Happy July 4th, our independence day. As we celebrate our country's liberation, we can read in todays paper that American auto makers were again fussing over the government's request for better fuel economy. I'll argue that Detroit's position is anti-American and un-patriotic. (Please forgive me for digressing from the world of bar codes on this holiday weekend.)
My arguments rest on two key points:
1. By spending hundreds of billions of dollars to import fuel each year, we weaken America.
2. Fuel alternatives like electricity and propane are viable and their use is growing wildly - and, since they produce less pollution, we benefit multiple times. American auto manufacturers CAN build these vehicles now.
Why does Detroit fight the trend towards better fuel economuy? CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations have been with us for decades and have not put American car makers out of business. Increasing fuel economy benefits our environment, our health and our economy.
For decades, Detroit has criticized those of us who import our cars from Japan (although many Hondas and Nissans are now made here in America). Personally, I have found the look, feel, comfort, fuel economy and VALUE from Japanese car makers superior ever since buying a new Honda Accord in 1983. The one time since then that I bought an American car, I was sorely disappointed - the Pontiac Grand Am left a bad taste in my mouth. But, I'm willing to let bygones be bygones, if Detroit would offer me something that would appeal to my head, as well as my heart. The new Camaro, Mustang and Challenger are all beautiful cars, but not practical for me. I drive around 18,000 miles a year and want to spend as little as possible on fuel.
I've been doing a little car shopping in the last month. My Camry Hybrid has been wonderful, but its over 3 years old, and at roughly 50,000 miles, and I have an itch for something that gets better gas mileage. 33mpg is not bad, but I am craving an electric vehicle. It costs much less per mile of operation to charge with electricity than with petroleum and we are making the electricity here in the US.
I went to look at the Chevy Volt last month and almost passed out. I could NOT believe this came from an American car company. Holy cow! It was all I could do not to drool on the fenders. Why did GM put up such a fuss about building an electric car? If you haven't seen the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?" you owe it to yourself to get it from Netflix. It's very enlightening. Now, did I buy a Volt? It was close. I took the Volt for a test drive, and it was sweet. Two drawbacks -first, the estimated range based on MY driving style, was about 32 miles per charge. Chevy estimates a little more. How did I arrive at my estimate - simple - I used the vehicles onboard data to see what the estimated range was when I started driving, then what it was when I finished driving, and measured it against the actual change in the odometer. Not perfect, but close enough. Not that it matters. Based on the places I go regularly I need and want about 100 miles of range on a charge. The actual range of the Volt is much more than the battery capacity, due to a nice engine under the hood, but at that point we're back to about 30 mpg. Not good enough.
The second issue with the Volt was the price. The sticker was around $42k, and after the $7,500 government rebate, that would net it at about $35k. Not bad. Give me a 100 miles of range on an electric charge and I'll buy one today. HOWEVER, the ADM, (additional dealer markup) was $12,000 and that was for the demo model - not even brand new. How long to get one if ordered from the factory? - 18 months - according the the salesman I spoke with. Hmmm. I am not about to pay $47,000 (after tax breaks) for a vehicle - 100 mile range or not. The car was great. GM is very close to the mark. Extend the range and stop the dealer markup and I will buy this car that appeals to my head and my heart. I am not giving up in my quest for an electric vehicle however, as numerous models are coming available even this year. I will wait patiently if I have to.
The last time I shopped for cars - before I got my hybrid, most car salesmen were contempuous of the hybrids. "They cost more in price than you'll save in gas" - I heard that quite a few times. DUH! I can do the math! But I'd rather spend a few more dollars and import less oil from our enemies - you know, Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia, the ones who funnel money to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
When we import gasoline products from our enemies, we really have to pay three times for the fuel. First, you pay at the pump. Then, when the cash gets back to Iran, and they fund the terrorist groups, we have to pay again to send our soldiers over there - our little soiree in Afghanistan was running 500 billion dollars a year until recently - hmmm -one could argue that we are really paying double for our fuel, that would put it at about $9 a gallon at current rates. The third time we pay, and the most dear, is when our American soldiers are killed. There is no value that we can put on that cost. Are those soldiers there protecting our freedoms? Okay - how about we stop funding those who make us send soldiers there!!
It's safe to say that gas is really costing us way over $10 a gallon. If we took the $300 billion we paid for foreign oil last year, and the $500 billion we spent in Afghanistan last year, that's almost a cool trillion dollars. Detroit's insistence on building less fuel efficient vehicles can certainly claim responsibility for a part of those expenses - and that's not good for America.
The more oil we import, the more money we send to Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia. While the Saudi's are not quite the rogue, aggressive state that Iran or Libya is, they are most definitely not our friends. It's essentially a dictatorship where women don't even have the right to drive a car and there is no freedom of speech.
In essence, what Detroit has said is "it is better to buy American cars than imports", all the while forgetting or ignoring that low fuel economy American cars require more fuel imports from hostile and often belligerent countries. That's an approach that is convenient for Detroit, but not for the country as a whole.
What could Detroit do ? First of all, they could stop bitching about fuel economy and recognize that an America that is dependent on foreign oil, is a weak America. They could acknowledge that it is BAD to send 300 billion dollars* a year out of the country. They could face reality and say that it would make America stronger if we used domestic fuel. (Imagine what would happen if we spent 300 billion dollars on fuel and it all stayed in the US? Wow, what a stimulus package that would be! Detroit could help America do that as a thank you for the perennial bailout checks we tax payers have been writing.)
They could stop fighting the "green" movement and get on board protecting our environment. Whether hydrocarbons are responsible for global warming or not, there ain't no glaciers in our Glacier National Park. (Well, just a tiny one, but you need binoculars to see it, and there isn't much of it. I know this from personal experience, having visited the park several years ago. Go see it yourself, before it has completely melted. )
I am willing to accept a car that is more practical than beautiful. I think the financial state of America is sufficiently precarious that we need to keep every dollar here that we can.
What else can Detroit do to help America?
Why don't Ford and GM sell a car that runs on propane? Don't tell me its due to a lack of fueling stations. I can buy propane at every Home Depot, Lowes and every propane recharging center in the country. There are tens of thousands of places where I could stop and pick up a tank and swap it out of my trunk. What's more, is that there could easily be more propane stations if we chose to push it. I would cheerfully put up with a little aggravation like driving out of my way to refill a propane vehicle. Yes, I know there are conversion kits, but having a third party mess with my vehicle makes me nervous. I want a solution from the manufacturer. I have heard that both GM and Ford make cars for sale in Europe that run on propane. It can't be that hard to offer a solution here. Municipal bus companies are adding natural gas vehicles like crazy. This is a tested proven technology - Detroit should give us the choice, before Toyota does.
In summary - GM, Ford and Chrysler need to recognize that America must come first. We need to get off our addiction to foreign oil and that means better fuel economy and fuel alternatives. We have alternatives and all three car companies (and the unions) should be vigorously exploring them, leading the way in protecting our country and maintaining our independence.
*The $300 billion dollars is based on recently released figures from the US Dept of Energy last week (June 29, 2011) and current oil prices. It was actually higher a few years ago when oil was over $130 a barrel, and will no doubt be higher in the future, as world oil consumption continues to grow.