Monday, March 03, 2008

Detroit shoots self in foot again. America yawns.

Did you know that of the top 10 most efficient cars sold in America, not one is made by an American company?

Detroit has been too busy fighting increased CAFE mileage standards to actually develop the high-mileage cars that people now want. The government tried to save them from themselves, but they would have none of it.

(During the height of the monster truck/SUV craze a few years ago, I opined that Detroit was determined to sell everybody one of these fuel guzzlers so that when gas prices zoomed they could then turn around and sell everybody a new high-mileage car. It seems I was half right.)

When the VW Beetle appeared on the U.S. industry's radar screen in the early 1960's, they made a half-hearted effort to build compacts of their own: the Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, and the star-crossed Chevy Corvair (despite its flaws—which would put Ralph Nader on the map—I proudly drove a Corvair in my teens because it had—OMG!—bucket seats and a floor shift! Considering the, ahem, sporty way I used to drive the 'Vair, which was notorious for flipping over with little provocation, I'm lucky to be alive. I nearly gave my poor mother heart failure once, in, of all places, a cemetery.)

Small, efficient cars have always been Detroit's ugly ducklings, unloved because they cost nearly as much to build as a big car, but sold for much less. At least, that was the excuse back then; I don't know what the excuse is today.

In the early 1970's, when Congress first clamped down on auto emissions. Detroit sent lobbyists to Washington to convince the regulators that reducing pollution was impossible. Foreign manufacturers sent engineers to the drawing board to actually do it. In a now-familiar scenario, U.S. manufacturers then had to play catch-up.

The amount of stupidity that has emanated from Detroit in the intervening 35 years is breathtaking.

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