MFG 2.0

A Tale Of Two Auto Bailouts

Interesting article in the NY Times about the government-engineered bailouts of British Leyland and Renault (with, it must be noted, much more emphasis on the former, which was a slow-moving trainwreck, than the latter, which was a success).

...British Leyland, a car company that went through £11 billion of inflation-adjusted British taxpayer money, or $16.5 billion, in the ’70s and ’80s before going out of business. All that is left of the company now are memories of cars like the Triumph, and a painful lesson in the limited effectiveness of bailouts.

“It’s all too evocative,” said Leon Brittan, a top official in the government of Margaret Thatcher, the free-market-minded prime minister who nevertheless backed the rescue. “I’m not telling the U.S. what to do, but the lessons of the British experience is don’t throw good money after bad. British Leyland carried on for a few more years, but they’re not there now, are they?”

The story finishes on a hopeful note, as well as a cautionary reminder about the danger of half-measures:

...Despite the British experience, the case of Renault, which combined fresh money and new management in the 1980s, showed that government bailouts can be beneficial.

The French government help for Renault also came amid increasing losses for the company. But Mr. Rhys said that unlike British Leyland, Renault was able to use the financing to create new car models that were ultimately successful. That, along with tough cost-cutting by a newly installed chairman, cleared the road to profitability by the time the government began privatizing Renault in the 1990s.

If Washington does go ahead and help Detroit, Mr. Edwardes said, it is crucial that the government overhaul the management of the Big Three. “Throwing money at them isn’t enough,” he said. “They need money and they need new management. They need both, not one or the other.”

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