After 30 years of incompetence, the American auto companies and their obstreperous union finally closed the quality gap with foreign competitors and narrowed the manufacturing cost differential to within inches. Nice try. The credit market freeze ensured that average Joes who love Fords and Chevys couldn't possibly get the loans they need to buy them. So sales were off more than 30% in October and November, pushing GM and Chrysler close to insolvency. When the auto bosses pleaded their case to Congress for $34 billion in loans to tide them over, they got treated as if they manufacture smallpox.