Former Car Czar Steve Rattner Remains an Idiot about Cars

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 2.08.21 PMI really shouldn’t waste my time making fun of Steve Rattner, but I will.

He just tweeted a map showing the most popular vehicle in each state last year. He noted that in the Big 12 Ford rules, the Big 10 Chevy rules. If you ignore current conference memberships such a claim might be mostly true.

Then he said that on the coasts, “Honda/Toyota (imports) rule.”

Only, for the two main vehicles he was discussing, Camry and Accord (and to a lesser degree, CR-V), those vehicles aren’t imports. They’re made in the US.

In fact, if you account for the source of the parts in a vehicle, Camry has been — for several years — the most “American” car.

Indeed, of the cars he was discussing, only the Forester is primarily assembled in Japan — other “imports” are made in North America (Subaru keeps talking about bringing that production to IN, too, but it seems more likely they’ll just keep increasing Outback production there).

Maybe Rattner was just being sloppy, using the word “import” for the term “transplant” used within the industry. Though the comment seemed to be central his point — he added the word “import” to explain why this was interesting, it seemed.

Unless he was making a distinction about unionization — the transplants remain non-union, though UAW is working hard to change that — his comment was an odd betrayal of how unfamiliar he is with cars, even after serving as Obama’s Car Czar.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

25 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    Once upon a time they built cars in California. But the US manufacturers gave up; the former GM plant in Van Nuys is now a shopping center (‘The Plant’, unfortunately not using the car plant or even the muscle-car/50s car theme that the sign suggests) and only one building partially left (furniture and big-screen TVs, last I was by it). The one in Fremont became NUMMI, and now is something else. I don’t know what happened to the Ford Milpitas plant after it was closed.

    If they want to cater to the midwest and south, they’re doing a good job – but they shouldn’t complain when the rest of us choose something that fits our lives a bit better.

    • orionATL says:

      yes, indeed. the gm plant here survived until about 10 yrs ago. then was shuttered. clap! gone! just like that. and 3400 jobs with it (+ the multiplier).

      for i guess 8-10 years the wind blew thru it – like any ghost town. naturally, a sports stadium was the first proposal.now all the plans and hurdles have been completed and it will be ovef 150 acres of the ubiquitous mixed use development. we’ll see.

      the ford plant closed 10 yrs ago. porsche is supposedly building a hq campus but things are moving mighty slow …. we’ll see.

      i read the last union mine just closed in kentucky. white boys just can keep from goin’ for them plantation owners’ “values” line – and sinker, since 1850 at least. we’ve seen.

    • Badtux says:

      The Ford Milpitas plant became the Great Mall of Milpitas, a gigantic outlet mall that I love to visit just to get some exercise walking around the huge place. NUMMI closed down when GM went bankrupt and quit building cars there. Toyota pulled out because all their suppliers are in the Midwest so it made no sense to have this one assembly plant way out on the coast, now Tesla is making a small quantity of cars in one corner of the vast building. In fact, the location of suppliers is a huge impact on where car manufacturers build their cars, especially since freight consolidation makes it so expensive to ship things by train nowadays, especially shipping across the Rocky Mountains where there are very limited options (basically, you have UP and, uhm, UP, now that UP has merged with SP and WP).

      Regarding where cars are made, Chrysler’s RAM 1500 model pickup trucks are primarily made in Saltillo, Mexico. RAM 1500 models account for approximately 2/3rds of the RAM models sold, so that makes RAM trucks technically an import. Warren MI is still where most of the medium and heavy duty pickup trucks are made, but the reduced labor costs of the Saltillo plant as well as the location of half of Chrysler’s engine manufacturing capacity nearby makes it an ideal location for Chrysler’s lowest-priced trucks. The only major component that has to be shipped in is the transmissions from the Kokomo (Indiana) transmission complex.

  2. orionATL says:

    i thought it was garrison keilor who limned the automobile distribution map for the united states:

    – protestants drive fords

    – catholics drive chevy’s

    – b’hai drive priuses

    – amish drive carts.

    • wallace says:

      – protestants drive fords

      – catholics drive chevy’s

      – b’hai drive priuses

      – amish drive carts.

      note to self…
      wait till a generic hack stalls a billion cars along side the nations hiways..

      kiss your 82 toyota corolla station wagon .

      • orionATL says:

        you keep an ’82 corolla going ? congrats.

        and i was patting myself on the back for refusing to part with my ’92 e-150.

        • P J Evans says:

          I had an ’81 Corolla, but got rid of it in 02 – it died elsewhere in 04, I know because they got in touch with me to see if I had any interest, legally speaking. It was to the point where a good mechanic was having problems (how good? he almost got it to pass the smog check, with a dead catalytic converter).

  3. ALBERT CHAMPION says:

    ratner never knew anything. and still doesn’t. he was a sycophant.

    my guess is that he doesn’t even own an automobile. that he is chauffered everywhere.

    • emptywheel says:

      He did not at the beginning of this. Suspect it’s still true though maybe he has a car to drive around the Hamptons.

  4. John Freeman says:

    Teslas Rule!!!, I know, I know, a small volume car, but a game changer. Made in Fremont, Ca and people said that cars cannot be made in California because of high regulatory and HR costs. Proving to be not true. Priced close to comparable Mercedes and BMW sedans (sometimes less expensive) yet gives you a better ride and much better performance. Plus you cut down on your carbon footprint.

  5. Peterr says:

    I really shouldn’t waste my time making fun of Steve Rattner, but I will.

    It’s not a waste, Marcy. It’s more of a pause that refreshes.
    .
    This is not your Father’s Car Czar.

  6. Lefty665 says:

    Remember that while foreign owned manufacturers invest in factories, spend labor and parts dollars in the U.S., profits are repatriated elsewhere. That, and supporting union labor has kept me buying U.S. made Ford and GM products.
    .
    I’m currently driving a Ford truck that was built at the River Rouge site where the US labor movement forced Ford to accept unions.

    • P J Evans says:

      At one point there was a choice between Dodge Colts, built in Japan, and Honda Civics, built in Ohio.
      Those oversize pickups may be assembled in the US, but they don’t fit many of us, in more than one way. (No US make seems to be designed for anyone under about 5ft8. That’s a lot of market they’ve given up on.)

  7. orionATL says:

    i came across this while reading my morning “papers”:

    http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/9/made-in-detroit-again.html

    it’s not the feel good part of the artice that interested me but the policy choices part. for years now i have been watching what i’ll call holding companies buy up dozens and dozens of medium and large american companies, place them under their umbrella, cheapen the quality of their products by moving production to Choverseas :) or dismembering them at will and selling off whatever parts they chose. where’s our policy to reward (subsidize) keeping jobs here ?

  8. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    “American” is such a loose concept for cars.

    A couple of years ago, I toured a factory in Illinois that makes fasteners by the hundreds of millions for the car industry. It’s in a small industrial park off an interstate and looks like those places you drive by and never notice, a neat lawn, and an American flag flying out front.

    We tour the place, and it’s amazing in the way that any factory that has to do hundreds of millions of things identically always are. It also has all the warning signs of being a bad workplace, lots of “associate” focused productivity metrics and that quiet sense that nobody is really enjoying themselves.

    We end the tour in the cafeteria for the CEO and Plant Manager to answer questions. They’re Japanese and speak fractured English with heavy accents. Who owns this place? It’s the American subsidiary of a large Japanese industrial company. The factory tooling? Japanese. Raw materials? Steel, imported from Japan. (They’re quick to tell us that’s changing. The tsunami disrupted their supply chain and they’re in the process of qualifying American steel so that doesn’t happen again.) Who do they sell to? Japanese automobile companies making cars in America.

    Is this really an American company? They’re American jobs on the factory floor, but that’s pretty much the only American thing about the company. Are the fasteners “made in America”? Literally, yes, but in a way that phrase has no real meaning.

    This is a really strange form of economic colonialism, clearly enabled by “made in America” protectionist legislation. I’m still not sure whether I consider this a good thing, a bad things.

    • lefty665 says:

      Thanks Saul, you put flesh on my comments. There’s no reason to think the Japanese have abandoned vertical integration and syndicates, even if thinly disguised as U.S. subsidiaries. Your example of a screw factory that makes parts for all, or most of, the Japanese assembly plants in the U.S. is the perfect illustration.
      .
      The spin surrounding Japanese vehicles assembled in U.S. plants and “made in U.S.A” is exactly, and only, that, spin.
      .
      “Domestic” manufacturers slipping over the borders to Canada and Mexico to reduce labor costs are no better, thanks in part to Bill Clinton and NAFTA.
      .
      Please take a moment today to remember Joe Hill and the Wobblies. “Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.”
      .
      Just say no to TPP and T-TIP. Happy Labor Day.

    • orionATL says:

      damn. i had never heard of the rouge river battle before. when i read something like this it takes me a long time to calm down.

      congratulations to the smithsonian mag for publishing this story in the current general climate.

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