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Obama Steps into Fuel Economy Debate

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Presidential candidate Barack Obama is making his way down the road of fully evolved campaign positions. Today in Detroit, he revealed he's no friend of American automakers - and seemingly, unsympathetic to their calls for a level playing field.

Obama, the New York Times reports, told Detroit audiences that, essentially, their problems were entirely of their own making. “For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars,” he said, according to a text of his remarks. “And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could’ve saved their industry.”

Obama's promising campaign is running into a ditch here. He's falling into the trap of what companies "should" do versus what pays their bills. For years, when fuel was cheap, Americans wanted minivans and trucks. It would be hard to rationalize millions of Caravans, F-Series and Silverados for any other reason. From what we recall, Civics and Tercels were widely available to the public - yet American drivers chose Suburbans instead.

And in extrapolating those strengths into today's weaknesses, Obama oversimplifies the dynamic of what's going on with GM, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota and Honda today. The Japanese didn't build a 35-percent market share in the U.S. solely on Civics and Yarises - Toyota's Lexus franchise is heavily dependent on the RX crossover for sales volume, while Honda's Pilot is one of its new mainstays, along with the not totally frugal Accord and the Civic. The Japanese are evolving to fit our market, not the other way around, a halo Prius or Insight notwithstanding.

There's history here that Obama would be well served to understand before he joins the fray calling for the obliteration of America's truck industry. Japanese cars come from a nation bred on nonexistent domestic energy supplies, restrictive taxes on consumption and paralytic traffic. Whether America is headed down the same road can be argued - but what we have today, and what Obama dismisses, is an industry foundation built around larger cars and trucks and a country built on and by them.

Obama drives a Chrysler 300c, putatively, but has he ever been in a Chevrolet Aveo or a Ford Focus? American automakers have fielded strong subcompact cars that did well in the marketplace. But their core competency is in bigger vehicles. There's no sin in creating, or in driving a large SUV if it's appropriate for the task.

There's a large helping self-loathing in the constant catcalls at Detroit these days. American companies are in the gutter because of their own misdeeds, goes the rationale. It isn't so. History has caught up with Detroit - but unfairly, today's American automakers are tagged with mistakes made three decades ago. And once the perception was welded into place, it's become impossible to counter. The construct now is Japanese cars and companies are better and more efficient - as Obama would have you believe - and no matter what Chrysler or Mercury or Buick does, it's almost impossible to argue to the contrary.

Detroit doesn't deserve to be hammered again by a ham-fisted campaign season and another rush into CAFE-style legislative mismanagement of the auto industry. And in what's effectively an election year, Obama doesn't need to boost his poll numbers with reflexive Detroit-bashing.

Obama Criticizes Automakers on Fuel Economy - New York Times
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Comments (45)
  1. "There’s no sin in creating, or in driving a large SUV if it’s appropriate for the task."

    This cuts to the heart of the issue: Americans purchase their large thirsty vehicles for tasks that occur a few times, or perhaps a dozen times per year. And we drive those same vehicles empty, day-in day-out, the rest of the year, because we can afford to.

    You are absolutely correct to say that the Senator Obama is criticising what he does not yet understand. And he is part of the problem, driving a 340 HP 4000 lb. Chrysler 300C when a mid-sized 4-cylinder Sebring sedan would perform the same task adequately.

    So... what's missing here? No one has the guts to tell the fuel consuming, voting American public that they must change their purchase decisions and life styles if we are to make any meaningful progress toward lower energy consumption.

    Senator: Why don't you go first?
     
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  2. And your point is?
     
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  3. Sorry to disagree with your editorializing. American compacts and subcompacts never fully competed with European and Asian products. Crude and compromised their best, for instance the Ford Escort, underneath a Mazda, often were designed abroad or as world cars.

    Advertisement drives demand as much as the other way around and Detroit used it to extend the use of large vehicles far beyond the time when consumers would have chosen alternatives. Even now Detroit schema is to somehow get us back to fusion vehicles, large vehicles pretending to be efficient downsized SUVs.

    And the best compromise of all, when a large vehicle was needed, is diesel. Widely available in the rest of the world for small and large cars, SUVs, and vans these are not available here! This one move alone might have made a difference in profitability for our manufacturers. Bashing may be the only thing that moves us into an energy sane future.
     
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  4. Lets take into consideration the powerful madison ave marketing campaign for bigger, faster, and luxury style that we were sold on. Be fair! Is'nt that hte essence of journalism? It looks like auto industry lobbying has spilled over because of his (Obamas) remarks.
     
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  5. This article seems like a paid propaganda piece by US automakers. I think the point of Obama's message is that US automakers have lacked the foresight and planning to develop more fuel-efficient cars, and it's hurting them now--and it's going to continue to hurt them as fuel prices rise.

    But my biggest bone to pick is this phrase: "another rush into CAFE-style legislative mismanagement." Our country urgently needs higher fuel economy standards, and Detroit has demonstrated that they lack the leadership necessary to move forward on this. It's not mismanagement, it's management, and with global warming and oil-funded terrorists, it's absolutely crucial. Get used to it.
     
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  6. You both miss the point. Senator Obama is absolutely correct that Detroit is its own worst enemy, and has been for years. Finally a candidate has the courage to call it like it is. The blogger says the Japanese are fitting our lifestyle, and not the other way around. Yes, that is true, and yet they were able to quickly adjust to the market demand for more fuel economy cars....and succeed at the less fuel efficient as well. Hmmm...but Detroit says that is not possible.
    Obliteration of the truck industry?? I think that might be taking his positition a little out of context (just a wee bit). So trucks cannot be made to be run more efficiently? That is a complete cop-out. If anything Senator Obama's proposal may save the truck industry by forcing them to get moving before the Japanese imports obliterate it by themselves.

    The only way to make Detroit progress is to force them too. If we could only put quaility standards into a law, maybe they wouldn't be losing billions a year.
     
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  7. I agree completely with this editorial. I really like Obama, dating back to his senate run when I was an Illinois resident. He impressed then and he continues to impress now.

    With that said, it seems he is falling into the standard democrat rhetoric that Detroit is evil and the Japanese are saviors, while none understand the marketplace, the consumer buying habits, or any of the other issues facing the domestic automakers. It is disheartening for two reasons. One is that Detroit can seem to find no supporters on either side of the aisle. It seems most people hold that this country would be better off without them, and if we just put them out of business we'll all be driving tiny cars that get 40mpg. Not true. All those truck buyers will go buy their trucks from whomever is still around. Obama can now add his name to the list.

    The second reason it really cuts is because, in my opinion, Obama's biggest asset in 2004 and even today was that he had a way of being above all the democrat vs. republican rhetoric. He spoke to the people in a way that gave them hope for the future, that hit on our heartstrings about how we could make this country an even better place. It was never much about him hating Bush, or anything with Iraq, or fuel economy or the environment. Maybe his advisors are telling him to do this stuff, cause it is what democrats are supposed to do. But it hurts. And I think they're making a mistake. Not all of us who support dems do so because we hate bush or we hate the war or we hate guns or we hate God. We just want the candidate that can be above all that and and make the difference that REALLY matters to most Americans. Obama has (but might be losing) that characteristic. He was one politician in a long time to make Americans want to do better for themselves, the country and the world, without making them feel like they should hate themselves or this country or the people who run it.

    Rhetoric like this really drops him in my book. He doesn't know what he's talking about. He'd get a lot more respect from me if he admitted as such and talked about how the automakers and the gov't can work together to make America better. Instead he falls into the same dem trap all the rest of them are spewing. Maybe it's what dem supporters want to hear? I guess maybe I'm just not one of them.
     
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  8. Detroit is dying due to it undying devotion to the UAW, where wages, benefits, and pensions outweigh the need for quality, efficiency, and cost containment.

    American consumers have become more interested in the product, rather than its source. Energy consumption has very little to do with it.
     
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  9. I completely agree with Obama on
    “For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars.”

    American automakers have made a strategic mistake by investing heavily and maybe only on trucks. It was just a matter of time before the oil prices would increase. It is funny why that all big-three automakers made the same mistake. However, it should not be the taxpayers who should pay the bill for their mistakes.

    The author's claim that American automakers have produced good subcompacts is plain wrong and almost funny. I really wonder if he ever test drove one. I recently test drove almost all the American subcompacts. None of them was better in any regard than my 97 civic so I decided to buy a newer civic eventually. The plastic materials in those American cars must have been made by recycling one-dollar toys made in China.
     
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  10. “For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars.” So if that's true, that American automakers avoided the fuel-efficient smaller cars for the bigger, faster, more powerful cars and trucks that the buying public has demanded, how does the esteemed Mr. Obama feel about the new Toyota Tundra, and its 381 horsepower V8 that outpowers all but the Escalade variants and can suck fuel with the best of them? Toyota has been very clear that they want a piece of the full-size truck market. Why? Because there's a boatload of demand and money there for the taking, and so far it's all been the domestics benefitting. Suddenly the domestics don't seem all that outrageous for focusing on a segment that has traditionally given them the largest profits. THEY'RE IN BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY!!!! Every automaker out there has skunkworks projects going on that are aimed at finding the 100 mpg car (or it's theoretical equivalent), and I'm sure many of them have made huge strides in finding new ways to increase efficiency. Unfortunately, the technology tends to either not be properly/completely developed, or it is developed but is not such that consumers either can use it efficiently or even want to use it (EV-1, anybody?). In this case, it falls squarely on the buyers. If enough buyers stop demanding Yukons, Expeditions, and Hemi-equipped 300C's (Mr. Obama) and start demanding more Focuses, Yarises, et al, then you'll see the domestics be a lot more competitive. Until such time, they're going to build what makes them a profit (gotta pay for those UAW healthcare costs, don'tcha know).
     
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  11. What a lot of the people responding this this (and the blogger) failed to read or understand is that Obama is talking about offering carrots. Its not like he doing what many other Dems and tree-huggers want to do (legislate cars out of existence), he is merely calling Detroit out on its own mistakes.

    That the Japanese (with hybird and fuel saving 4 and 6 cylinder engines) and the Germans (with their powerful, smooth, efficient disels) are offering more efficient options is a known fact. I only wish we could see legislation to make diesels easier to buy here (more are coming...from NIssan and the Germans).

    GM/Ford/Chrysler have had much of the technology to improve fuel effienciency for years....for their overseas markets. I dont feel bad for them now, I really dont.

    GM especially could have saved their own butts if they had gotten their diesel engines into some of their SUV's, which would have helped their bottom line AND their fleet averages for fuel mileage. They would rather lobby to keep things the same instead of have to spend R&D money to substanially change their methods in any way (diesel, lighter-weight materials). Its their own fault....but at Least Obama offered to help them while calling them out.
     
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  12. All the posts so far, and Obama too fail to mention the simplest , cheapest to administer plan that shares the pain all over: a major new national gas and diesel tax . I recall clearly that the head of GM a year or two ago begged for relief from the demand distorting CAFE standards- as did DCX's head if I remember-- now the brown stuff is hitting the fan blades- sales are down, gas is $3-3.25 a gallon and Toyota is number one.
    So let's do this right- start a national gas tax, 20 cents per gallon per year increase( can be paused if recession hits, rolled back if a depression hits) that keeps going until we hit a federal motor fuel tax level of $2.00/gallon.
    This will go far to telling drivers it's time to get serious about their vehicle choices, enable Detroit to forcast demand properly and clean up the air, while coincidentally paying for the health care costs that Toyota/DCX and the Koreans don't have in their own home markets. And ps- some of the 2 bucks should go to pay for mass transit once more-
     
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  13. I agree that diesels -- as now made -- would be a good partial solution. I also agree that, if every big barge SUV or truck that was sold to inflate egos and "safety" were to disappear, there would be a lot more room on the road.

    NO ONE seems more short-sighted than Americans. However, the global warming hoax continues -- the sun is doing more to warm the planet than all human activity -- and our miserable lack of guts in quelling the environmentalist and developing our own oil resources is worsening the problem.

    The message is, quit demanding the big boats, buy smaller, promote diesels and research on hybrids, and pressure the pols to get the blankety-blank domestic oil out of the ground and into the new refineries that should be built.
     
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  14. Obama is mostly right for saying that U.S. automakers are in a bind of their own making. In fact, the writer proves his point:

    "History has caught up with Detroit - but unfairly, today’s American automakers are tagged with mistakes made three decades ago. And once the perception was welded into place, it’s become impossible to counter."

    That's life in the big city, buddy! If a company destroys its own reputation, and can't counter it despite 30 years of catch-up time, a home-field advantage, overwhelming market share (the big 3 used to have it, anyway), and a cooperative government that is willing to write policy to suit them (outdated CAFE, the 25% "chicken tax" on import pickups) ...they need to quit whining or get out of the car business.

    Detroit has been singing the "we'd like to do something better for the environment, but it's not a viable business model" song for a long time. Toyota just showed us that it doesn't have to be that way. Sure, Toyota is making a lot of Tundras and Lexuses (Lexii?) too, but at least they have addressed the question and opened the door for further expansion.

    And please, don't think that I'm just some import-lover. I'd be proud as hell if it was American carmakers leading the charge. I'm just saddened that they're not and ashamed that they'd call foul and point the finger over their own mistakes.
     
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  15. Don't forget Obama plays in the political arena so of course he's trying to drum up votes, turn the undecided to his side. But is he wrong? Of course not. Obama may not have driven an Aveo or a Focus (don't forget Dodge Caliber) but I'm sure you have Marty. I'm equally sure you've driven a Honda Civic, Nissan Versa, and a Toyota Yaris, so have I. You know damn well if you were spending your own money and looking for a fuel efficient car after gas hits $4.00/gallon this summer you wouldn't spend your money on the penalty boxes that are the American car makers economy car offerings. Every single Japanese AND Korean car in the economy segment is more capable, better built, gets better fuel economy, and drives precision and verve than Chevy Cobalt or Aveo, Ford Focus, Dodge Caliber. American automakers deserve what is happening to them, loss of market share and exposure that the "Emperor has no clothes". So don't jump on Obama throat, it isn't his fault that American automakers are ignoring the American publics desire for well built cars that get good gas mileage. The American car makers will regain their market share and respectability when they stop treating the American public as part of their research and development team coupled with excellent real world fuel economy.
     
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  16. Should domestics have put more effort into small car offerings? Maybe so. Especially as of right now.

    With that said, in argument after argument I keep hearing about how the domestics should be building cars people want, and that they're missing out on a huge market by not building cars like the Prius.

    But what nobody seems to see here is that they don't build cars (or at least a lot of cars) like the Prius because NOT VERY MANY PEOPLE BUY THEM. Or at least not enough people to make it worth the investment (whether or not it is worth the investment is their call, isn't it?). If I'm not mistaken, Toyota sold about 75,000 Prius' last year. And there are plenty available on dealer lots right now. If they're so hot and so in demand, why aren't Prius' selling as well as F150s, Accords, Civics, Camrys, Tahoes, Caravans, Silverados and probably a good other dozen models for sale in America today? BECAUSE PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO BUY THEM! If they did, they'd sell more than just a 10% of the total number of Camrys and Corollas sell each year.

    I'm awfully tired of people saying that "if the domestics would just build good ones, people would start buying them again". BS. A huge majority of Americans buy larger (midsize or bigger) cars trucks and minvans. A very very very very very small percentage of all sales go towards MINIs, Prius', Yaris, Aveos, or Fits. Why would a business focus its efforts on such a small market, with such small profits? Maybe they should be, but if they don't see the future need to invest in that, why should they be forced to?

    You want to make people buy those kinds of cars? You want domestics to put a good effort into building the best? Raise the cost of buying big, thirsty vehicles to the point that people will CHOOSE to buy those types of vehicles. Just because the Prius gets a bunch of press and they sell 75,000 a year (in a 16 million vehicles per year market) doesn't mean even close to everyone wants one.

    I wish people would stop saying such.
     
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  17. Not only has Detroit neglected the fuel economy issue, but had they been turing out reliable, small cars 10 or 20 years ago, that were not penalty boxes, they could have kept some of the market share and limelight that the Japanese and Koreans have now acquired. I recall the Sunfire, Sunbird, Corsica, Beretta, Escort, Contour, etc, they were crude and couldn't go the distance, ..after 3 yrs you'd either be upside down in your financing from the resale value being in the toilet or it would be in the junkyard because they just weren't built as well as the Corolla or Civic.

    What's worse is that 1)Trucks and SUV's have no gass guzzle tax and 2) that Dtroit won't admit the messed up big time and would rather blame the consumer, the politicians, the CAFE, anyone but themselves..

    Doggone right I am mad, I can't and won't support Detroit because they don't offer me anything worth buying.
     
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  18. In Europe the governments tax the hell out of petrol/gas and forces the motorist to seek for fuel efficient vehicles to commute to work. Forcing the car industry is one way but what about jobs? Maybe the senator should also force some taxes on the consumers to have them switch to fuel efficient vehicles.
     
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  19. "For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars.”

    Couple things here:
    (1) Like the editor said, Japan's cars are bred from their own economic history.
    (a) Gas is expensive in Japan = good fuel economy; Roads are small and crowded = small and crowded cars; Japanese have small families = small cars; unions that work WITH automanufactures for the GOOD of BOTH company and employeers = cost competitive products
    (b) Gas (used to be) is cheap in the US = not so efficient cars (historically); huge roads with a great interstate system = bigger cars; large families = large cars; unions that work for their OWN good, instead of the greater good = Big 3 can't make small cars (domestically) profitabilly. Why make small cars anyway, if there isn't much of a market for them (again, historically)?

    (2) Most of the Jap 3's growth came from moving into the Big 3's markets (i.e. trucks, SUVs, large sedans). Honda isn't just selling their Civic and Accord now-a-days! Look at Toyota's line of V8s in their trucks and Lexuses!

    Last point: When the government steps in to save the world from the auto industry, who do you think is going to pay for it? The buck goes to the tax payers as well as anyone looking to buy a new car. The new legislated technology will drive the price of buying a car even higher. Tax incentives for development will come from everyone's pocket too. Then, they'll have to raise taxes again to pay down the national debit and give themselves a raise and totally free heathcare, again.

    While I'm not against a more fuel efficient car, I don't see the reason to blame a company for trying to maintain their own profitability, especially when 1 auto factory job creates 7 other none auto jobs in the same town to sustain it!

    Why isn't the government going after the airline industry, coal-burning power companies, or factories and stores that waste TONS of energy everyday?

    I'm getting off my soap box.....yes, my spelling stinks, I know.
     
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  20. This just shows how hopelessly out of touch politicians (not just Obama) are when it comes to the challenges of the auto industry. Instead of sitting down with the execs and trying to understand their problems, they simply jump on the bandwagon and bash them to drum up votes. Way to capitalize on fickle public opinion.

    Sure 4% a year doesn't sound like much, the reality is that vehicles typically only make gains in fuel economy when they go through a refresh, which is about every five years. That means that by the time 2017 rolls around, current vehicles will only have gone through two refreshes, which means it only has two chances to make major gains in fuel economy. So instead of the gentle 4% per year, you're looking at a 20-22% bump at each refresh, which is huge. Sure there might be some low-hanging fruit that automakers could grab to pull of a 20% jump once, but twice is asking for a miracle.

    The public may balk at $4.00/gal gas, but wait for the outcry when they go buy their new Civic that now costs $25,000 b/c of it's fancy (read expensive) drivetrain.

    Politicians spin it as 4% a year because it sounds nice, but the nasty truth is out there.
     
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  21. In reply to Peer Plaut:

    My point(s): Senator Obama can start by setting an example: 1. Drive a more economical vehicle. 2. Tell the American public what it doesn't want to hear: Consumer behavior (what we drive, how much we drive) determines our fuel consumption as a nation. Vehicle producers will build what consumer will buy.
     
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  22. The author defeats his own argument when he claims that Detroit has been producing "strong" sub-compact vehicles. The Cavalier and Escort were left for dead, with no investment by their respective automakers for many many years on the market. Only Chrysler gave it an honest effort with the Neon, which though sold well, had nagging issues which tarnished an otherwise good product.

    I believe the point Obama was perhaps meaning to make was that the big 3 haven't been fielding a complete product portfolio. Of course they should have made sure their truck business was strong, as that is indeed a bread-and-butter segment. However they gave up on smaller cars for a very long time, and it shows. There's no doubt the big 3 can produce superior products. The C6 Corvette is a fine example (and it even gets decent mileage!)
     
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  23. You people are fool of it. The Japanese did nothing special all that happen was gas went up and Detriot got hit with a product that was selling right and left faster than you could shake a stick at and now that gas has went up those vehicles are not selling well. The Japanese are selling us what they sold the europeons who have had $4.00 a gallon gas for along time. If gas turned back to 2 dollars a gallon Americans would be back to buying those big SUV's. Japanese only advantage is cost, they can make a car far cheaper than detriot since the Japanese companies have a government that pays for retirement, and their health care cost. Our companies do not have that privilege. Americans have no loyality they just buy what is cheapest and cost less. While all the people who buy these imports feel good about it. Here is something you need to face, by buying an import car you put maybe a few thousand jobs back in our country all the while for those few thousand jobs the import companies add, we lose hundreds of thousands high paying jobs that the american companies employee here already, so people do the math.
    The funny thing over in europe where gas is $4.00 or more the best selling cars are made by American based companies. Out of the top 10 in europe not one japanese car is on the list. you want to look here you go http://cars.uk.msn.com/News/Top_ten_article.aspx?cp-documentid=2620300
     
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  24. We americans are very gullable, short sighted people. While I do agree that the American big three have created their own problems, it was primarily due to poor styling and lack of vehicle refinement and quality (and NOT fuel economy!).

    Having said that, I am a consumer who wishes to support my country and all of its industries. It is actually a very Japanese mindset. Did you know that the sales of the video game systems which contain the American IBM chip are facing a backlash from Japanese consumers because it is not a domestic manufacturer? Did you know that Toyota's success in in its largest market (US) is attributed to many American employees, yet non were appointed to its board until last month (from public pressure)?

    Look, I am not about bashing any other country, but I am about being American and protecting our people and the industries that help us achieve the American dream.

    The American auto industry is starting to make a significant change. Look at JD Powers, they are improving. Let's support them in this endevor becasue their health is a benefit to us all. At the very least, they supply healthcare to thousands of American retirees, so we don't have to foot the bills.

    Let's reverse our American shortsightedness and invest for our countries future.
     
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  25. Typical grand-standing-hot-button politician. He knows about as much about cars and fuel economy as I know about brain sugery. The market dictates wht gets bought, not the government. Let the consumers decide what they want, the automakers will respond. Obama should deal with the real problems facing our Nation like illegal immigration, drugs/gang violence and the war.
     
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  26. "From what we recall, Civics and Tercels were widely available to the public - yet American drivers chose Suburbans instead."

    Yes, and now that the full-size market has peaked, what are Americans buying instead? What do the Big 3 have waiting and ready? The same Focus, (which was a great car for it's time several years ago), that Ford chose to divert money away from to develop trucks? Aveo? Have you been in one? Please.
     
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  27. I am really getting sick and tired of people cutting down the American Auto Industry for the following reasons and really any reason.
    - Lack Of Fuel Economy and building vehicles like full-size trucks and high
    performance cars
    - Lack Of Quality
    Fuel Economy: The fact of the matter is, GM has been building vehicles that have fuel economy ratings that are up to Toyota levels. In fact technologies that were developed by GM like Variable Valve Timing are some of the things that have made there way into Toyotas to help their fuel economy. In some cases GM does better than Toyota. For instance, The Chevrolet Silverado, GM's best selling full-size truck gets 22 MPG while Toyota's Tundra struggles to get 18-20 depending on the engine. Also the Chevrolet Cobalt which gets 34 MPG beats the SCION TC which only gets 30 MPG. The Cobalt also costs less and has more horse power. Finally GM as we know makes high performance vehicles. Why? Because customers demand them. But even those cars do well when it comes to fuel economy. Just look at the Saturn SKY Redline with GM's 2.0L 260 HP Turbo Ecotec 4-cylindar engine. It's rated at 31 MPG. 31 MPG and 260 HP! My personal experience with mine is 34 MPG. Toyota could never build a car like that. Even the Corvette gets 28 MPG.
    Quality: The fact is that GM has topped the charts in many divisions for quality and customer satisfaction. All of you that mention how GM is lacking behind Toyota in your forum responses must not be loyal viewers of The Car Connection. If you recall over the past few months, the articles on how Toyota execs are worried about quality, and how they are not getting any better, and in some cases worse. You may also might have missed the fact that Toyota, in 2005 recalled MORE vehicles than they made that year! It has also been noted that there were knowledge of defect to other Toyota vehicles that were kept quiet in order to keep their image of quality. I guess Toyota execs thought all of you wouldn’t keep praising them if they told you that they had vehicles that the wheels would fall off of.
    Bottom line is. GM's rep was hurt in the 70's and 80's. BUT today GM is not making the cars they were in the 70's and 80's. GM has been in it to win for many years. The only reason Toyota does so well is that it has a perception of quality and fuel economy, where in reality GM has bested them time and time again. The thought comes to mind of a school project I once did. I polled people and asked them which vehicle they thought had the highest quality of the two, a Toyota Corolla or a Chevrolet Prism. The overwhelming response was the Toyota. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Chevrolet Prism is a Toyota Corolla (joint venture) with a Chevy badge. And the quality of both sucked. Do your self a favor and look toward GM when you make your next vehicle purchase.
     
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  28. Your criticism of Obama is, in sum, that he's not being nice-- that it's mean and not constructive of him to point out that Detroit lags behind its Japanese competitors in fuel economy.

    Unfortunately, it happens to be true.

    Detroit for years has delivered the big, fast vehicles that Americans wanted. But that's all changing quickly. Faced with higher gas prices, American consumers now want smaller, more efficient cars. And American voters now understand that we need to do something quickly about our dependence on Mideast, Russian, and Venezuelan oil. Not to mention global warming.

    All of which means cars have to be more efficient, now. Detroit can complain all it wants, but that won't change reality. Consumers will in the future buy more efficient vehicles. Detroit can either start catching up to Japan and producing those cars, or not.

    Merely pointing out this reality is no reason to pick on Obama.
     
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  29. "The funny thing over in Europe where gas is $4.00 or more the best selling cars are made by American based companies. Out of the top 10 in Europe not one Japanese car is on the list."

    True, there are no Japanese cars on that list, but of the ten cars listed, the Americans account for only three: The Ford Fiesta (6th), the 2nd generation Ford Focus (3rd) and the Vauxhaul/Opel (GM) Astra (1st). More striking is that exactly NONE of those three are currently for sale in the US. Why is that?

    Certainly the Big Three have a right to produce whatever they think the market will buy (SUVs). But I would argue that they shouldn't have done so at the expense of research, development, and production of QUALITY offerings in other categories of the US market, namely small, efficient, fun-to-drive, cars, especially when those products are already offered by them in Europe. All along, there should have been some room in the plan for the production of a variety of products for the US market so that when one category takes a header, you have other quality products to offer. For too long, Detroit's concept of the small car in the US has been (is?) "loss-leader". They didn't have to be good, just cheap. But when the gas prices went up, people bailed from their trucks and SUVs and went looking for smaller, more efficient, quality cars. Detroit was caught out with nothing good to offer because of their short-sightedness for what was previously "what the consumer wanted".
     
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  30. Lets do a quick comparison:

    GM: Chevy Impala V6: 21/31
    Toyota Camry V6: 22/31
    Honda Accord V6: 20/29

    who's falling behind? Does anybody really think about what would happen to this nation if our domestic auto business was out of business? The great depression would become a minor footnote in comparison.

    If GM was given half the praise for its 1990's 100% gas free EV electric vehicles as Toyota has been given for Hybrids, we would be much farther ahead right now. Toyota recalls are praised for foresight and safety, recalls done by domestics are headline shocker news. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that 95% of hybrid owners will never recoup the surcharge they paid by their gas cost savings. And I won't even start with the unfair competition practices that the Japanese government endorses...

    We need politicians who support US industry, not welcome its destruction.
     
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  31. If you want to reduce oil consumption, the stuff has to be more expensive than it is today. (period!) Gas is fantastic stuff that allows us to do fantastic things with fantastically capable vehicles. The bottom line is that it is cheap and we can afford to live the way we do.

    Now as for solutions. Everyone raise your hand if you think raising CAFE by 4% a year is going to have ANY effect on the demand for oil or the GLOBAL climate situation. The only thing raising CAFE is going to do is make cars more expensive for us, the buying public, to afford. CAFE has been around since the 70's and we do not consume less oil now than we did then....we consume more!! The rates are alarming, I agree. Even IF we, as Americans, were somehow magically able to reduce our demand for oil through our domestic policies, it would only make it more available and cheaper in other parts of the world where it would be used and burned just the same. Problem not solved. The climate change situation (if you are a believer) is a global problem that requires global thinking, policy decisions, and business practices. Oil burnt in China and India adds CO2 to the atmosphere just like oil burnt in Texas and California. It is a fungible commodity (for the Dilbert fans!) that if available (as it is...in large quantities), will be used.

    Let's stop throwing knee jerk ideas against the wall seeing what sticks and take a rational approach to dealing with the issues. If we are TRULY concerned, the policies would be global through trade law as much as they are local with CAFE. I, for one, think vehicles are plenty expensive today as it is and don't need more CAFE regulations to add to the situation. With gas as cheap as it continues to be (even today :-) ), I'm still driving my SUV to work so I can haul my goods from Home Depot on the weekend.
     
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  32. The only reason to pick on Obama is that he brought up the subject to begin with in an effort to attract voters. Really what he should have been saying was that he was going to help Detroit by eliminating the unfair trade imbalance when it comes to automobile manufacturing. You can start with MITI (Japan't Ministry of International Trade and Industry) which manipulates the yen to make their products more attractive price wise. It would be illegal in this country. Follow that up with goverment paid health insurance or health care and then throw in no interest loans. The list goes on and on. Japan cheats and we let them do it. That's not Obama's fault but he really should be addressing that and getting American's back to work.
     
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  33. GM, Ford and DCX have in the past being slow to change their product line. Look at Ford Motor Company's Crown Vic/Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car has not under gone a change in years. The Japanese and Korean Automakers redesign their product every 5 years.

    The Detroit Group has the technology because they have the product line in Europe where gas prices are much higher. Diesel may be the answer in the USA as new formulated diesel fuel will be sold in all 50 states.

    I am currently in the United Arab Emirates until the end of the week. I have been in this country for over three weeks. I was very surprised at the vast number of subcompact and compact cars on the Emirates highways. Car companies that long abandoned the USA market such as Peugeot, Fiat and Renault selling their stylish subcompact and compact cars. Toyota has a Corolla that is not the same Corolla that is sold in the USA in a 4 door wagon. Ford Focus that is built in Europe is light years ahead of the garbage Ford has pawned off on the US market.

    Hoping that the Detroit group will change as GM is selling Opel's with a Saturn rebadged cars and SUV's which were far superior what was offered by GM for that division.

    I have said this before at different automotive websites that the majority of the drivers that drive SUVs and pick-up trucks really do not need that size of vehicle. for them it was a fashion statement or my next door neighbor has one I should too.

    The Day of Cheap Fuel is Over.
     
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  34. We in Michigan know the true story about this issue. I just know with Mr. Obama's comments, I am not voting for him!
     
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  35. Monsier Obama (not from Alabama) is very wise man!,He sees the facts and ncease the oppurtunite!,That why he has a good chance to become the next president,either hiim or Madame (Mademoiselle) senateur Clinton,Both are les DARLINGS de Maequis de la Bois,who wish them the very best of success!,as well as sending them many loving kisses for both of their cheeks!.
    No no more companies de EUA de Automobiles take ze Americaines 'for granted' ,now wake up!.
     
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  36. I'm a Democrat and am wondering how much longer I should be when I see candidates spewing this much nonsense so early in the campaign. The United States is the only current First World country on track demographically to have a larger population at the end of this century than it does now. We are not some regional player on the international scene living under someone else's security umbrella (e.g. we are not Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Italy, et al). We will be larger due to continuing immigration and the intrinsic optimism of people who choose to live here. We'll need a full-spectrum economy to assimilate the influx and native growth, to offer real variety to the range of skills and interests people bring to the mix. Everyone alive in the US today has a stake in the success of the domestic automotive manufacturing industry. Don't fool yourself that Japanese and German companies assembling vehicles here are an equal substitute for a strong domestic industry. The economic leverage of buying a NAFTA-built American vehicle over that of buying a US-assembled foreign one is significantly in favor of the American choice. That Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mercedes or BMW built here doesn't come with the tens of thousands of high-value headquarters jobs, nor is the supply chain for what's assembled here by foreign-headquartered companies as domestic. We cannot have an economy of animators, software developers, Web 2.0 social networks, retail salespeople, bankers, lawyers and telemarketers alone. So, let's all stand in the middle and tell both parties that no one gets our vote if undermining US manufacturing is on their platform. They are expected to help, not hurt. Then management must accept its own responsibilities. Meanwhile, I'm buying competitive American cars. I don't want to be a reason some kid whose family walked here from Guatemala, or who grew up in Gary, Detroit or Denver, and who wants to be a machinist can't be in 2035.

    The disconnectedness of the coastal American urban elite consumer (and politicians for that matter) amazes and dismays me. I had this conversation with some people in a bar last Friday when they happened to ask what I drive. Someone said, "Wait a minute....you're connecting something I do today to something else 30 years from now....?" As though such a thing were inconceivable.

    It's true that companies bear some responsibilities for their problems. This is not a peculiarly American phenomenon. Porsche was nearly forced out of business in the early 1990s due to inbred thinking, outdated manufacturing practices, out-of-control costs and a skinny product line. They could have taken their sports car expertise and applied it to creating a lightweight, efficient, performance sedan. But nooooooooooo. Their resurgence was heavily helped along by the profitability of selling supremely, ridiculously overweight, tall station wagon SUVs that have meager carrying capacity. Guess who went from destitute to the industry's per-vehicle profit champ in about a decade? Uh-huh.....that German sports car company that expanded its market by making 12mpg vanity SUVs.

    Americans were falling behind? Today, a Corvette gets better real-world gas mileage than a 911, and a Z06 similarly is less thirsty than a 911 Turbo. Oh, that Porsche sedan is coming real soon now. Compare efficiency of equivalent GM, Toyota, Nissan and Honda vehicles. Obama, if you haven't been paying attention you'll be surprised where GM ranks. Ford too. Toyota cars and trucks have grown steadily larger, heavier and less fuel-efficient as they followed Detroit to the profitable volume classes of vehicles here. Nissan too. Honda, which has managed to remain the efficiency leader nevertheless has also truncated its efficiency progress with increasing proportions of SUVs, minivans, and a ...uh.... an imitation pickup truck. $8 gasoline isn't going to force people into small cars who don't fit. This is still a country that chooses some of its vehicles for the feasibility and freedom of driving coast-to-coast, and that's something I don't want to ever see changed.

    The French and the Italians tried to sell small cars here. Their products couldn't stand up to North American conditions, but also there wasn't enough volume to make everyone efficient. Volkswagen's fortunes have declined with occasional bursts of reversal due to marketing creativity and modest product improvements. Meanwhile, the excellent Ford Focus did well and gave American's a taste of a well-designed small car that was developed for places where small cars are hot. Also note that in Europe, where gasoline has consistently been doubly expensive compared to the US, and worse when you compare affordability rather than just the currency equivalence, their fleet has also gotten bigger, heavier and less fuel efficient. I traveled to Europe regularly between 1984 - 2001 on business. Big changes in their fleet composition. Does anyone think drivers there needed a 6,000 lb. full-time 4WD Range Rover or a stupidly heavy Mercedes sedan any more than an American mom with 2 kids needed a Suburban? Wealth drives up desire and the ability to act on it.

    I've driven American cars exclusively for the past 16 years, mostly with V8s. My real world mileage has consistently been better than any of my friends who drove comparably-powered imports. My service costs have been lower too, than for anyone I know who owned a German car. And my frequency of visits to service was lower. My cars also had more room, were cheaper to customize and performed competitively with import models that cost more at the time. The sum total of bad experiences I had with American-made cars in that span of time has been ZERO. Every V8 got mid-high-20s highway mpg in cars and 20 - 22mpg in trucks. The lone 6 cylinder owned in that span got over 30mpg despite being factory hot-rodded.

    30 years ago I drove a two-seat sports car that gave me 40+mpg on the highway, with the electric overdrive. Of course it had no airbags, no side door beams, no navigation system, no power steering, no automatic transmission, no 5-star crash rating. Wheels were 13 inch instead of todays 20s. It weighed 1890 lbs. And at 6'3" I still fit in it. I can't buy such a car today from anyone, in part because it wouldn't be allowed to be sold, and contemporary cars of the same size have less room for people. I could drive Triumph or MG then, and I'm the same size now, yet I cannot fit into a Miata, a Solstice, a Sky, or Honda S2000 even if I wanted to. You think fuel inefficiency is all GM's fault? Almost everything weighs over 3,000 lbs today! 4,000 lbs. unibody cars are getting more common. Heck, Audi can't even figure out how to build an ALUMINUM sedan under 4,000 lbs! Yup, cars are safer than ever, and offer better protection from stupid human road tricks than ever before. But instead of castigating Detroit, give praise to the marriage of computing power to internal combustion engines, as well as to CAD and precision manufacturing. That's how we got what used to be 8mpg pickup trucks to become modern 20mpg car substitutes. That's how my last Corvette showed no measurable oil consumption at well over 100,000 miles, passed every California emissions test so far under the allowable maximums it may as well have been new, and could turn in 28 mpg in a nighttime freeway excursion of 400 miles at 85mph. That's how we get 400 hp cars that get over 20 mpg yet get to 60mph in under 5 seconds. No, that would be too generous to your countrymen. Instead, let's all praise Toyota for a silly 4,000 lb. hybrid Lexus sedan that Road & Track just measured at 21 mpg. Yeah....21 mpg. What's the point? V12 performance from a V8? Please. Green indeed, especially when you ignore the pollution and carbon burden of the car's needlessly complex manufacturing (somehow global warming alarmists who want to shift the US auto market to hybrids always forget that).

    We have good reasons to reduce imported oil dependence in the US. The hoax that a climate warming trend is anthropogenic isn't one of them. Even at $3.75 here in California, gasoline is still comparatively affordable relative to the rest of the developed world. It could double and nothing would change in my driving requirements, and while poorer people will not feel the same way, for most of us we go where we have to go.

    Obama, do you want to get serious about energy? Build roads. More public transit, except in very select areas, is a only good way to create a permanent subsidy burden on the taxpayer. But adding a few percent of traffic capacity to our roads in the right locations will benefit everyone, get more cars operating in their peak efficiency zone more of the time, and reduce waste and pollution from congestion. We are NOT going to accommodate another 100 million people without building more roads, so the longer we wait to get started, the more fuel we'll waste waiting.

    And no, we're not running out of oil. "Peak Oil" is decades or more away. There are identifiable oil sources holding over 3X all the oil pumped to date. If history is our guide, still more will be found. Nevertheless, GM announced this week it is moving the Volt project to production engineering. If you don't know, the Volt is series hybrid that can also be charged as a plug-in. They intend to build the Volt so that the generating engine can be gasoline IC, ethanol IC, diesel, or fuel cell with all four offered. Ford will expand its hybrid powerplant offerings. And you know what? Even if you make NO change in your preferred vehicle type, your next purchase is going to come with efficiency gains and probably more power too. Just look at the current 6 liter Escalade and its predecessor. More power, more efficient.

    Obama, and everyone else -- STOP Panicking. The trend lines for improving efficiency in transportation are already in place. Watch it play out. CAFE will distort this, raise costs and interfere. If you want to do something constructive, get nuclear reactors on the fast track for generating electricity, accelerate clean coal with carbon-banking to replace oil for power generating plants (easier to make this work in stationary situations now, than waiting to solve it in thing that moves; PLUS coal is something we have plenty of right here in North America), and move ALL your subsidies for mass transit and hybrid cars to home solar installations. You could be making real progress on energy transformation within one term! The car is steadily moving out of the environmental equation. In 30 years, without your help, cars will be cleaner and more efficient, just as they are vastly cleaner and more efficient now (on a vehicle class-to-class basis) than 30 years ago. If you're going to advocate gasoline taxes, you'd better have an excellent plan for how the Feds will use that money other than building mass transit that has to be permanently subsidized. Otherwise, skip the bureaucracy and the bloat those taxes will instigate and let the market sort it out.

    Here's a thought: In a country with an annual new vehicle market of 16 million units, where roughly half of the vehicles people buy are some kind of truck, wouldn't it be better to get a couple more miles per gallon out of each of them, than try to get another hundred thousand people into tiny cars? That's already in the cards.

    One last thing. Everyone, PLEASE stop talking about plastic in domestic cars. IT'S PLASTIC. Soft, hard, it all sucks experientially. The typical import buyer has a 2 or 3 year lease and never sees how poorly many import car plastics hold up to longer-term use. Compare a 6 year old BMW or Toyota or Nissan interior to a comparable American one. You'll be surprised if you think the import's plastics are "better." Detroit: do your part and get the finance guys out of the product decision path. Then this plastics problem will go away and you too can put more expensive but less durable plastics in your interiors to please fickle vehicle buyers who don't care how long things last.

    Phil
     
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  37. Some of this is brilliant, but others (dislike of mass transit) are absurd.
     
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  38. Phil has my vote. Well said.
     
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  39. Ok, that last post was all over the place.

    1st) "Meanwhile, I’m buying competitive American cars. I don’t want to be a reason some kid whose family walked here from Guatemala, or who grew up in Gary, Detroit or Denver, and who wants to be a machinist can’t be in 2035."

    You don't seriously believe that Machinists only work in the auto industry? Or that because you bought a car assembled in Canada, that you or anyone else is going to guarantee a Machinists position is/stays open? As the years continue grow, so does the technology used to build and operate a vehicle in this instance. If I were a machinist, I'd be more worried about robots on the automotive assembly line, rather than whose buying this "American" car.

    2nd) "Porsche was nearly forced out of business in the early 1990s due to inbred thinking, outdated manufacturing practices, out-of-control costs and a skinny product line. They could have taken their sports car expertise and applied it to creating a lightweight, efficient, performance sedan. But nooooooooooo. Their resurgence was heavily helped along by the profitability of selling supremely, ridiculously overweight, tall station wagon SUVs that have meager carrying capacity. Guess who went from destitute to the industry’s per-vehicle profit champ in about a decade? Uh-huh…..that German sports car company that expanded its market by making 12mpg vanity SUVs."

    The price of the cheapest Porche, an SUV, is 43,000 bucks. The people who can afford these expensive vehicles, not just from Porsche, but from Acura, Cadillac, Chev, through Volvo are less worried about having the ability to pay for gas because their salary/income allows them to. Having said that, it does not mean they are not just as concerned about high gas prices. Further more, since you bring up Porsche, the number of vehicles they sell in a year total is less than the number of cobalts sold in a month.

    The point Obama was making was that, while the majority of cars sold are small and fuel efficient, the Japanese have come along and produced more reliable, and fuel efficient cars while the Detroit has stagnated on that area for sales of its Escalade, Navigators, Suburbans, etc....

    The small cars produced now by the big 3 may be improved, but those of us that had bought American cars in the past and were burned with transmission failures(Chrysler), Duratec engines that automatically shut down while driving(Ford) sloppy fit and finish, numerous interior trim rattles, and horrendous warranty fights and dealership maintenance issues and being treated like 3rd class citizens after the sales transaction, why would anyone go back to that.

    Why should the buying public have to resort to taking it up the rear just because it's an American car company, screrw you and them. I'll spend my money on what's safe and reliable, that will have a resale value after it's paid off and still performs like new.

    Furthermore, there is not one 2001 American car (Taurus, Impala, Intrigue, etc) that if looked at and sold today would look as fresh or be as reliable as a 2001 Camry, Accord, or Altima. Period.
     
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  40. Phil nails it.

    I would also like to expand on something Phil touched on - nuclear power. All of our electrical power demand that is now coming from aging nuclear plants, coal-fired plants, oil-fired plants, and natural gas-fired plants should come from brand new nuclear power facilities. There is absolutley no reason why we should be burning anything to generate electricity. There are technologies available to turn America's vast reserves of coal and natural gas into clean liquid fuels, not to mention developing domestic oil reserves. Why don't we do these things first before making drastic changes to the automobile?
     
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  41. My Jetta TDI gets 50mpg in highway commuting, but it's currently just as legitimate a choice as the Hummer ahead of me blocking my view (alternately: tailgating) and probably getting about 12mpg if the driver's lucky. I bought it when regular cost $1.20, at a time when there was no good reason to think about efficiency unless you were concerned with the bigger picture, or liked diesels. Point is, all the handwringing about Detroit missing it is futile until a) we as a society decide to de-legitimize any choice getting less than, say 30mpg (odds, anyone?) or b) keep the choice legitimate, but raise operating costs to the point where ownership becomes economically unviable for most consumers. If you really want that G500 (or LX570, or Navigator, or tarted-up Sierra), be my guest, but don't come crying like a five-year-old if it hurts. Either way, it has to percolate up to light a fire under our legislators to get this moving. CAFE really just addresses the symptoms, not the underlying economics. It's a cop-out designed to remove the pain of consumers making tough decisions. Asking for higher CAFE standards is like asking for a nicer playpen. That said, I suppose there is no motivation to be gained by anticipating the Saudis etc. counting camels instead of Rolls-Royces once we don't need their oil any more. Just imagine!
     
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  42. Very good dialog on complex issues.
    Random thought re non-american companies; I would love to go into business in a situation were I can pay my workers much less than the established companies do, were my benifit cost are again much less, where local governments subsidize my factories, and my home government puts up bariers to the established companies retaliating by competing against me in my country.
    For the record most of the cars I have owned over the past 45 years have been non-american because I liked their size and driving dinamics. I currently have a Jeep and a Miata.
     
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  43. The 4% annual CAFE improvement strategy is simply not capable of having a meaningful impact on fuel consumption.

    There are over 200 million registered vehicles in the US. Car makers sell about 17 million new vehicles each year. The new CAFE targets only affect 8% of the US vehicle fleet. 4% improvement in 8% of the vehicles gives us 0.3% annual fleet-wide fuel economy increase.

    But the added costs of compliance to tougher CAFE standards will raise new car prices, possibly reducing new car sales. Fewer new car sales further reduces the impact of CAFE on fleet-wide fuel economy.

    Isn't there a more cost effective way to reduce fuel consumption 0.3% annually?
     
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  44. If car companies offer lower-mid sedans with 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder engines and buyers choose the 6 cylinder when they don’t really need the extra power, (as in for towing), then the consumer is to blame. When car companies offer stationwagons that have more cargo space than SUV's and get 30+% better fuel economy, and buyers heavily prefer SUV's, then the consumer is to blame. We don’t all have to buy hybrids to save fuel (and subsequently cause the lowering of prices from lower demand). We need to buy less power, less off-road capability, less weight, less “un-aerodynamic-ness”. If we did, the car companies would all build more efficient alternatives and keep doing so. We just don’t want to sacrifice anything but we have to!

    The only area the companies should be faulted is for not offering the same features on the smaller engine versions of the same model, for marketing to convince you that you need more power or off-road capability, and for lobbying against earlier fuel efficiency improvements. What has been proven is that CAFE doesn’t work, and the car companies are right to complain about it.

    What matters is how efficient a company's vehicles are when compared to others in their segment. The Big 3 fare very well in this respect, especially GM's mid-sized cars. Few people can buy and live with a Prius or Insight like hybrid. The European and Japanese companies had the good fortune to be able to import smaller vehicles which they already sold in their home-markets. GM and Ford could have brought smaller products over from their European operations, but typical domestic customers didn't want those types of vehicles and it would have been difficult to convert small car buyers here in the U.S. to non Japanese products.

    What's most important to remember is that it's impossible for the Big 3 to compete here on an even playing field with legacy UAW contracts that the foreign companies don't have. Also, other countries' governments subsidize healthcare, practice trade protectionism, and manipulate their currency. We need to have our government help our home companies and we need to support them too. The mistakes of the past can be pointed out, but that won't fix anything. I'm not saying to buy uncompetitive products, but at least consider domestic products fairly and don't jump on the anti-American bandwagon. We all do have a stake in the success of our auto industry. An economy based on service industry cannot support healthy exports of products or good paying jobs. In fact much of our service industry relies on our manufacturing base. Just ask doctors, accountants, and lawyers here in the Detroit area who are hurting. It's just a precursor of things to come around the country.

    - Atul
    http://uh2l.blogs.com/things_ive_noticed/2007/04/gm_toyota_and_t.html
     
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  45. Tom Kaiser:
    "Some of this is brilliant, but others (dislike of mass transit) are absurd."

    The fact is that mass transit in most of the US subsidized by drivers and taxpayers. Except in a few places, mass transit hasn't proven to be a sustaining option. Most systems are underutilized. Sure, we can build more mass transit selectively where it works. But building roads would have a greater immediate impact in most of the country. We are a dispersed, very large country and as we see in every metropolitan area, when people vote with their dollars they choose privacy and space when they can get it, with matrixed geophysical organization as a result. Mass transit just cannot meet the majority transportation needs of such a society.

    Jason:
    "You don’t seriously believe that Machinists only work in the auto industry?"

    No, I don't. But this is a forum and I have to use an example for the larger point. If there is no domestic auto industry there will be fewer machinist (and other skilled labor) jobs in the US. Robots in heavy manufacturing are a fact of life. They're needed for both repeatable precision and for a high-cost economy to compete with a low-labor cost one. I am much more interested in the leverage of each domestic auto worker job having 7 more jobs behind it. Both of us should want to see a diverse economy continue and a vigorous US auto industry helps make it so.

    As for the rest of what you wrote, the most important point is that you shouldn't have to "take it up the rear" to buy American. You can buy competitive American products. You just have to research them. Statistically, the differences in reliability between good American and good imported cars are not meaningful to predict your specific experience, and they haven't been for some time now. All of the problems you cited have been experienced by Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW customers at various times too. In the entire auto business, the dealerships are the weak point in customer experience variables. What Obama misses is that our market has consistently demonstrated that the bulk of its drivers will not move to small cars. And the politicians asking for more of them aren't driving them either. I'm happy to have an open market with all the variety that represents. US makers have to compete with effective small cars in the mix. But the real gains are made in the 10 million vehicle middle, and in that great middle of the market, Detroit's fuel economy is competitive with, or better than, imports.

    Jon:
    "The 4% annual CAFE improvement strategy is simply not capable of having a meaningful impact on fuel consumption."

    Correct, especially if you say "meaningful near-term impact." We Americans buy 16 - 17 million new vehicles per year, a number dwarfed by annual used car sales of about 43 million. That's 60 million vehicles changing hands annually. There are plenty of gains to be made in moving V8 customers to high-output V6s, like Ford's new 3.5L and GM's 3.6L in the new vehicle segment, and in requiring that used cars be delivered in a high state of tune and maintenance, along with good, properly-inflated tires. Building more road capacity in key congestion areas and expanding off-street parking in cities can keep traffic moving and reduce fuel waste. Build more refineries, which is the most-cited bottleneck in gasoline flow that drives wild price swings. All of this can outperform CAFE in less time while the technology and market factors drive real change through the fleet.

    On small cars in general: They're fun but for most people are not sufficient as a sole vehicle choice. Back in the 1980s, before the SUV surge, pickup trucks had displaced 1970s vans as the tall vehicle of choice and people were scratching their heads as to why. Journalists in New York who don't own cars and are hostile to them, government types in D.C. who flew or were driven, and Europeans who wondered why people in a rich country would want to drive a solid axle buckboard all decried Americans' love of their pickups. A Car & Driver columnist -- I believe it was the great Gordon Baxter but I could remember it incorrectly -- used a column for his explanation. He wrote that what most people in a 3.5 million square mile country wanted was a '55 Chevy Bel Air. That is, a simple, affordable, roomy sedan with a comfortable back seat, rear drive, a torquey but not wasteful V8 and easy to repair. When '55 Chevies in their various updated forms were taken away from consumers in the shift to gutless front-wheel drive trash compactors in the latter 1970s and early 1980s, buyers opted for the closest thing to their preference -- pickup trucks. Consciously or subconsciously, the public simply circumvented the regulators, the product planners and the beancounters who foisted unsatisfying cars on them.

    There's a lot of truth to this. Look at a '55 Chevy and modern SUV or a 4 door pickup. It's not the form factor that needs changing. Vehicles of any type must reverse trend and get lighter, not heavier. Powerplant efficiency is on the right vector and as new alternatives come online it will kick-up. Parallel hybrids are needlessly complex. GM's series hybrid drivetrain has promise to be a much better bridge to future alternatives, and it's a flexible architecture that can accommodate a variety of alternatives for the electricity generating source. There is no reason this powertrain architecture can't be eventually used in light utility vehicles too.

    I might buy a Smart as a 3rd or 4th vehicle for a niche category of driving trips I make, but that will be more a parking or resource allocation decision than an economic one. However, politicians who think that better small cars will result in mass adoption, while they get driven around in limos, SUVs or flown on private jets, are bound to be disappointed. A rear-drive Chrysler 300C sedan delivers better fuel economy than a 5,000+ lbs. pickup or SUV. Imagine how many more large cars (and correspondingly fewer SUVs & trucks) might be on the road if 1970s CAFE hadn't prematurely led the volume carmakers into downsized FWD. The modern fuel-injected, computer-controlled RWD sedan might have flourished instead of the SUV, and we might have a fleet where the great middle of the market is seeing 20 - 30% better fuel economy than we have today.

    Phil
     
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