Columns

2014.04.16 Picking on Mary Barra and fun with an MRAP

on . Posted in Nowhere Road

Just three months ago, many hailed the selection of Mary Barra as the new CEO at General Motors. The honeymoon for the first woman ever to lead a major automaker didn’t last long. Barely two months into her new job, possibly before she even received her new business cards, she was summoned to Washington to testify before two congressional panels. It was pretty entertaining, to say the least.

Politician after politician mugged for the cameras, badgering Ms. Barra about GM’s problems with defective ignition switches. The same senators who keep quiet when President Obama blames his predecessor for problems demanded explanations from the new GM CEO for things that happened 10 years ago.

Is that really fair? Why not give her a chance to settle into her job before blaming her for what CEOs before her did or didn’t do. And don’t forget that the federal government had a “car czar,” appointed by President Obama, to oversee GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy several years ago. If he didn’t know of the ignition problems, why is Barra expected to know all the details? If he did know, why isn’t he called to testify as to why he did nothing?

One regional daily paper ran an interesting pair of articles last week. On the opinion pages, there was an editorial titled “GM’s Shame,” which, after several hundred words of Barra-bashing states: “It is getting harder to argue that buying a GM vehicle is a rational decision.”

Next, there’s a news brief in the business pages titled “Two GM SUVs get highest rating in crash tests.” That sounds like a pretty rational argument to me. Maybe the editorial writer doesn’t read the business pages. I would offer a bit of advice to the unnamed editorial writer, though. If you insist on traveling back in time to find problems to blame on Mary Barra, resist the temptation to bring up the Chevrolet Corvair and its suspension design. The car was already in production for three or four years before Ms. Barra was born.

In a more local vehicle story you may have missed, the village of Edon recently returned what was probably the safest vehicle in the tri-state area. Last September, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle to the village.

An internet source says the armor-plated vehicle comes in three versions. One weighs about seven tons and can carry six passengers. The second weighs about 19 tons and can accommodate 10 passengers. If you have a real need to move people and clear mines and IEDs, which I think stands for improvised explosive devices, then you’d want the third version, which weighs 22.5 tons and carries up to 12 passengers. A sample photo of a MRAP looks like a cross between a Hummer, an armored truck, and a tank. I wonder what kind of fuel mileage it gets?

I’m not sure which version Edon received, but it was what an old-time used car salesman would call a cream puff. It had never seen combat, spending its previous life in military training exercises in the United States. With only 7,000 miles on the odometer—I was surprised to learn that such a vehicle would have an odometer—the MRAP, originally $658,000, was given to Edon at no cost.

A Williams county newspaper quoted Edon’s police chief as saying the MRAP would be shared with other communities in the county for training and response, but not for daily use. But questions were raised in the community about whether the vehicle was really needed and the costs of maintaining it. Eventually, the decision was made to return the vehicle, and I was sad to hear it.

Just think of the fun the police could have had with the MRAP vehicle. Take it over to the Sonic in Bryan and watch the car hop try to attach the food tray. Or be the hit of the Kunkle Fourth of July parade. Or maybe just drive through Edgerton and show them who’s boss. But none of that is ever going to happen. The MRAP was sent by Homeland Security to the next town scheduled to get one. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Fayette.

Another idea just came to me. Maybe Mary Barra could borrow a MRAP the next time she’s called to Washington. She could just roll up to the Capitol steps, turn on the loudspeaker, and yell, “Any questions?”

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