Detroit Now Reduced to Using Regular Pencils

The Times has some amusing-if-pathetic details in its story on how the Big Three are cutting back to the bare bones on even mundane expenses, like using regular pencils instead of mechanical ones.

Chrysler has closed cafeterias in some of its plants, as well as the executive dining room at headquarters. G.M. is stocking office supply cabinets with cheaper pencils, turning down the heat in plants, and trimming back its inventory of replacement parts for factory equipment…

Some of the cutbacks are sizable, like the planned shutdown on Dec. 31 of its underused S.U.V. factory in Newark, Del. Others are incremental, like not removing snow from the top floor of the parking deck at Chrysler headquarters, or substituting lunch wagons for cafeterias at assembly plants…

It has also begun a program called “share the spare,” in which a group of nearby factories stock a single replacement part for production machines like conveyor belts.

Of course, a story about Detroit’s desperate frugality is useful PR for the companies as they try to get bailout funds from Washington. But it’s still worthwhile as a portrait of how far the companies have fallen.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.