Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Big 3 Backing the Environment?

It seemed like a hopeful pledge for an environmentally-friendly future as well as statement of faith in the ability of good, old-fashioned American know-how when the Senate Commerce Committee passed a Democratic energy bill that would require automakers to average 35 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks combined by 2020, with 4 percent annual increases though 2030.

Nice going legislative branch, uniting environmental and political mandate with populist-consumer protections. Read: I like the bill because it appeals to my self-image as environmentally aware, leery of prolonged engagement in middle-eastern oil wars, and conscious of the fact that inefficient cars also directly cost me more money to own and operate every day.

In the most baby-soft, naive and ideal places in my brain, I held out slim hope that this kind of legislation would motivate the Big 3 American auto-makers to rise to the occasion, dust off their thinking caps and do something they haven't done in an awful long time (possibly since they largely, originally invented good old American know-how way back when, got rich, fat and lazy and started surrendering on all fronts to European and Asian car companies): INNOVATE!

Which is to say I still have faith that the industry that invented all industry still has a shot at returning to its former capitalist glory - leading the global automotive industry while also doing something good for the people, the plants, the animals, the planet.

Instead, led by Ford (possibly the worst of them, if you can ignore GM’s horrendous co-option of folk singer, John Cougar Mellencamp), they whined to their big friends in Washington to protect them from these crazy new fuel economy standards, saying they threaten business.

Where the hell are they coming from? The path to ‘winning’ here seems to me 180 degrees from the direction Ford, GM and Chevrolet were advocating with this misguided plea for corporate protectionism. Maybe the hope for short-term gains lies in the path of hiding from emissions standards, refusing to go green, and letting other people like Toyota and Honda invest in the technology, but I just can’t see that being the path to long term viability.

Earth to Ford. What you’re doing is no longer working.

Fortunately the out-sized backlash may be having the intended effect that many of us American consumers seem to be crying for. (I'd love to buy an American hybrid if I thought it would be better than a Prius.)

The CEOs of Ford, General Motors Corp. and the Chrysler Group have now decided they need to support an alternative if they have any hope of beating back the Democratic bill. Enter another great American tradition – compromise.

An early draft of Michigan Democrat Sen. Carl Levin’s bill would give automakers longer to comply and require a smaller overall increase -- 36 mpg for passenger cars by 2022 and 30 mpg for light trucks by 2025. Not bad, and the United Auto-Workers union seems to think the Big 3 will endorse the bill.

Cool, environmentally-friendly American cars may be right around the corner.

1 comment:

  1. I’m working with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on this one and can tell you there is no question that we have to do something about global warming and the environment. However, bad legislation to mandate extreme CAFE standards (as proposed in S.1419) is not the answer. However, the Levin-Bond amendment that has been proposed is a more rational approach.

    As AAM President and CEO Dave McCurdynoted today, "The Levin-Bond Amendment raises fuel economy standards by more than 30 percent and presents automakers with the greatest technological challenge this industry has ever faced. However, manufacturers understand the need for CAFE reform, and want to be part of the solution to meeting our energy needs.

    A 36 MPG passenger car standard is a tough standard. This is a floor with no loopholes. While tough on the industry, this bipartisan bill protects consumer choice by maintaining the distinction between passenger cars and light trucks, and acknowledging the key attributes that separate these two types of vehicles. Light trucks must be available to farmers, tradesmen, small businesses and many other types of consumers who depend upon minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks to meet their needs."

    Feel free to check out for more details. Thanks.