|March 24, 2006||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Why American Automakers Are Failing
This article originally appeared in the Michigan News (U.S.) and is being circulated by evworld.com
by Pete Fisher
American car manufacturers have come a long way since the late 70s, when most of what they made was considered junk. With Union wages and benefits at an all time high, one would have thought that perhaps we could have done much better than our foreign counterparts. At the time Japanese cars were considered garbage as well, but in a relatively short time they bounced back with a boom in technology and fuel savings that has turned the tables completely.
The arrogance that American would always be best backfired in the faces of the Big Three in Detroit. They began using Japanese and German drive trains in their smaller models just to be able to compete with efficiency and reliability to their foreign competitors. Chrysler used VW, Peugeot, and Mitsubishi engines, Ford married into Mazda, GM partnered with Isuzu and Suzuki. And then the manufacturing began moving away as well to compete, as union wages and benefits drove up costs here that were breaking the backs of the employers. It may have been one thing if American cars had the reputation of longevity and reliability as they once held, but that was not the case. Toyota and Datsun had already begun to show America that they could be reliable, as well as more fuel efficient than our home grown product.
Now we are seeing another wave of technology coming about and it looks like once again, American car makers are missing the boat and allowing foreign manufacturers to completely bury us. In the 70s we had a huge market share and still the majority of control. In this new millennium that is no longer true, and has not been for at least a decade and a half. Toyota and Honda have been the front runners in quality for 30 years now. With an occasional Buick or Ford coming around near the top, we have not been in the top. Many years we did not even make the top 10, much less first or second place.
But the point now is, European and Japanese car makers have begun a thrust into the efficiency market that I fear we are not competing with. The reliability and mileage of our foreign counterparts have raced away from our own and it will be a miracle of sorts to catch up if we do not move now. Europe has seen cars that get into the 40 and 50 mpg range for quite some time, while we sat at an average of 20 mpg in most of our vehicles across the model lines. Audi introduced a 3 cylinder turbo diesel back around 2000 that boasted 65 mpg city and 80 mpg highway. It sold well in the U.K and other places, but was never allowed to come here. BMW has a 6 cylinder diesel model that gets 52 mpg. BMW also has a full fuel cell model, Volvo has a methane car that has been quite successful, and now almost any diesel can be modified easily to run off of soy or corn oil.
The blog “150 MPG Car” shows yet another car in Europe with a 2 cylinder turbo diesel that gets 150 mpg, and still manages a 9 second 0-60. Think of it. An average of 20 mph all around here, at 14 gallons of gas a week for a commute back and forth to work translates into a 36 dollar a week bill for an average driver.
Divide that all by 7 and we see a 2 gallon per week use and a 5.7 dollar per week cost. That comes to about an $1800.00 US annual savings, and approximately 2100 miles per tank on a 14 gallon tank versus 2-300 miles. Incredible when you see the actual numbers, is it not? So the question now is, why can we not get these models here? And why are we not designing similar cars? I believe the issue has several variables, beginning with the ties the US automakers have with oil companies. If the two are merged together, an acceptance of high efficiency and reliability will drop short term profits for both entities.
Secondly is the EPA. Stringent regulations make it very costly for foreign manufacturers to comply, which also keeps these cars out of the market. The technology for clean burning diesel is here, it seems the EPA just keeps their spouting on how many more little particle per million are escaping into our air.
Yet one never sees the regulation of toll booths, such as those in Illinois that create huge traffic jams and cause millions of vehicles to idle hours on end, a situation in and of itself that causes more pollution than normal emissions at running conditions. Yet they spend millions and millions forcing people to get their cars tested yearly, and of course it comes from taxation.
Third I believe the reliability and quality of the cars will hurt the industry once again. Though many cars have come a long way since 1970, and American cars have shown to be much more reliable, the 100k mark on mileage still scares the average buyer from wanting one. With many Japanese and German cars running well into the 2-300k mile mark and still running, people have gotten the taste in their mouth to make their 25 thousand dollar purchase last as long as possible without losing most of their investment on poor resale.
A diesel engine can last as long as a million miles if properly maintained, which would reduce longer term sales for cars that average 100 thousand currently. So the incentive is not there for the manufacturers, or for the oil industry. Yet diesel refining is cheaper, and even if a few more particles per million escapes, the fact is, we would be using 7 times less fuel than we are currently using. As the old saying goes when discussing SUV ownership with a Liberal, which is polluting worse, an SUV that a driver uses for maybe 5 thousand miles annually, or a 35 mpg car that is driven 25k per year?
In my opinion, a 700% increase in fuel efficiency would far outstrip the fact that a few more particles are being released into the air. The fact that I could actually save 1800 bucks a year also appeals to me.
Farmers would also benefit as bio-diesel became more popular, and we could ease our dependence on Middle Eastern oil by an incredible margin. So my advice to the Big Three, or Big Two, (since Chrysler is owned by Daimler), is to get a move on here and begin designing cars that can compete with what Europe and Japan are doing, or once more, lose ground to them. Give us all a car that can get between 80-150 mpg, and my bet is you would once again be the Kings of the Road here in America. Or you can sit back and watch once again as your market share dwindles. Because I tell you what, if I could have bought that Audi here, I would be driving one. And if I can get this newer car, I will be driving 2 of them.
This way I can take my 1800 bucks and pay my rising gas bill for the house without taking out a loan to do it.
Pete Fisher is a concerned citizen in the Chicago area who has written several articles on the economy, educational system, politics, and religion.
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