What a new world we live in these days: a black president (hurray!), the worst economy since the Depression (oh, dear), and now…even Detroit is changing its wanton ways. Here are five pieces of ironclad evidence that Hell has now well and truly frozen over in southeastern Michigan.
1. Detroit car critic actually LIKES a hybrid!
See for yourself: Detroit News auto critic Scott Burgess, who never met a three-ton truck or big honkin’ SUV he didn’t like, actually fell for the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid. He doesn’t just like it—he LUVS it. What’s next, a Smart ForTwo?
2. Hour-long waits to drive green cars at the Auto Show.
As we mentioned in our Detroit Auto Show preview, the vacant basement of Cobo Hall was transformed into the EcoXperience, a 1/8-mile test track winding through waterfalls, flowers, and trees that filled the 70,000-square-foot area. Hometown crowds waited up to an hour to drive hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell cars at low speeds, with factory reps or trained drivers alongside. The only snag was the sharp, dank odor of mulch that rose onto the show floor from every basement stairwell, like a garden center with dead A/C.
3. Auto dealers, commentators, and CEOs want higher gas taxes.
At least since the 1980 election of President Reagan, taxes have been seen as instruments of repression, outright theft, and/or the moral equivalent of, say, matricide. So you can hear the ice floes closing over the hot flames of Hell when the following folks all line up to advocate higher gas taxes:
Mike Jackson, CEO of mega-dealer AutoNation, most recently in front of a roomful of auto dealers, no less, at their annual convention. Our favorite quote: “Cheap gasoline combined with fuel efficiency mandated by the government is an economic disaster for America.”
Alan Mulally, CEO of Ford Motor Company—several times over the last two years, in front of various audiences, although he has also acknowledged the seeming impossibility of politicians voting to raise their constituents’ taxes.
Tom Walsh, Detroit Free Press columnist, who writes, “We’ll know [Obama is serious about energy policy] when he spends a barrelful of political capital from his ample reservoir to get behind a fuel tax hike that will add $2 to $3 to the price of a gallon of gasoline, over time, in the United States.”
4. Chrysler’s latest savior is…FIAT?!?
It would be bizarre if it weren’t, well…true. The “half” of the Detroit Two and a Half is relying for salvation on the chronic sick man of the European auto industry. After its abusive marriage with Daimler ended last year, Chrysler ended up in the arms of Cerberus Partners. The private equity group promised to reinvent it and keep it independent; instead, Chrysler has been so eviscerated that analysts say it no longer has the staff or ability to design passenger cars. It even canceled its only hybrids. FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne says he has no intention of running both companies. Uh huh.
5. GM really is serious about the Chevy Volt.
When the Chevrolet Volt concept appeared in January 2007, critics blasted GM for blatant greenwashing. “It’ll never get built; it’s all just hype,” said a chorus of cynics. “Even if it does work, they’ll kill it.” Well, guess what? Two years later, the Volt seems to be on track, and the chorus of doubters has faded away into the background. GM maintains the first Volts will roll off the lines in late 2010, and they’re sticking to their schedule. If they succeed, they’ll finally lay to rest the ghosts of Who Killed the Electric Car?