Saturday, December 6, 2008

Toyota Camry v. Chevy Malibu

Debate is raging in Indianapolis over the Mayor's decision to purchase 85 Toyota Camry hybrids for $25,770 apiece rather than purchase GM Chevy Malibu hybrids for $24,024 each. The Ballard administration argues that although the Chevys would have cost $148,000 the Camry gets better gas mileage in the city and the saving on gas purchases will make up the difference in 5 years if gas average $3 a gallon. The Mayor people also point out that the IMPD officers who will be driving these non-pursuit vehicles, prefer the Camrys. In response, opponents, including Democrats on the City County Council, observe that part of the Malibus are made right here in Indianapolis. Those who support the purchase of the Camrys point out that they are made in the United States, in Georgetown, Kentucky.

John Ketzenberger, on the Indiana Week in Review panel, nailed the issue perfectly. To paraphrase his comments: "Good business decision, bad political decision." One would hope that a good business decision would also be something that could be explained and sold to the public so that it is also a good political decision. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Having to explain why you purchased a foreign vehicle simply takes too long, especially when faced with a knee jerk "Buy American" attitude out there that is easy to package into a 10 second sound bite or 30 second political ad.

Having been around many political campaigns, one of the first rules is that you do not have your candidate being seen driving or riding a foreign car. Ever. Not that there is any wrong with foreign cars...except for the fact that it creates a political issue you have to deal with it. And it is just not worth it. I totally understand why the Mayor made the decision he did. The purchase price of the Toyota Camrys was fine and I agree that they'll probably save money over the long run. The problem was the political price tag that was on those vehicles. It will be the Mayor and not the taxpayers paying the political price of the decision.


Anonymous said...

Oh, and Indianapolis is in the financial fix it is in because fools make such distinctions. Bravo for the Mayor doing a businesslike decision and here's hope that he has several thousand more like it in his bag. "politically smart" decisions are nearly always economically stupid ones. Those who are griping about the decision have nothing but disdain for the intelligence of the comman person.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Anon, I bought a foreign car because I think they generally are more often than not better cars than what Detroit is putting out. So I'm with you on that. And even though the popular decision was to "Buy American", you shouldn't always make the decision that is popular.

There is a distinction though between making a decision because it is popular and making a "politically smart" decision. Being politically smart doesn't mean just ratifying the popular choice. Rather it means picking and choosing your battles and, even more importantly, presenting the decisions you make in such a way that the public can easily understand them.

It doesn't do a lot of good to have someone who does the right thing if he or she is not in office because that person didn't consider politics when making a decision.

Most of the Mayor's problem is in HOW issues like this are handled. I'm not sure it was worth fighting this battle, but if the Mayor wanted to, things could have been handled a lot better. I think though you are casting things in noble terms - that we have a mayor who made a bold choice to buy the foreign cars, knowing he would take political flack for his decision. From what I have heard though, it doesn't sound like they had any idea the decision would create a political firestorm.

Anonymous said...

While I see Paul's point; the administration did buy the American way, in favor of quality and performance.