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The automotive industry crisis of 2008–2010 was a part of the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the resulting Great Recession. The crisis affected European and Asian automobile manufacturers, but it was primarily felt in the American automobile manufacturing industry. The downturn also affected Canada by virtue of the Automotive Products Trade Agreement.[1]

The automotive industry was weakened by a substantial increase in the prices of automotive fuels[2] linked to the 2003–2008 energy crisis which discouraged purchases of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and pickup trucks which have low fuel economy.[3] The popularity and relatively high profit margins of these vehicles had encouraged the American "Big Three" automakers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler to make them their primary focus. With fewer fuel-efficient models to offer to consumers, sales began to slide. By 2008, the situation had turned critical as the financial crisis of 2007–2008[4] placed pressure on the prices of raw materials.

Car companies from Asia, Europe, North America, and elsewhere have implemented creative marketing strategies to entice reluctant consumers as most experienced double-digit percentage declines in sales. Major manufacturers, including the Big Three and Toyota offered substantial discounts across their product lineups. The Big Three faced criticism for their mix of available vehicle types offered, which faced criticism for being ill-suited to a climate of rising fuel prices. North American consumers turned to smaller, cheaper, more fuel-efficient imports from Japan and Europe.[5]

The crisis in the United States is mainly defined by the government rescue of both General Motors and Chrysler. Ford secured a line of

The crisis in the United States is mainly defined by the government rescue of both General Motors and Chrysler. Ford secured a line of credit in case they require a bridging loan in the near future. Car sales declined in the United States, affecting both US based and foreign car manufacturers. The bridging loans led to greater scrutiny of the U.S. automotive industry in addition to criticism of their product range, product quality, high labour wages, job bank programs. The government-backed rescue of the American auto industry gained the support of 37% of Americans in 2009 according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, and it gained the support of 56% of Americans in 2012 according to a Pew Research Center poll.[61] Chrysler was forced into bankruptcy in April 2009 and GM in May.[62][63]

While the "Big Three" U.S. market share declined from 70% in 1998 to 53% in 2008, global volume increased particularly in Asia and Europe.[64] The U.S. auto industry was profitable in every year since 1955, except those years following U.S. recessions and involvement in wars. U.S. auto industry profits suffered from 1971-73 during the Vietnam War, during the recession in the late 1970s which impacted auto industry profits from 1981

While the "Big Three" U.S. market share declined from 70% in 1998 to 53% in 2008, global volume increased particularly in Asia and Europe.[64] The U.S. auto industry was profitable in every year since 1955, except those years following U.S. recessions and involvement in wars. U.S. auto industry profits suffered from 1971-73 during the Vietnam War, during the recession in the late 1970s which impacted auto industry profits from 1981–83, during and after the Gulf War when industry profits declined from 1991–93, and during the Iraq War from 2001–03 and 2006-09. During these periods the companies incurred much legacy debt.[65]

Facing financial losses, the Big Three have idled many factories and drastically reduced employment levels. GM spun off many of its employees in certain divisions into independent companies, including American Axle in 1994 and Delphi in 1999. Ford spun off Visteon in 2000. The spin-offs and other parts makers have shared Detroit's downturns, as have the U.S.-owned plants in Canada. Altogether the parts makers employ 416,000 people in the U.S. and Canada. General Motors alone is estimated to have lost $51 billion in the three years before the start of the financial crisis of 2007–2008. GM is set to reacquire factories from its Delphi subsidiary during its Chapter 11 restructuring.[66]

The 2005 Harbour Report estimated that Toyota's lead in benefits cost advantage amounted to $350 US to $500 US per vehicle over North American manufacturers. The United Auto Workers agreed to a two-tier wage in recent 2007 negotiations, something which the Canadian Auto Workers has so far refused.[67] Jared Bernstein, the chief economist of Vice President Joe Biden, noted in an interview with WWJ-AM in Detroit that most of the 2007 contract concessions apply only to new hires, while older workers "still benefit from contracts that were signed a long time ago."[68] However, only 30% of parts used by the Big Three employ union labor, with 70% sourced from non-union labor.

Delphi, which was spun off from GM in 1999, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the UAW refused to cut their wages and GM is expected to be liable for a $7 billion shortfall.[69][70][71]

In order to improve profits, the Detroit automakers made agreements with unions to reduce wages while making pension and health care commitments. GM, for instance, at one time picked up the entire cost of funding health insurance premiums of its employees, their survivors and GM retirees, as the U.S. did not have a universal health care system.[72] With most of these plans chronically underfunded in the late 1990s, the companies have tried to provide retirement packages to older workers, and made agreements with the UAW to transfer pension obligations to an independent trust.[73] Nonetheless, non-unionized Japanese automakers, with their younger American workforces (and far fewer American retirees) will continue to enjoy a cost advantage.[74][75][76]

Despite the history of their marques, many long running cars have been discontinued or relegated to fleet sales,[77][78][79] as GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler shifted away resources from midsize and compact cars to lead the "SUV Craze". Since the late 1990s, over half of their profits have come from light trucks and SUVs, while they often could not break even on compact cars unless the buyer chose options.[80] Ron Harbour, in releasing the Oliver Wyman’s 2008 Harbour Report, stated that many small “econoboxes” of the past acted as loss leaders, but were designed to bring customers to the brand in the hopes they would stay loyal and move up to more profitable models. The report estimated that an automaker needed to sell ten small cars to make the same profit as one big vehicle, and that they had to produce small and mid-size cars profitably to succeed, something that the Detroit three have not yet done.[81] SUV sales peaked in 1999 but have not returned to that level ever since, due to higher gas prices.

In the case of Chrysler Corporation, compact and mid-sized vehicles such as the Dodge Neon, Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus were produced profitably during the 1990s concurrently with more profitable larger vehicles. However, following the DaimlerChrysler merger in 1998, there was a major cost-cutting operation at the company. The result was the lowering of benchmarked standards for Chrysler to aim at. This directly led to the following in Chry

In the case of Chrysler Corporation, compact and mid-sized vehicles such as the Dodge Neon, Dodge Stratus and Chrysler Cirrus were produced profitably during the 1990s concurrently with more profitable larger vehicles. However, following the DaimlerChrysler merger in 1998, there was a major cost-cutting operation at the company. The result was the lowering of benchmarked standards for Chrysler to aim at. This directly led to the following in Chrysler's case. There was realignment of the Chrysler Group model range with those of GM and Ford (i.e. a skew towards larger vehicles).

The Detroit Big Three had been slower to bring new vehicles to the market compared with foreign competitors. The Big Three have battled initial quality perceptions in spite of reports showing improvements.[82]

Falling sales resulted in the Big Three's plants operating below capacity. GM's plants were operating at 85% in November 2005, well below the plants of its Asian competitors, and was only maintained by relying on cash incentives and subsidized leases.[83] Rebates, employee pricing, and 0% financing boosted sales but drained the automaker's cash reserves. The subprime mortgage crisis and high oil prices of 2008 caused the popularity of once best-selling trucks and SUVs to plummet. Automakers were forced to continue offering heavy incentives to help clear excess inventory.[84] Due to the declining residual value of their vehicles, Chrysler and GM stopped offering leases on most of their vehicles in 2008.[85]

In September 2008, the Big Three asked for $50 billion to pay for health care expenses and avoid bankruptcy and ensuing layoffs, and Congress worked out a $25 billion loan.[86] By December, President Bush had agreed to an emergency bailout of $17.4 billion to be distributed by the next administration in January and February.[87] In early 2009, the prospect of avoiding bankruptcy by General Motors and Chrysler continued to wane as new financial information about the scale of the 2008 losses came in. Ultimately, poor management and business practices forced Chrysler and General Motors into bankruptcy. Chrysler filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 1, 2009[88] followed by General Motors a month later.[89]

On June 2, General Motors announced the sale of the Hummer brand of off-road vehicles to Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd., a machinery company in western China, a deal which later fell through.[90][91][92] Later, GM announced that it was ending production of its Hummer, Saturn and Pontiac lines effective at the end of the 2009 model year.

Environmental politics and related concerns regarding carbon emissions have heightened sensitivity to gas mileage standards and environmental protection worldwide. In a 2007 edition of his book An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore criticized the Big Three. "They keep trying to sell large, inefficient gas-guzzlers even though fewer and fewer people are buying them." For example, Japan requires autos to achieve 45 miles per US gallon (5.2 L/100 km; 54 mpg‑imp) of gasoline and China requires 35 mpg‑US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg‑imp). The European Union requires 47 mpg‑US (5.0 L/100 km; 56 mpg‑imp) by 2012. By comparison, U.S. autos are required to achieve only 25 mpg‑US (9.4 L/100 km; 30 mpg‑imp) presently. Other nations have adopted standards that are increasing mpg requirements in the future. When California raised its own standards, the auto companies sued.[93][94]

The Big Three received funding for a $25 billion government loan during October 2008 to help them re-tool their factories to meet new fuel-efficiency standards of at least 35 mpg‑US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg‑imp) by 2020. The $25 billion in loans from the Department of Energy to the auto manufacturers were actually authorized by Congress early this year but not funded. Automakers could use these loans to "equip or establish facilities to produce ‘adv

The Big Three received funding for a $25 billion government loan during October 2008 to help them re-tool their factories to meet new fuel-efficiency standards of at least 35 mpg‑US (6.7 L/100 km; 42 mpg‑imp) by 2020. The $25 billion in loans from the Department of Energy to the auto manufacturers were actually authorized by Congress early this year but not funded. Automakers could use these loans to "equip or establish facilities to produce ‘advanced technology vehicles’ that would meet certain emissions and fuel economy standards; component suppliers could borrow funds to retool or build facilities to produce parts for such vehicles."[95]

In 2008, a series of damaging blows drove the Big Three to the verge of bankruptcy. The Big Three had in recent years manufactured SUVs and large pickups, which were much more profitable than smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Manufacturers made 15% to 20% profit margin on an SUV, compared to 3% or less on a car.[96] When gasoline prices rose above $4 per gallon in 2008, Americans stopped buying the big vehicles and Big Three sales and profitability plummeted.

The financial crisis of 2007–2008 played a role, as GM was unable to obtain credit to buy Chrysler.[citation needed] Sales fell further as consumer credit tightened and it became much harder for people with average or poor credit to obtain a bank loan to buy a car. During 2007, nearly 2 million new U.S. cars were purchased with funds from home equity loans. Such funding was considerably less available in 2008.[97] In addition, stock prices fell as shareholders worried about bankruptcy; GM's shares fell below 1946 levels. Furthermore, the instability of the job market and individual consumers' finances discourages consumers who already have a working vehicle from taking on a new loan and payments, which affected almost all major manufacturers.

The annual capacity of the industry is 17 million car

The financial crisis of 2007–2008 played a role, as GM was unable to obtain credit to buy Chrysler.[citation needed] Sales fell further as consumer credit tightened and it became much harder for people with average or poor credit to obtain a bank loan to buy a car. During 2007, nearly 2 million new U.S. cars were purchased with funds from home equity loans. Such funding was considerably less available in 2008.[97] In addition, stock prices fell as shareholders worried about bankruptcy; GM's shares fell below 1946 levels. Furthermore, the instability of the job market and individual consumers' finances discourages consumers who already have a working vehicle from taking on a new loan and payments, which affected almost all major manufacturers.

The annual capacity of the industry is 17 million cars; sales in 2008 dropped to an annual rate of only 10 million vehicles made in the U.S. and Canada. All the automakers and their vast supplier network account for 2.3% of the U.S. economic output, down from 3.1% in 2006 and as much as 5% in the 1990s. Some 20% of the entire national manufacturing sector is still tied to the automobile industry. The transplants can make a profit when sales are at least 12 million; the Big Three when sales are at least 15 million.[98]

By December 19, 2008, oil prices had fallen to $33.87 per barrel, but the automobile crisis continued.[99]


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