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Van Dyke transmission news veils painful truth
The nice thing about the Internet it that it can spoon-feed news to reporters tasked with regurgitating news. Sarah Butzen recently went above and beyond said job description, but not to the point of leaving her couch.
Posted August 17, 2012
Who doesn't love press releases? Show of hands? Nobody, right? In fact, for us media types, press releases are integral to our maintaining the work style to which we've become accustomed, which you might describe as "low-metabolism." It allows us to work anywhere - on, just to pick a random example, a "couch" or some other type of "soft furniture" and, rather than running around finding news like some kind of cartoon reporter, to absorb the news as it comes to us. It's kind of Zen, actually - if you remain calm, silent, and still, the universe (or the Internet, which is basically the same thing) will bring the news to you. I can't stress enough the importance of the stillness. It's not easy being this still all the time, but we are professionals and we do what we have to.

There is a catch, however, with using press releases like they're news. There are some people, usually "Public Relations" or "PR" people, who will use these press releases, if you can believe it, for their own purposes. Yes! They only put in the press release what they want us to know. And it's usually for some selfish nefarious reason like getting us to buy their stuff. But because most journalists have gentle, trusting, innocent souls, press releases are usually pretty much reproduced as actual news. If Chevy announces in an 8 a.m. press release that its 2013 Camaro will be an invisible flying car, then a 2 p.m. Google search will turn up fifty stories with headlines like "Camaro Cleared for Takeoff." The number of stories with headlines like "Chevy Loses Entire Damn Mind," zero.

But you won't get that kind of mindless parroting from us. No sir. We're going to tell you what's in the press release, but then - and this is the crucial difference - we're going to make a lot of snotty comments about it. Because that's the level of analysis and journalistic integrity you've come to expect if you read this space regularly (and all the low-metabolism news junkies do).

So without any further ado: Ford announced last week that it is celebrating the "Production Launch of the Only Front-Wheel-Drive Hybrid Transmission To Be Made in North America." That is, Ford has fitted its Van Dyke transmission plant with a new flexible assembly line that will allow it to build both hybrid and conventional transmissions. Its overall investment in the plant will be $200 million, and the investment is creating 225 new jobs.

Now this is great - Ford's investiture in domestic production and domestic jobs and that is all very good. Not too much anyone could say against that. But my immediate reaction to this piece of news was: are you freaking kidding me, press release? You're saying that there haven't been any hybrid transmissions produced in North America? Whoo boy, our economy has been way more screwed than I even realized!

It's not just a question of not building the transmissions here, either. This isn't just the first hybrid transmission to be built in North America - it's the first that's been designed and developed in-house by any US automaker. Up until now, Ford used transmissions that were designed, developed, and built by a Japanese supplier. Nothing against that Japanese supplier, of course; I'm sure it did a good job. But... well, I'm no engineer, but I've heard it said that a transmission is a fairly important part of a car. It's a bit chilling to think that during this time that U.S. automakers were building up their claims to being powerhouses in the area of hybrids and alternative technologies, they were basically outsourcing a rather critical and otherwise utterly essential component.

To be fair, the hybrid was launched in Japan, and it took US automakers a few years to catch up; it's not unreasonable that they'd look to Japanese suppliers for provisional assistance while they developed some internal hybrid knowledge and capacities. Still, there's just something about the phrase "only American producer of front-wheel-drive hybrid transmissions" that is painful: it's a reminder that in an industry that used to be a major force in North America, there are some huge gaps in the production chain.

But we can take some comfort in efforts like these to restore some of North America's manufacturing capacity - a capacity that's too often spoken of in a tone of deep bereavement, as though it's dead and gone forever. Let's hope it was only sleeping. And speaking of which, if any news on that front comes in from the universe, I'll be here on the couch.
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Newsroom Notes
Van Dyke transmission news veils painful truth

File Under:
Editorial, Hype, Automotive, Ford
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