Letter to Obama: What the Car Industry Needs Is A Steve Jobs

Editor’s Note: There are not a lot of fans of the $20 billion bailout of the auto industry outside of Detroit. But if the government is going to get involved, Spark Capital’s Todd Dagres believes it should insist on new leadership.

In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Dagres argues that the car industry needs no less than a Steve Jobs to save it. In fact, he suggests that Jobs himself would be the best person to fill that role if his health allows him to do so. If not, there are other capable leaders in Silicon Valley that might bring much-needed change to the auto industry.

But a product=specific approach is worth considering, even one which results in American car companies no longer building any cars, but just designing them. After all, Apple doesn’t manufacture its own computers.

The letter is below.

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Barack Obama
President of the United States

Dear President Obama:

I am writing you with a suggestion on how to deal with the US auto industry crisis. The recession and the meltdown of financial markets are the catalysts, but the root of the problem is the manner in which these colossal auto companies have been managed. It’s time to face the truth: The people running the US auto companies are officious bumblers, the products stink, and the unions are a parasitic drain on the business. And yet the Government seems content to throw billions of dollars at the problem. How can we bail out the same people that presided over the destruction of the industry? It is painfully clear that they are incapable of producing products that can compete successfully with German and Japanese rivals.

As you well know, if GM and Chrysler fail, the US auto industry will suffer a fatal blow – along with our entire economy. We must find a way to not only save the industry, but also make it competitive in the global marketplace. Cars are part of our national fiber, based on an industry that includes a massive ecosystem of vehicles and parts that stretch across our people and economy. However, bailing out the US car makers and investing tax payers’ money in inferior products is no solution. We must strive for a level of competitiveness in the auto industry similar to that which we have attained in the Information Technology industry. Our country’s leadership in the auto industry lies in developing future cars that are more like computers with wheels than mechanical sleighs addicted to dinosaur juice. The future of the automotive industry will be defined by electronics and software. The good news is that there is no country with more talent and capability in this arena than the United States.

Now the suggestion: Draft Steve Jobs (his health willing) to run a combined GM and Chrysler. After all, who has done a better job developing and marketing products consumers want to buy? Who has been more successful keeping the US ahead of other nations in competitive, technology-based markets? Mr. Jobs has also done right by his shareholders. GM and Chrysler have far too many product lines, most of which are uncompetitive. To compete in the global auto industry, they must develop Macs, iPods and iPhones with wheels. Rather than pouring billions of dollars into these failed companies, why not replace the current management with people capable of changing the way cars are designed, manufactured, powered and sold? I believe Mr. Jobs is the best choice to lead this effort.

As has been widely reported, Mr. Jobs has some health issues and it is possible that he may not be able to dedicate the time and effort required to put the US auto industry back on firm footing. Only Mr. Jobs knows if he is up to the task. If anyone can convince him to take this on, I suspect it’s you. Should Mr. Job’s be unable to take on the position, in my opinion, great technology leaders including John Chambers at Cisco Systems or Craig Barrett at Intel would also be worthy of your consideration. Both are great Americans and capable of leading the charge.

It is time for us to put tax payer money behind an executive capable of transforming the automotive industry. I respectfully submit that neither the current leadership behind these companies nor government officials are the answer. We need entrepreneurs, consumer product savants and creative managers capable of effecting change. We need great leaders who can transform cars into computers rather than horse-less carriages. You were elected to the Presidency based on a mandate for change. Making the necessary moves to transform the US auto industry would be a great way to walk the walk. This challenge is a once in a lifetime opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of jobs, hundreds of billions in future GDP, and prevent further deterioration of our nation’s manufacturing sector. This is the time for great Americans to be called upon to serve. I can think of no better leader than Steve Jobs to support America in this time of national crisis. President Obama, I urge you to seriously consider recruiting Mr. Jobs to manage the revitalization of the US auto industry that is so desperately needed. Thank you for your consideration of this suggestion.

Respectfully yours,

Todd Dagres,
Founder and General Partner,
Spark Capital