The Cars America Needs

Events continue to drive home the fact that we have a once in a generation opportunity to fundamentally change automotive fuel economy regulations. Observers as diverse as Newt Gingrich and John Kerry agree that the problem of global warming is real, it is urgent, and significant actions need to be taken now. There is even general agreement that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sources. Now comes the hard part: how to best achieve the needed reductions.

The automakers say they want to do their fair share to reduce global warming emissions, but they are fighting vehicle performance standards in D.C., in Vermont, in California — in any state that has the effrontery to have already capped vehicle global warming emissions. In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, the automakers are supporting an economy-wide cap, probably because they believe the greatest burden will be borne by other industries.

The domestic automakers say there is little more they can do to improve fuel economy without a technological breakthrough and billions of dollars. But they invest billions of dollars every year in engine research heretofore to make vehicles heavier and faster – something my research shows that American consumers stopped demanding when the price of gas starting going up. GM’s Vice Chairman Bob Lutz even complained that to improve fuel economy would consume the “quasi-totality of our investment in engineering resources.” and “You can either spend the money meeting the law or spend the money to do the cars you’d like to do but you can’t do both.” The cars Americans would like Detroit automakers to make—the cars America needs Detroit automakers to make–apparently differ fundamentally from those that GM likes to make. Could this explain their sliding market share? Will it take the loss of the quasi-totality of their market share—and the American jobs they support—to change this attitude?


  • Justin Jones

    Being the son of a retired UAW auto worker from Ford, I was taught that is was my duty to help support the American worker by buying American made products. This was especially true when it came to what car I was supposed to buy. The American auto companies and UAW helped put food on my table and I should take care of them. And protect the American middle class. But when do we stop taking care of those who don’t take care of themselves or anyone else anymore. It is becoming very obvious that American auto companies are being told what types of cars to make by the oil companies who are making record profits. In the 70′s during the energy crisses the American auto companies did adjust their fuel economy. Today they are helping the oil companies best intrest while hindering the future health and wellfair of people and our planets global warming illness. For the first time ever I am going to say I’m sorry to my father when I buy a foreign hybrid car because my priorities are not the same as the company he spent his life working for. It makes me sad.

  • Mike

    Well…the funny thing is that American cars aren’t entirely American. Take the Chevy Aveo. Made in Korea, but with the “American Revolution” thing given to it. Yet, the Toyota Tundra is made Indiana, USA.

    Just because it has an American logo doesn’t mean its made in the USA.

    I too, feel sorry that I bought a non-American car, but I’d rather not buy an American car that guzzles terrorism-funding oil.

  • Pablo

    Something that would really make a change but it is not politically popular:

    No tax credit for fuel efficiency, but one dollar (1$) extra tax per gallon – of which 0.25$ for the budget deficit; 0.25$ for clean air measures; 0.25$ for renewable energy sources research and 0.25$ for oil dependency risk fund (hurricanes, international conflicts).

  • Gerald Shields

    You are doing what’s right and you’re saving a lot of money. If I had the money, I would buy a Prius right now, Heck what the naysayers say. If the Big Three won’t do the right thing, then hell wit’em. We as Americans should be angry. We had been hooked and made dependent upon foreign oil by the Big Three and Big Oil and now, we are being held hostage and being blackmailed by them.

  • Patrick

    Both Ford and GM know how to make fuel efficient cars. Today they make them in Europe. It does not take an engineering effort but a marketing effort to make consumers believe that you do not need a big block to have good cars.

  • Steven

    I read an interview with Bob Lutz back in 04. Toyota had just brought out the newer Prius. Bob said that hybrids were a fad, the American public would not buy them and went on to how he wanted to market a Cadillac with a 12 cylinder engine. I think he’s done a lot to harm GM. It’s a mystery why GM stockholders haven’t worked to get him out.
    Now it’s 07 and I’m driving my beautiful, powerful and all around fun Toyota Highlander Hybrid. GM has nothing to offer and Bob is one of the reasons why.

  • dave

    I want to buy american, but the big 3 wont offer anything that comes close to what honda and toyota offer, are you listing big 3, the sales #s speak loud and clear, have you read the reports, do something now and fast or it will be to late! GM dont tell me you cant make an electic car you did it sucessfully 10 years ago with the EV1, the american public is not stupid and is telling you how we feel with our purchasing power. Wake up!

  • Gerald Shields

    I think we should pressure Congress and President to raise the fuel efficiency standards to 40 mpg within 3 years and to enact a program to destroy and scrap “guzzler” vehicles. Lastly, a “guzzler tax” should be levied on the Big Three and auto dealerships.

  • John Grabber

    It is sad that one can not buy their own countries vehicles mainly because they are junk compared to other foreign products designed to last and make a difference to concerns shared by the entire product.
    For the rest of my driving life, TOYOTA will be my transportation…

  • Ken Morosko, Jr.

    Bob Lutz is indeed hurting GM. They need new leadership (12 cyl. Cadillac???). Prius, a fad? Check the numbers. For 20 years I was a died in the wool Chevrolet man. After much research on the Prius, when it came time for a new car, the Big Three made our decision easy. We are the proud owners of a 2005 Prius and I’m proud to say it is by far the best vehicle we’ve ever purchased. In the Baltimore area, we average 47-54 MPG!!! We need our government to step up to the plate and force the Big Three into producing (no more concept cars) real fuel efficient vehicles. Sadly, I don’t think it will happen.

  • capital

    I like to say I’m a capitalist, and I will buy the product that is a better mouse trap. Reguardless of who makes it. The big 3 and big oil will have to adapt to survive. otherwise like all things in a capitalize nation they will go bankrupt. I personally see it happening to GM inside 5 years.
    To use a quote “You must evolve to survive and if you can survive you can become dominant”

  • Michael Lewis

    I think there is a great deal of engine research happening but for the wrong reasons and goals. Is it everyone’s dream to have 500hp and get from stop to stop faster than your neighbor? I own a 5.0 rated @ 215hp. Almost ALL 6cylinders produce more hp than my old 5.0. How about refocusing the goal to lower hp and increase fuel efficiency? Not everyone wants a “Truck-a-saurus”. Does the Big 3 think everyone will stop buying gas if electric cars are produced? Da-a-ah? There are lots of gas cars on the road. The Big 3 heard the message in the 70s when the shift in car sales when to Japan. Thank God for that Revolution!

  • Todd

    I love my 06 HCH and love the fact I get 45mpg on average. However, I can’t for one minute think I would rather be in this small vehicle than, say a large, full-size, New, 4X4 Crew Cab Pick-up or Escalade (Tahoe). Better view, more room, more accident protection, etc., etc. However, I choose a Hybrid because of environmental, political and financial (cost of fuel) reasons. If the Big 3 can make these vehicles more efficient, less polluting and more economically friendly (fuel costs), they will still sell very well. I believe they know this and this is where they are trying to head, if they don’t go bankrupt first! Right or wrong as an earlier post suggests, only time will tell.

  • Jim

    My father had a Dodge colt in the 80′s, it got 45-50mpg. Don’t tell me we can’t do it 20 years later. I’m not stupid!!

  • Tom

    Since when has the Tundra been able to get good fuel milage?

  • Dopy

    Where do you think the profits go when you purchase a Toyota, Nissan, Chrysler, or Honda? I goes to county in which the corporation began. Japan, Germany! This why folk need to shop the Walmart type economy with the money folks (average workers) here earn working for these companys

  • Joseph M.

    We need more fuel efficient cars. My Saturn cost twice the money to fill the tank, and drove half the distance on that tank of gas. Please build a car that gets more miles per gallon. I average over 50 miles per gallon in my Prius. If I try, I can get over 60 miles per gallon. I don’t care if you build suv’s hummers, whatever. But also build a car that is fuel efficient, by the standards that Toyota has set with it’s Prius. What are you guys doing? stop playing around. And Please don’t push Diesel. we need “Full Hybrids” and Plug in Hybrids, and Flex Fuel choices. Lets go. Lots of work to do.

  • charles

    that old bastard is flat out lying. improving fuel economy isnt an engineering impossibility. they just dont want to. and i bet it hurts that theyre not showing any profit for their troubles. thats what they get. what kind of people put their interests ahead of the world that theyre polluting and lying to?

  • Indigo

    Lutz is full of it. Honda and Toyota both have non-hybrids that get very good fuel economy. The Fit/Yaris get about 10 MPG more than the Aevo. Ditto for Civic/ Camry versus the Cobalt or Malibu. Lutz needs to shave a bit of his multibillion dollar salary and give the money to R&D.

  • harry ross

    ceos eating to well envest some
    of that money back into the industry,
    get a real stake in it.the tec. is there some one has to put it together,make new definsion,of
    [hybrids].

  • Steve in KC

    Hey Jim. Right on!! Dodge Colts were getting in the 40+ mpg 25 years ago! My mom had a 74 Maverick 6 cyl that got 30+ mpg.
    My 98 year old Aunt likes to tell me that as a small child she remembers a neighbor driving a nice quiet electric car. Don’t forget the Tucker car and how the auto makers squelched his innovations. Do you remember his gas mileage??!!

  • David Long

    How hard is it to put a diesel engine (like the ones Chrysler puts into the new Jeep Compass but ONLY in Latin and South America) and mate that to an advanced hybrid system like in the Toyotas? You’re looking at DOUBLING your gas mileage with off-the-shelf technology.

    The Governor of Montana says that his state *alone* has enough coal reserves to be converted by a 1920s-era process to COMPLETELY satisfy all domestic ground and aviation fuels needs.

    How many more answers to we need to ignore before we DO something?

  • Elliot

    Does anyone have the article these quotes came from?

    I am very disappointed with Lutz and GM in general. They simply don’t get it. Time after time they are dead wrong and completely misread the needs of the public. The ice age is on its way for GM unfortunately.

  • Uncle Sam

    Bob Lutz needs to be put out to pasture. He doesn’t know how to meet a challenge and blames his own engineers for handicapping the “designers” .. the stylists who have been so apt at producing cars that have little valuable functionality.

    The guy not only can’t lead; he is headed in the wrong direction.

  • Hadji

    And what kind of DVD, PC, TV, IPOD or any other device do you buy?? There all made in Asia..Tired of hearing UAW and the rest of the US auto industry pull the buy amarican card. Most of my Ford in 86 were made out side of the USA. There are more and better cars being made in the USA by non-US companies! Why, because we american still make the best products. It’s just the multi milion $$ VP’s in america that don’t have a clue..why should they??

  • jay

    My dream cars were Studebaker Avantis,Trans Am’s,Vipers,and Corvettes.BUT I’VE GROWN UP. When will Mr. Lutz and G.M. grow up? America needs to free itself from the producers of oil and terrorism.If G.M. engineers can’t make a good hybrid,then they should at least be able to make a good 1983 car.Pick up a 1983 magazine and you’ll see MANY cars that had better mileage than those that G.M. produces today.

  • Mike

    It is obvious to everyone here that the Detroit Three (as they are no longer the Big Three) are behind in hybrid and fuel efficient technology. But until gas hit $3/gal and the global warming discussions were renewed, a large population of Americans were seeking out large SUVs and trucks. As the market shifted due to high gas prices, the Detroit Three were unprepared for the new market. This allowed the Toyotas and Hondas of the world to meet a growing fuel efficient market with their maturing hybrid technology. Unfortunately, the product life cycle on a vehicle is 3-5 years, utilizes mature technology. It takes time to develop these technologies and apply them to a vehicle, and judging on the product lineups coming out, the Detroit Three are just beginning to produce vehicles for the new market shift. If they are to succeed, they must prove to have vehicles that can compete with the existing hybrids. The gap in quality between foreign and US automakers has slowly been narrowed, which is promising. Consumers should not have to choose between quality and “loyalty” to US automakers, and automakers can no longer rely on it, thus the reason for improved US manufactured cars.

    As for the idea that the Detroit Three are “in bed” with the oil companies, that is ridiculous. This is similar to the myth that there exists a the technology for a 100 mpg gasoline-only car but that auto/oil companies own the rights and refuse to produce it to increase oil profits. Sure you might be able to produce a 100 mpg vehicle, but nobody is going to buy a bicycle with a lawnmower engine, the consumer is not willing to accept the trade-off for higher fuel efficiency. Hybrids offer a way to reduce the trade-off to an acceptable level (higher initial vehicle cost), without compromising vehicle range, low top-speed, and other limitations that hindered past electric vehicles such as the EV1.

  • jason

    Gm owned 60% share of the company that developed nickel metal hydride batteries….worked great in the EV1 (150 mile range)….but they sold it to SHELL OIL….

  • Richard

    I bought my first ‘foreign’ car ever – a Toyota Prius – late last year. Honestly I looked everywhere for something American-made that offered the gas mileage and features that we’re going to need in the soon to come 6-7 dollar per gallon future. They simply aren’t there. I fear if the American auto makers (who actually stood at the pinnacle of alternate technology only ten years ago with the EV1…and then destroyed them all) don’t wake up, and I doubt they will, Toyota and Honda may be the only credible auto manufacturers in the country.

  • factory rat

    Walter, I find it quite odd for you to say that GM won’t make the cars the public wants when it is by far the leader in market share. GM’s 2007 YTD market share is 48% higher than Toyota’s market for goodness sake. A bit of a Yogi Berra moment there, saying that the clear market share leader isn’t making vehicles people want.

    And what sayeth ye to the fact that GM’s big pickups are by far the best selling vehicles in the land – another product no one wants? Jeez, no regressions needed for that one.

    I appriciate your pointing out the trends, which are beyond dispute, but don’t get carried away with trying to characterize what they mean.

  • RB

    McManus says the Domestics “invest billions of dollars every year in engine research heretofore to make vehicles heavier and faster.” Think about what you’re writing! Making cars heavier doesn’t take research, making them lighter does. They DO spend billions trying to make them lighter.

    Has anyone else noticed how much heavier the new “Mini” is or today’s Civic vs. the old ones, or (you name it)? The Mini is nearly twice as heavy as the old one. The fact is, safety requirements, demands for options, and American tastes (not to mention their increased size) have made EVERYONE’S vehicles heavier.

    The biggest problem the domestics have is that their home market has a low, but unpredictable fuel price. How do you plan for the future when American fuel costs could be $1.50 when your new model comes out (4 years from now) or it might be $5.00/gallon?

    The foreign manufacturers have no fuel standards in their home markets. They simply have high fuel costs (accomplished through taxes), and guess what, consumers demand fuel efficient vehicles AND are willing to pay for them. On the other hand, the domestics have a fickle, short-term oriented stock market (the NYSE) driving them to provide products that are immediately profitable (how many years did Toyota lose money on their hybrids?).

    Raise fuel prices in the US in a predictable way (i.e., higher fuel taxes), and everyone will play together. Consumers will demand fuel economy, domestics will provide them, and (maybe) you will give them credit.

  • Alex

    I wanted to share my thoughts I will buy an American car but it won’t be from the detroit 3. I will get either a Zap X, Tesla White Star or a Pheonix electric car. Forget oil changes, gas and engine parts. I’m patiently waiting my Prius has the weakest batteries I could get and Im sick of those companies promising plug in kits. Get ready for $4 a galon of gas it’s comming.

  • A

    That’s Gallon sorry

  • Collin Burnell

    You are right… American trucks still sell quite well… BUT. Many truck buyers (businesses, boat & trailer owners, etc.) do not have a choice, yet. They HAVE to buy a truck. If you offered them a (real) Hybrid that got 25-60% better fuel economy… Hmmm. If you take away these truck sales from the ‘Big’ 3 there numbers are not that impressive.

  • factory rat

    Collin, you are quite right. I think GM still leads in share if you subtract the big trucks, but I didn’t check to know exactly how much. We will know about those buyer’s reaction to hybrid availability by one year from now, after the full-size full hybrids by GM are on the market 5 – 6 months.

    RB, I think you are wrong on the standards argument, although you are right on fuel prices driving consumer behavior. See this for a comparison http://www.pewclimate.org/docUploads/Fuel%20Economy%20and%20GHG%20Standards_010605_110719.pdf

    On the size of cars, a few weeks ago i saw a new Aveo driving beside a Chevette, and the Aveo was much larger. I was amazed.

  • EveryDay American – Driving a

    It always seems that Corporate America – break that word down – Corp(Rat)e Ameria has always concentrated on the all might dollar. So much to the effect in regards to the auto, it was never a concern of listening to what the customer wanted, it was what the “silver grayed haired” corporate types wanted to sell that would line their pockets the best. Back in the early 80′s Toyota came to GM and asked their participation to build a hybrid car – better fuel economy, and something different out of the main stream. Big three, laughged and said, we don’t need your stink’n technology, we are building muscle cars, and going forward with SUV, that we think the consumers want, plus, gas is not a problem, and performance is where it is at. Okay, so Toyota, said fine, and developed the Prius, and as we all know on to develop the toyota corolla, and other high reliable vehicles. Quality at first was not there, but shortly thereafter, shot to the top, exceeding the inferior quality of American Autos. American Autos were heavy, strong, but built wise, were poorly made, and sometimes expensive. You have to remember that the average auto worker makes 54-67 dollars an hour…. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan continued their assault in listening to the customer and building better cars that were affordable. The Big three continued to build what they thought was their sales solution. All you kept seeing were crappy designs, and more CEO, saying this and saying that…..In short, Market share has diminished in the Big 3 market to an embarassing rate…. So today, The big three after laying off tons of workers, because their product is not selling is scrating their head and saying why is this happening???? Geez? Duh… figure it out…. Stop concentrating on your friggin retirement and bottom line and do what the asian persuation has done, find out what people want and build it affordable and reliably. This article from the Silve fox says, it would cost billions of dollars to develop fuel economy cars… OH Please, get rid of the silver lining in your corporate pockets and use 10% of that to build a decent car. Sorry, but my prediction is that there will be NO More Big 3, It will be Big 2, and Big 1 and then Zero….No one is buying American, just because its a crappy product. Hey, if Americans built better reliable and affordable products, I’d be the first in line, actually, I did buy a 1989 Chevy Astro, which was a great product, but had the Paint flaw that the paint on the vehicle totally fell offer within 4 years…What a disaster… Anyway in closing…. Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have the lead in terms of most sought after sales vehicles, with other trailing….. The name of the Big three should be changed to the Tiny Three!!! LOL! Because that is the reality of the situation. Solution, – Fire all of the Old Good Ole Boys at the top, and replace with fresh new blood, – younger talent that really cares, rather than some silver haired, yellow toenailed, bad breath, stinky suit guys that all they care about is how many shares of stock they can buy and sell and how much of a retirement they can build…… Prove me wrong???? Enron, Sun Microsystems….GM, Ford, Chrysler…. Shall I go on???

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