By Edward Flattau
For decades, the big three auto manufacturers have thumbed their noses at criticism they were ignoring environmental reality in favor of greed, and one day would pay a heavy price for their dereliction.
Now that time has arrived. Consequently, the mismanaged, cash-strapped industry should be read the riot act by Congress and be given a strict mandatory schedule that it must follow for producing “green” market-competitive automobiles if it wishes to receive taxpayer help. Better yet, as a condition of the industry attaining $25 billion in additional governmental aid, Washington should insist on having a representative added to Detroit’s management team to monitor progress and make certain no further stonewalling takes place. [Congressional Democrats have proposed an oversight board.]
Stonewalling has been the name of the game for more than 40 years despite well documented complaints from various politicians, scientists, public interest groups and media that the industry was undermining the future national interest with its emphasis on giant gas guzzlers. In their quest for immediate profit, the Big Three automakers were not concerned about pollution, conservation, and passenger safety, and they lobbied tenaciously to block regulations in that regard. To the extent they were successful, and for a long time they were, a complicit majority of Congress must shoulder part of the blame for the current sorry state of affairs.
I know there are many like me who have long been frustrated with the manner in which Detroit has spurned “green” oriented products even when the sale of such vehicles was proven profitable by the Japanese.
Let me give you a personal reason why I feel the way I do. I have been writing a syndicated environmental column since 1972, and here are just a few excerpts from past pieces that were published in scores of newspapers (as if that made any difference to the “Big Three”).
August 1, 1973—“Gasoline shortages and higher prices are making General Motors President Edward Cole and his counterpart at Ford, Lee Iacocca, stir uneasily as they rhapsodize about their countrymen’s love affair with large, gas-guzzling automobiles….Congress should regulate the weight of autos and the size of their engines. Lawmakers have already introduced bills which would tax new cars on the amount of gasoline they used and would mandate a minimum fuel economy improvement each year before vehicles could be marketed.”
January 29, 1975—“President Ford has a choice in the days ahead. He can cut through Detroit’s bluster by endorsing such measures as a horsepower tax and mandatory performance standards to accelerate the trend towards smaller, cleaner cars. Or he can swallow industry’s bluff to buy time for short-term profit at the expense of public health and a sound long-term energy policy.”
August 31, 1984—“By the mid 1990s’, world oil production will begin to level off and we will start to feel a pinch in gasoline prices if not availability. We thus have an unequivocal obligation to future generations as well as ourselves not to allow profligacy
to rule the roost…These auto executives have determined that their companies can earn far more money by selling large, energy inefficient cars with lots of frills than by retooling their entire fleets for better mileage purposes…To permit the marketplace, so often artificially primed or randomly conceived, to determine alone the rate of national energy consumption and conservation invites eventual chaos.” (and this particular column appeared in the Detroit Free Press!)
These automobile executives can no longer be cut any slack. They need to expedite the retooling of their assembly lines and production of a truly competitive product. If that means a reduction in their profit margins, so be it. The important thing is they keep their operations afloat to provide employment for millions of Americans and produce affordable cars that will be in demand and contribute to improving the nation’s environment. Hopefully, it will not be too little, too late.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau