.

“I think everyone that is coming into our dealership is coming out of foreign cars, and they want to support President Obama and his initiative to make GM strong,” said Judy Schumacher-Tilton, owner of several Chevrolet stores in the New Jersey suburbs of New York City. “We had very strong sales last month.

“They are trading in their Mercedes, BMWs, Audis. They are Wall Street people, and they’re buying American,” she said. “And they can decrease their payments by $700 or $800 a month.”

Mrs. Schumacher-Tilton said these buyers are gravitating to models such as the Tahoe and Suburban sport utility vehicles, the Corvette and newly reintroduced Camaro, “which is really topping our sales.”

Roger Simmermaker, who runs the Web site howtobuyamerican.com, said there is new interest in his site.

“As a result of what happened, some Americans are turning a little bit inward, and there’s a resurrection of the idea that charity begins at home,” said Mr. Simmermaker, 44, a defense contractor employee and machinists’ union vice president in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

A Gallup Poll from late February - the most recent available - suggested that Americans were ready to rally around the domestic automakers. The number of respondents who said they would not consider buying a foreign car rose to 37 percent from 30 percent in December.

Bruce M. Belzowski of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute cautioned against relying on polls.

“You have to be careful with some of that. People’s intentions and their actions don’t always match.” Buyers are spending too much to buy simply for loyalty, he said.

Some conservative Republicans are willing to forgive and forget the bailout - as well as the fact that their air bags failed to deploy when their GM investments crashed.

David Tuckerman, 84, of Arlington, is a GM bondholder who still wants a new Cadillac DeVille - but he can’t afford it because of the money he has lost on GM and other investments.

“I’d buy another one tomorrow,” he said. “I was tempted to go to Lindsay Cadillac [of Alexandria] and say, ‘I’ll give you my bonds for a new car.’ ”

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