Richard Cohen writes in the WaPo:
The auto industry is not only late to the table, it comes with a bad rep. We may not understand what AIG did -- what's a credit-default swap, anyway? -- but we sure as hell know what GM did: It made a lot of lousy cars. So did Ford and Chrysler. They made cars with utter contempt for the customer. The industry at one time even opposed seat belts and air bags, and it designed cars that were not safe. I know things have changed, but I remember. I remember.
A little excessive here, I think. Utter contempt? My favorite car was a Pontiac 6000, and my second favorite car is my current Saturn (GM). Our 2001 Dodge Stratus has been a good car as well on the whole. (I also liked my 1991 Honda Civic and might get another, so I have nothing against foreign cars.) So I think American cars weren't that bad, and they seem to have gotten better recently. There wasn't a better minivan than the Dodge Caravan.
However, we never made good small cars (with the exception of the Saturn), because there was little incentive to do so in this country, whereas Japan had plenty of incentive for their market and much of the rest of the world. If our government had done the right thing and put a proper carbon tax in place, I think we could have made small cars too, because the consumers would have wanted them instead of the SUVs and trucks. So it's a little hard to blame just the car companies. Granted that they lobbied hard against such changes, which I'm sure they're regretting now.
I think there is a case to be made for forcing GM to slim down to one or two lines, like Chevy and Buick (I wish they'd keep Saturn going, but that doesn't look possible). Have a lineup the equivalent of a Toyota or a Volkswagon, with basically one car model for every size slot. And do them really well. Perhaps that's what Obama has in mind for them. But then again, that shouldn't be something the President is doing really, with any industry.