They Had Their Chance and Blew It
U.S. Carmakers Regret Their Own Stupidity
Here is a great commentary, distributed by our friends at evworld.com
by Lenore SkenazyIf only I'd started working out 10 years ago, I would be in such great shape by now. But, of course, I didn't. Too hard. Too long before I'd see any results. Too many better things to do. So here I am, 10 years later, weak as a worm.
Just like Detroit.
If only America's carmakers had started gearing up 10 or even 20 years ago for the end of cheap gasoline, what great shape they would be in now. But no, they just kept grinding out guzzlers, because for a long time the equation was simple: the bigger the SUV the bigger the profit. Detroit just didn't think beyond that quarter's bottom line.
Japan did, which explains how Toyota unveiled its hybrid Prius back in 1995. Today the Prius is so hot, Toyota measures its U.S. Prius inventory by the hour, not the week. The company is flush with $10.5 billion in profits, while General Motors has lost $4 billion this year to date. The other American carmakers are ailing, too. Last month, all three had their lowest shares of the American market, ever.
How did that come to pass? Call it the fortune cookie curse: They got exactly what they wished for. American automakers lobbied for -- and got -- a government that never forced them to get serious about fuel efficiency.
Worse, the government still won't. Most recently the Bush administration proposed a piddling 1.8 miles per gallon increase in SUV, pickup and minivan fuel efficiency by 2011. Talk about the soft prejudice of low expectations! Bush is practically saying he doesn't believe America's engineers are capable of Japan-like ingenuity.
While a nudge this negligible may be just what the industry wants, it is not what it needs. To compete, it needs the tougher standards it has fought against too long.
"The car industry would be in such a better place today if we had raised the fuel economy standards in the mid-1990s," notes Anna Aurilio of the United States Public Interest Research Group. "But the last time there was a significant increase in the miles per gallon was in 1985."
That's a pity, because targets work well, says Jason Mark of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Back in 1975 a law mandated a near doubling of automobile fuel economy over 10 years and a 50% increase for pickups, minivans and SUVs," he says. Detroit rose to the occasion and made the efficient vehicles Congress demanded.
But Congress was never as demanding again. In fact, the across-the-board fuel efficiency of American-made cars and trucks has actually gone down over the years, to an all-time low of 20.8 miles per gallon right now.
This, despite the fact that oil is a finite resource, much of it flowing from regimes we really don't want to enrich.
Detroit has proved itself worse than slow when it comes to boosting fuel efficiency. Unless our elected officials enact tougher standards, our auto industry will drive off into the sunset.
Probably in a Prius.
Fuel Saving Tips Save Gasoline
What Gasoline Really Costs Us
A Classic from the Archive -- Social Costs of Driving
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