Driving the Cadillac dream through to the end
In the old days, American teenagers learned to drive in their fathers' cars, which they then borrowed to go on dates. Next, they would buy an old clunker, learn to repair it and replace it with a better car, according to Fukashi Setoyama's book "Raimugi-batake no Kyaderakku" (Cadillac in the rye field), published by Shogakukan Inc. Likening life to sugoroku, a Japanese board game, Setoyama writes that owning a "Cadillac was none other than the final shining star at the pinnacle" of the goal.
On the vast North American continent, the automobile underwent a unique evolution. In the late 1950s, huge-bodied cars with giant vertical tail fins were all the rage. In Japanese, the term ame-sha (American cars) evokes two different feelings--disdain for unsophisticated gas-guzzlers and a yearning for roomy, glamorous roadhogs.
Cars reflect the American lifestyle.
General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, the Big Three automobile makers that have guided the U.S. automobile culture, are facing an unprecedented crisis. These symbols of a robust American economy and free-market competition are now begging the U.S. taxpayer to shell out the equivalent of more than 3 trillion yen to bail them out.
The financial reconstruction plans for the three automakers include pledges by the top CEOs, who have been earning millions of dollars, to sell off their private jets and cut their annual salaries to $1. At a public hearing that started Thursday, the leaders said their companies are hard-pressed for enough cash to tide them over the year-end. Yet, apparently, the American public is unsympathetic.
During World War II, in addition to military vehicles, the U.S. auto industry manufactured large quantities of bombs and engines for fighter planes. Automobiles are not just a driving force in the U.S. economy--they have represented the United States during war and peacetime alike. Millions of Americans work for carmakers and related industries.
The Big Three are too big to be allowed to go under. It would be sad to see them collapse. Still, their predicament overlaps with their inability to produce vehicles that meet the twin challenges of saving energy and conserving the environment.
As far as industries are concerned, in the game of sugoroku, the auto industry will find it difficult to survive after reaching that "final star."
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5(IHT/Asahi: December 6,2008)