This morning I experienced another side of Modern America. The Freedom... to fall and to fail, in an economic "downturn," recession, or depression.
I went to Denny Hecker's Toyota north of Baxter on Highway 371 to get an oil change, tire rotation, and radiator flush.
You've heard the news about Denny Hecker. He has opened some 26 auto dealerships around the Midwest in recent years. The newest is just north of Wal-Mart and Fleet Farm in the Brainerd Lakes Area. Yesterday a photo of his mansion on Cross Lake appeared on Page 1 of the Brainerd Dispatch. Hecker owes Chrysler about $500 million, and he is deep in bankruptcy.
The Toyota dealership I went to is the only place bearing his name that is still open. The employees who serviced my vehicle, according to news accounts, are being paid directly by Toyota. I was told to make my check payable to "Brainerd Imports." There are fewer than half as many new cars on the lot than there were four months ago on my last service stop.
A couple years ago the USA manufactured AND SOLD over 16 million vehicles every year.
The most recent market estimate was down to about 9 million. Dealers like Hecker and Tanner and Dondelinger took on foreign imports, in addition to the American Big Three - Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Today there are millions and millions of unsold, never-owned cars and trucks of all makes and models.
With your investments and savings in the tank, your job in question, and your kids in school, who is hurrying out to pick up a bargain-priced new Buick? Or Lincoln?
The auto workers who assembled the vehicles have been paid. The lines of credit of the thousands of dealers who display all these cars are now overdue. And like Denny Hecker, they cannot pay for what they haven't been able to sell.
A skeleton Toyota crew this morning answered my question about a "plug-in hybrid" Toyota Prius (no announced date yet), and gave my Highlander a free washing with the routine service. Free coffee, popcorn, and Pepsi are still available. The donuts are gone.
Unemployment nationwide continues to climb. Hard times go on for many. Government services and private charity are sorely needed at all levels to repair our torn safety nets.
Somebody has to pay for it, and I pledge to do my share. It's a pity that Minnesota's governor has opted out of the crisis and withheld or postponed funding for the health, education, and welfare of so many citizens.