I enjoy watching most sport but I’ve never quite got American Football. However, I do watch the Superbowl from time to time and whilst penning and refining various FXCC articles, mail outs and reports in the early hours of Monday morning I had it on. To be honest the game was fascinating and the three hours plus flew by, but also the event represented what America does best, a form of pageantry and a Hollywood style sell of the country to the wider world.
The numbers are staggering in terms of home consumption of, for example, popcorn, beer and cola, similarly the audience figures both domestic and international are extraordinary, apparently 40% of all televisions in the USA are tuned in to the game. On occasion you’re reminded by the commentators of the economic benefits of the event.
Quite frankly that’s a bit shallow given that increased consumerism, on the day or week leading up to the event, is very one dimensional; folk emptying their pockets of change on the day for beer, popcorn, or petrol isn’t going to underpin a recovery. The advertisements are a bigger issue however, the cost to advertise at half time is often looked upon as a barometer of economic wealth of the nation. One of the ads, a Chrysler ad possibly specifically aimed towards the UK market, caught my eye…
The car scenes were shot at landmarks in London, the commentary was high on sports psychology rhetoric about “coming back”, “going the distance”. I’m not alone in immediately finding the advert misplaced as there’s been plenty of criticism of it in the USA since it was aired. A company rescued from bankruptcy by a part $17.4 bl rescue package and now 58.5% owned by FIAT* as a consequence, should hardly be talking about ‘bouncing back”.
*In December 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to a $17.4 billion bailout for GM and Chrysler using his broad authority under the $700 billion fund established to help the failing banks known as the TARP.
On June 10, 2009, Chrysler LLC emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganisation and substantially all of its operations were sold to a new company, Chrysler Group LLC, organised in alliance with the Italian automaker Fiat. Initially holding a 20% interest in Chrysler Group, Fiat’s stake was increased to 58.5% (fully diluted) following acquisition of the equity interests held by the U.S. Treasury (6% on 3 June 2011) and Canada (1.5% on 21 July 2011).
Overall the auto industry rescues were ‘successful”, if by success we measure tens of thousands of skilled workers laid off, (the majority of whom still remain unemployed) whilst the companies recovered due to protection from bankruptcy and not rising Phoenix like from the rubble in down trodden areas such as Detroit. Part of the bailout ‘rules’ was an insistence on the industry re-modernising, re-tooling, making green cars, making electric cars..but in truth none of that has happened. The USA industry continues to make cars with a focus on the domestic market.
It’ll never crack BMW or Mercedes cache in emerging markets and developing economies and Japan and Korea will dominate the space for small cars. Ergo an argument could be put forward that the rescues were pointless, other than to protect share-holder value, the remaining jobs and the USA image it has of itself domestically and abroad. And image could have been the sole reason behind the rescue and bailout. The dent to the USA ego could have been severe had the auto industry decoupled.
But is there a real future for the USA car industry, can it re-model, re-tool and take on the hardest part of the American car buying psyche to crack, the conversion to small efficient and or electric cars? Can Americans swap their SUVs for Mercedes Smart cars, or cars that plug into the mains to drive that 50 miles to the Mall for sneakers and burgers each Saturday?
This could be one selling job that even the Superbowl can’t pull off, a feel good factor and sense of unity is one thing, but to get Americans out of their trucks and into Smart cars is quite another..still we live in hope, as do the New England Patriots..