1 Nov 2012

Is Jeep moving production to China? Not exactly

This is an article by American writer Max Prince, who is currently living in the UK and studying for his masters degree in auto journalism at Coventry University. It deals with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's claim that Jeep will move operations to China.
Jeep Wrangler Dragon

So, as you may have heard on the Twittersphere or Bloggerverse (or, God forbid, from somewhere with a real name, like 'newspaper') Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney landed himself in some hot water this past week. Following misinterpretations of a Bloomberg News story on the possibility of Chrysler reviving Chinese plants, Romney stated at a campaign event in Defiance, Ohio that "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrsyler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China." Romney has been airing this radio advertisement (as well as a running television spot) in Ohio, a state with strong ties to the automotive industry and of critical value to U.S. presidential candidates. So critical, in fact, that no Republican has ever been elected to the White House without winning Ohio.

OK, let's stop for a moment.

Jeep is not moving to China. That is absurd. Reading through the article it's clear that the company is looking at additional production in order to meet rising demand for the Chinese domestic market; nothing more, nothing less. Not a single American job is at stake with this move. In fact, those 'Italians' running Chrysler are some of the brightest stars for autoworkers in the United States, bringing work to Detroit at an impressive rate. Now that we're all on the same page, here's a breakdown of what's really going on in this mess:
  • Terrible headline writing
Really terrible, actually. The Bloomberg article headline reads, "Fiat Says Jeep Output May Return to China" which, sadly, is not even close to being the worst title I've seen in modern publication. It does, however, leave a great deal up to interpretation. I'm sure the author, Craig Trudell, is rightly embarrassed at this point, and for good reason. The story was one carrying possible implications for thousands of workers, concerning a decidedly sensitive topic during a fast-approaching U.S. presidential election. Such mistakes, especially from a major source like Bloomberg News, are inexcusable at this point. Let this be a lesson: an ambiguous headline can be a dangerous thing.

  • Failure to read on
If the big, bold letters are in any way intriguing, the smaller ones beneath it will help explain in more detail. For most, including myself, seeing an unclear headline in any journalistic medium is incredibly frustrating. Yes, I would have read the Bloomberg article regardless of the title, since it is (potentially) important information for me to know as an auto critic. But as far as the average reader is concerned, it's a glance-and-go scenario. That's why Trundell's headline was awful. Before everyone, especially the so-called 'professional bloggers' and political advisors, fly into a panic over any story they need to take the time to read whatever source material they'll be citing. The article, although inexplicably vague at several points, does state (albeit, in the fifth paragraph) that Chrysler's plans "...adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China." It doesn't take long to find that. I read Trudell's piece in about five minutes, and I got held back in elementary school. Twice.
  • Inability to admit wrongdoing
Alright, so Chrysler isn't abandoning Michigan or shipping Jeep jobs off to China. I think we can all agree on that. So why hasn't Romney backed off his original comments? Stubbornness, perhaps? Or maybe he thinks the autoworkers in Ohio won't call him on his bunkum at the polls this Tuesday. I'm not sure. But apparently, some people are very upset about Mr. Romney's peculiar relationship with the truth when it comes to the automotive industry. One such person is Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler, who took the time to write an open letter about Jeep production in the United States:
"Chrysler Group's production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate.
I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China.
...we are working to establish a global enterprise and previously announced our intent to return Jeep production to China, the world's largest auto market, in order to satisfy local market demand, which would not otherwise be accessible. Chrysler Group is interested in expanding the customer base...which can only be done by establishing local production. This will ultimately help bolster the Jeep brand, and solidify the resilience of U.S. jobs.
Jeep is one of our truly global brands with uniquely American roots. This will never change. So much so that we committed that the iconic Wrangler...will never see full production outside the United States.
Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand.
It is inaccurate to suggest anything different."

Despite the firm words from Marchionne and outcry from the presidents of UAW Local 1112 and 1714 in Ohio, advertisements using misreadings of the Bloomberg article as base are continuing to air. There hasn't been any let-up from Romney on the issue. Instead of simply acknowledging his mistake, he's trying to confuse and scare Ohio voters at the expense of both the truth and the automotive industry. Romney has proved, rather blatantly this time, that he is fine with allowing a falsehood to flourish as long as it serves to benefit him, exclusively. It seems that somebody is having trouble admitting that they've made a mess, which, along with questionable reading skills, is a trait of past US presidents that I would like to avoid. But I am not an Ohioan, nor an autoworker. I am an automotive journalist living in England, far away from all of this. So why do I care? What do I want?

I want Mitt Romney to lose Ohio, and the national election as a direct consequence. And on Wednesday morning, I want the newspaper to profess:

"Lack of Respect for Auto Industry Costs Romney Presidency"

Maybe that headline will be clear enough.
Registration for Barak Obama's first new car - a 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee