(Editor's note: To access some of these stories, registration or a subscription may be required. Please check the individual links for the site's policy.) Did you hear the big news? General Motors ( GM) is reinventing the automobile as we know it by making one that runs on hydrogen. It's sounding like a nearly a done deal -- the fuel-cell technology, the car that can turn and essentially brake by itself, emission of nothing more toxic than water vapor. Wait a minute. The Business Press Maven begs your pardon. Right when I was about to invest my entire three-figure family fortune on the hydrogen car concept being heavily pushed by General Motors and getting overly kind publicity in our nation's media, I realized that hydrogen was what the company was putting out there for public (relations) consumption a couple of years ago. This morning it's the all-electric car. And it just this minute occurred to me: Why don't many of today's excited articles on the potential of the all-electric car mention the apparent disappearance of the hydrogen-powered car? The Business Press Maven must be fair. Look around at coverage of this all-electric car and you'll see that some media outlets, even without offering the proper perspective on hydrogen, are seeing the future of all-electric in a limited way. Just how limited is it? The battery needed to power it, for example, has yet to be invented. But rather than reflecting on GM's public relations push and apparent withdrawal from its hydrogen efforts, too many in the business media are repeating it.
" Automakers Put Hydrogen Power on the Fast Track," screamed The Washington Post on its first page exactly two years ago today, in an article that contorted itself in so many ways to appear positive that it ended up more freak than frank analysis. The first several paragraphs are on all the magical qualities of hydrogen. Then come a few paragraphs about cooperative support for hydrogen, how many other car producers are engaged as well and how there are signs the technology is taking hold, such as in municipal bus fleets. Then, finally, there is a note -- no small one -- of caution: One hydrogen car would cost the same as a warehouse of Corvettes. That wee detail is papered over in the very next line: "Still, auto industry executives say their business is on the verge of a fundamental change." Say this for The Washington Post this morning: At least its all-electric car article didn't run on A1 (it's on A7), and the headline, " GM Introduces Plug-In Electric Car" is less breathless. But the lead is very similar. It calls the car -- for which there is no workable battery, so in fact it's more of a piece of furniture -- an "innovative prototype." And the writer notes, in an overstatement that (considering that lack of battery, again) should give investors more misgivings, that the world's "automakers take on global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil."
Washington Post, this is The Business Press Maven speaking. The only way this battery-less car is evidence of automakers taking on global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil is if the talent to get transparent public relations efforts taken seriously time after time is a cure for these warm winters or our need to get oil from overseas. That hydrogen car, written about so excitedly by The Washington Post two years ago? Not even mentioned. Investors, if you take only one thing The Business Press Maven says this morning as the honest truth, let it be this: An accurate sense of history should throw water (or hydrogen, in this case) on overly excited talk about the future. Moreover, don't invest in new technology until the maker has the battery to run the thing. And short any unearned run in the stock in question. On to an even less-electric topic. Who's in The Business Press Maven's closet? Joseph Abboud, or at least a lot of his clothes. He makes a good schemata, as they say, and also seems to run a good business. That's why an article in the Boston Globe caught my eye. It has no directly actionable component (Joseph Abboud is one of the few nonpublic companies I will mention in this space). But it sheds more than a little light on American manufacturing.
The Business Press Maven is not one to lament the loss of domestic manufacturing. It is generally a dirty, cyclical business, and what has replaced it is not, so good riddance. But in following the public debate over our economy's decreased reliance on manufacturing -- and all the bombast and inaccuracies that get harnessed to it -- I'm convinced of one thing: If the political left and political right are in agreement on the effects of something, then that something will, in the long term, probably never happen. Sure enough, Joseph Abboud did something that few clothing manufacturers have done in the recent past: It added American manufacturing jobs. The reason? Outsourcing carries hidden costs, including unpredictable shipping costs that require bigger inventories. Now, one example of a high-end clothing maker that makes even The Business Press Maven look sweet does not make a trend. You would be better off relying on the wishful thoughts of a beleaguered car company. But please keep an eye out for other such anecdotes and send them my way. I'm starting a collection, to go along with my euthanized Himalayan butterflies.