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Who Wants To Be a Czar?


Government to appoint another 19th-century Russian monarch to reform Detroit.


It's time for another czar!

It seems America's automotive industry needs the kind of attention only a 19th-century Russian monarch can provide. We need someone who can save Detroit. We need a car czar.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said a presidentially appointed car czar would help to oversee any restructuring of the domestic automakers. She also told the Today Show the throne should be filled pronto: "I would want the czar to be appointed before one dollar was spent. So, theoretically, this week."

The soon-to-be-announced car czar would join a chorus of other American czars we've come to know and vaguely love. There's the drug czar, energy czar, terrorism czar, health-care czar and new climate czar. The czars are multiplying. At this rate, we're only a few crises away from reaching Romanov proportions.

Of course, in 1918, Czar Nicholas II, along with his wife, son, 4 daughters, servant and cook, was shot to death by Bolsheviks.

But that's hardly the point. What is? General Motors (GM), Ford (F) and Chrysler are experiencing bloody revolutions of their own. A divided Senate voted down a $14 billion loan, essentially turning the proposed bailout program into a bailout pogrom.

A car czar would, in theory, do what czars do best: cut through the red tape, take the bull by its horns and reform, reform, murder and reform!

Sure, a lot of people scoff when they hear the word "czar." But, as it turns out, the Russian Empire and American automotive industry converged long, long ago.

In 1929, the Soviet Union, desperate to jumpstart its own auto industry, signed a deal with Ford. The Reds agreed to buy $13 million worth of Ford cars and parts, Ford agreed to help the Soviets build their own car manufacturing plant. In 1932, the factory, Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or GAZ, was complete.

As of Friday, GAZ, which trades publicly on the Russian Trading System, was hovering at $13. Ford? About $3.

The news may be grim, but at least we have our health. Back then, scores of American engineers stationed in Russia were killed during Stalin's Great Terror. Some were exiled to Siberia. Some ended up in gulags.

Speaker Pelosi already knows who she'd like for the position: "I think somebody like Paul Volcker, who has bipartisan confidence and private confidence."

Whether or not Volcker wants the job remains to be seen. He's already been tapped by President-Elect Obama to be a special economic advisor, and, frankly, how many nebulous titles can one man have at a given time?

At any rate, whoever ends up getting the job would benefit from a little Russian history.

Back when real czars walked the Earth, very few Russians could afford automobiles. Those who could had them imported. In other words, czars drove foreign cars.

Talk about a bad PR move.

A recent AP-AOL Autos poll found that 44% of Americans thought Japanese made the best autos. Just 29% favored domestics.

Just what kind of car is Paul Volcker driving these days, anyway?

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