What does it take for a man and his company to wake up? How about a snowless ski season? Drowning polar bears? Or a nation addicted to imported oil coming mostly from dangerous parts of the world? Bob Lutz and General Motors are still asleep at the switch, apparently incapable of responding to the climate crisis or the need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
In a story published by Reuters last week, Lutz argued that raising fuel economy standards would unfairly burden Detroit, and alleges (rather cluelessly) that Americans don't care -- they just want their big, powerful trucks and SUVs. Really Bob? Then why do the latest polls indicate that Americans are prioritizing fuel economy and safety more and more - something GM's giant SUVs don't provide? Why has Toyota just surpassed GM as the number one auto seller in the world? Why are sales of the largest SUVs continuing to plummet as consumers discover their wallets emptying when volatile gas prices peak?
Last year when prices surged, drivers from Houston to Boston traded in their SUVs for hybrids or more efficient 4 wheel drive cars with plenty of zoom. There's a wait list for the Toyota Prius in many locations, yet Detroit has repeatedly found itself practically giving away SUVs and trucks that clog dealers' lots. And how about GM's own decision to yank the Hummer H1 as evidence that big and thirsty isn't what Americans want in their vehicles anymore?
Lutz's vision has all but destroyed his company -- perhaps the habitual laying off of workers and regular closing of factories must give him the reassurance he needs to sustain the crappy leadership. Lutz whines that increasing fuel efficiency would "force" Detroit to hand over the market to Japanese automakers. Earth to Detroit: you've practically rolled out the red carpet for foreign automakers to capture the American market. What's led to your failing performance is your lack of ingenuity, stubborn insistence that consumers still want your gas guzzling beasts, and sluggish response to the public's growing understanding that trucks and SUVs contribute more to global warming. And god forbid there be any expectation of acting morally, knowing what we now know with certainty -- that our vehicles are contributing to global warming.
What Americans would like to see is their own auto industry and their government wake up and smell the future. Despite Lutz's excuses, there are plenty of technologies sitting on the shelf waiting to be scaled up that will vastly improve our fuel economy - lighter, stronger materials; better tires; hybrid engines and alternative fuels to name a few. Since Detroit seems happy to sit on its hands and flounder, it's time for Washington to get serious and legislate better fuel economy. Detroit will 'miraculously' get its act together then, just as it has before when government has pushed the industry to improve its products. We owe it to the American auto workers who've lost their jobs unnecessarily, we owe it to the troops, we owe it to the planet. It's time to save Detroit from itself.