Saturday, December 01, 2007

Lawmakers Reach Deal for 40% Improvement in Fuel Efficiency

Sounds good, right? So why does it piss me off?

For starters, because the auto industry has until 2020 to reach that goal. Granted, that's less than 13 years from now (scary thought), but some automakers are already producing vehicles which meet or exceed that goal.
The proposal, which would require automakers to achieve 35 miles per gallon on average, is similar to a measure that was passed in the summer by the Senate but was bitterly opposed by the auto companies, who argued they did not have the technology or the financial resources to reach that goal.

Tough shit. I'm pretty damn tired of listening to Detroit whine about what they can and cannot do, while the rest of the world seems to have far less resistance to improving efficiency. I have about as much compassion for Detroit as I do for someone living in an abusive relationship who has the ways and the means to get out, but chooses not to.
European auto companies, for example, must average 40 miles per gallon and China requires a 35 m.p.g. standard. Automobiles sold in those countries are generally smaller and less powerful than the most popular models in the United States, however.

In Europe, of course, it might have something to do with the fact that prices at the pump are about twice as high as in the US. And I cannot predict fuel prices 13 years down the road, but are we going to be better off if we're still driving vehicles powered by non-renewable fuels, getting 35 mpg, and paying perhaps $6 a gallon? Or $8? Who knows. But given the growing thirst for fuel in the developing world, and at home, it probably won't be $3.29 -- I'd stake my reputation on that.

Unless automakers can come up with the technology for vastly improved efficiency, far more than 40%, then Americans must adjust their vehicular appetites, and move away from the popularity of muscle cars, trucks, and SUVs. And about the only thing which will force a change of that magnitude is higher prices at the pump.

Removing all federal subsidies would be a good start. We'd start to see more realistic fuel prices immediately. This would have to include some form of tax relief to lower income families, and tax breaks for people who purchase the most efficient vehicles, until such time as we can phase in vehicles powered by alternative means.

Unfortunately, the compromises in this legislation still protect the oil industry.
The compromise should ensure passage in the House, although the Senate may insist on changes. It does not appear to include provisions, like $16 billion in new taxes on the oil industry, that drew a veto threat from President Bush.

The latest version of the measure, if it becomes law, will force wrenching changes on the American car companies, from design studios to new-car showrooms to executive suites. Automakers now have to achieve 27.5 miles per gallon on cars, a figure that has not changed since 1984, and 22.2 miles per gallon for light trucks, including minivans, sport utility vehicles and pickups. Under the compromise, the companies will retain the distinction between the classes of vehicles, but must still meet a combined 35 m.p.g. fleetwide standard.

This legislation is a bit like showing up at a New Year's Eve party at 4:00 AM on January 1st. Given that the standards for cars have not changed since 1984, this bill should have passed in 1997, not 2007, and we'd still be three years away from having to achieve it.

Put me down as one who feels these new standards are going to be rendered moot, long before 2020.

Crossposted at Big Brass Blog.

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