Ford's Auto Bailout Lesson: Consumers Like Rugged Corporate Individualism

By staying away from the bailout, Ford potentially increased its share of the market place.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

It should come as no surprise, as Rasmussen Reports said Tuesday, that the recent government bailouts of General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation have affected public attitudes toward the U.S. automakers. But rather than pitch in to help the struggling manufacturers continue to stay afloat, 46 percent of Americans indicated to Rasmussen that they were more likely to buy a new car from Ford—if they were, in fact, buying a new car—because it did not take government money in order to keep its doors open.

Call it a competitive advantage for Ford. By staying away from the bailout, the company has potentially increased its share of the market place by a significant amount, especially among those who insist on "buying America" as a political statement.

Only 13 percent of those responding in the national telephone survey said Ford's refusal to request government assistance made them less likely to purchase a car from the automaker in the future. But that's less than the 19 percent of Americans who said that someone in their family or a friend chose not to buy from Chrysler or GM because of the government bailout.

In additional good news for the carmaker, 51 percent of those Rasmussen identifies as "investors" said they were more likely to buy a Ford, along with 41 percent of non-investors. Those working in the private sector were, by 11 points, more likely than government employees to purchase a Ford because it didn't seek a bailout.

Not so much by engaging in a rugged defense of the capitalist system, as founder Henry Ford might have done, but simply by staying out of the way, Ford has improved its public image. This may be a useful lesson for other large corporations—which many times act as though they believe doing things that work against their own interests, as when oil companies provide corporate support for environmental groups—about the way to the heart of the American public.

"The chief business of the America people is business," President Calvin Coolidge famously told the American Society of Newspaper Editors back in 1925. It is not, he might have added, looking for a government bailout.

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