Hybrid cars are either a complete waste of money. Or the best example of how Detroit is finally producing the fuel-efficient cars that consumers want. These dueling views on hybrid cars played out in today’s Detroit News.
Detroit News columnist Manny Lopez cited disappointing hybrid sales numbers—down about 13 percent for the year—as final proof that hybrid cars are destined to remain a tiny niche in the car world. Taking his stand in the culture wars, Lopez accused “select members of Congress as well as Hollywood hypocrites” as being all wrong on hybrids. He wrote, “Gone, hopefully, are the days when the hybrid hype machine said the dual-powertrain vehicles would dominate the market and be standard offerings for most vehicles in every fleet.”
Lopez gives point-blank advice to automakers: “It makes no financial sense to put two drivetrains in one vehicle—one for the hybrid system and one for the gas engine. Automakers can’t afford to do that anymore.” And finally, he accuses legislator and activists of “grandstanding” to get carmakers to build hybrids, which people don’t want to buy.
One of those legislators, apparently, is US Rep. John Dingell, who in the same pages of the Detroit News points to the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, a mid-size hybrid that gets 41 mpg in the city, as evidence that Detroit is proactively responding to the needs of consumers clamoring for a new more fuel-efficient path. Dingell also calls out the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, the high-mpg Chevrolet Cruze, and Chrysler’s upcoming electric vehicles as “examples that Detroit’s automakers can compete with products made anywhere in the world.”
In November, Dingell was forced out of his position as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee—a role, held since 1981, in which he fought against virtually any regulation that might impact the domestic auto industry. He was replaced by California Representative Henry Waxman, who’s been on the front end of environmental legislation.
Dingell’s opinion piece is a mea culpa for not putting more pressure on domestic automakers to be accountable for their inaction on energy efficiency—while he makes no apologies for fighting on behalf of Detroit autoworkers. Dingell envisions “a new outlook on energy” that goes beyond individual hybrid models to the creation of a homegrown hybrid-oriented auto industry. He laments the fact that the Fusion Hybrid runs on nickel-metal hydride batteries made in Japan, and calls for US government support to build hybrid batteries in Michigan and to stimulate development of advanced car technologies on US shores. “Only if we can produce alternatives to petroleum ourselves can we truly claim to be energy independent.”
So, while Manny Lopez accuses hybrid supporters of being out of touch with the interests of American consumers and car companies, John Dingell sees energy-efficient technologies as the savior for what ails the American economy and American workers. Lopez is reading short-term sales numbers to pronounce the death of hybrids, while Dingell is looking at the writing on the wall for American job and energy security, and champions the birth of an American green car industry.