Elon Musk claims that unions have destroyed the US automobile industry:

But he is not alone, this claim has been made also by other people:

So is this claim true? And if so, what did the unions in the US do different compared to other countries with a big car industry and strong unions like France and Germany?

closed as primarily opinion-based by rjzii, Oddthinking Jul 12 '18 at 15:25

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 4
    If the US car industry has been destroyed, then who makes all the cars produced in the USA? – matt_black Jul 12 '18 at 15:09
  • 1
    I guess only Tesla? – asmaier Jul 12 '18 at 15:10
  • 1
    I'd say there is a rescuable claim here based on the level of locally manufactured cars in the USA. Surely long run statistical time series of local production levels would tell us whether the industry is in the sort of severe decline that "destroyed" implies. – matt_black Jul 12 '18 at 17:20
  • 6
    There is a tendency for people in the US to call their industry "destroyed" when they mean "no longer able to dominate the marketplace". – DJClayworth Jul 12 '18 at 17:35
  • 1
    i.pinimg.com/originals/eb/47/a9/… – jean Jul 12 '18 at 19:49

I would argue that it wasn't unions but rather the manufacturers themselves and the lack of focus on quality and fuel efficiency that lead to the problems. If you look back to 2010 there is a good New York Times article that does explain it somewhat.


This revitalization has little to do with the government bailouts. People are considering American cars because of their improved quality and fuel economy, and high-tech features that are equal to or better than those offered by overseas manufacturers.

In another section.

For the first time since the study was inaugurated 24 years ago, the domestic auto brands posted better scores on quality than imports. Consumers reported 108 problems per 100 vehicles in domestic brands, versus 109 for imported models.

In my opinion this shows that consumers cared about the lack of quality, fuel economy and features in American cars that where present in foreign cars.

  • Yes, but it has been argued by some economists that unions stifle innovation: papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2232351 (Actually, that would probably make a good question here, but I'm heading out the door in a few minutes.) – Fizz Jul 13 '18 at 3:09
  • 2
    @Fizz How should unions do that? Have you ever seen a union to protest against better products? Unions don't have anything to do with product improvement. Stopping improvement and making products worse was always the job of the people way up in the hirachy. Basicly the people, that blaming unions for everything, are the ones that are actually responsible. – Etaila Jul 15 '18 at 11:05
  • In general having a citatoin is OK. However, having a citation on a question about union's role by union-friendly newspaper seems rather ... less than solid. – user5341 Jul 16 '18 at 12:01
  • @Etaila. I am adding this as a comment rather than as an answer since my evidence is anecdotal, but I have seen first hand what Fizz describes. The innovation that the union suppressed was a way to more efficiently (read, requires less labor) repair a valve in a power plant. – Michael J. Jul 16 '18 at 19:08
  • @MichaelJ. I guess the question would be how would unions be impacting how the car is designed since in this case unions are normally associated with the manufacturing of it not the design and wouldn't have any input on that. – Joe W Jul 16 '18 at 19:31

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .