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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Detroit Loves Good Mileage At Last

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Fifty years ago, Ford unveiled a small-scale model for its atomic-powered car of the future. A capsule in the rear would contain the nuclear power and could be replaced. The engineering challenge would be dealing with the weight required for shielding the radioactivity. That was about the time Ford came out with another shaky idea, the Edsel, which, unfortunately for the company, it put into production.

The Edsel quickly passed into history, but the Edsel's source of fuel lived on through gasoline shortages, price spikes, wars to protect oil fields and fears for a planet warmed by greenhouse gases. And it's with us today, except that our cars already go farther on less of it, and American carmakers plan to build models that will squeeze even more miles out of a gallon of gas.

Those of us trapped in the recent debt ceiling panic may not have noticed President Obama's announcement of a big increase in fuel efficiency standards, as Detroit's Big Three carmakers applauded. Gone were the usual tooth-and-nail fights against any requirement that automakers raise their mileage. Instead, thumbs went up for a near doubling of fuel economy — a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 versus today's 27 miles per gallon. This is reportedly the biggest increase in fuel efficiency standards since the government first established them in the 1970s. (Environmentalists wanted more, but they got plenty.)

Quite a change from four years ago, when the auto executives camped out in Washington to protest proposals for tougher fuel economy standards. Why the new posture? Some will argue that the taxpayer bailout of Detroit (though not Ford) has dampened the carmakers' enthusiasm for a fight with Washington. Also, the federal government will be offering the industry credits for making battery-powered and hybrid vehicles, the details to be announced.

But the more romantically inclined will see another reason for the change of heart.

Americans are loving the new fuel-efficient cars that Detroit is offering. In any case, they're buying them.

The Chevrolet Cruze compact powered General Motors' U.S. sales gain in July, dominating U.S. car sales for the second month in a row. Actually, six of the best-selling vehicles in the United States are small or midsize cars. Meanwhile, Ford's F-Series — including a six-cylinder engine that manages to get high mileage — is among the hottest-selling pickups.

The carmakers' concern is this: What happens when gas prices go down? The average price for a gallon of gasoline is near its peak of about $4 and almost a dollar higher than it was a year ago. Will consumers pay extra for the advanced technology when the total at the pump strikes less awe?

Consumers probably will, because they are older and wiser. The economic crackup may have created another Depression generation wary of expensive commitments, such as vehicles getting poor mileage. And few believe that cheap gasoline will ever return. The line on the price graph goes up and down, but "up" has become the general direction.

The auto industry is in the business of making cars, not pumping oil. That made Detroit's former reluctance to adopt higher fuel economy standards a bit odd. We appreciate that it made good money years ago producing gas-guzzling SUVs using older, cheaper technology. With gas prices low, consumers shrugged off the extra costs. Detroit left the market for fuel-efficient cars largely to its foreign competitors, who ate their lunch when demand for them soared.

The companies are now restructured to more nimbly respond to consumer sentiment, which, happily, now coincides with the national interest to reduce dependency on oil, most of it imported. May the love between American automakers and the American consumer continue to grow for the good of us all.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Comments

5 Comments | Post Comment
my favorite columnist is froma harrop.......i think the article "dems also need 2012 primary" was outstanding and hit the mark.....evrything she write is great!
Comment: #1
Posted by: al shaffer
Thu Aug 4, 2011 5:55 AM
Froma, if you were to walk right into my house this very moment I would jump up and give you a great big hug.
I just read your column; Wanted: a real Democratic leader. As an ardent supporter of Obama in 2008, although I preferred Hillary, I am now overwrought with regret and anger.
I did not imagine that Obama would sell off Democratic principles to bow down and allow his rear to be exposed to a bunch of Republican political thugs just to maintain a nice guy image. Why is it Republicans remain Republicans no matter how repugnant they may be and Democrats work so hard at making excuses for who they are?
Love your columns.

Comment: #2
Posted by: jerry
Sat Aug 6, 2011 11:52 AM
So my tax money helps NPR who in turn employes this person and allows her to call Americans terrorist, and no one blinks a eye. This is whats wrong with this country! You challenge our American heritage, and complain about those who want to bring finacial constraint. Sure, not everything is possible in Washington, but thats because you and others accept the status quo. "We have always done this wether it was republican or democrat, so who are you to change it". Give me a break!!! We are suppose to pay for all these programs, but yet there is no money! Sure, tax the rich which will trickle down to everyone else, but I forgot, half the country doesn't pay taxes. So 52% paying for 48% is not good enough.

Then there is the nasty name calling, and descriptive language such as repugnant, terrorrist, and delusional. How is this constructive in any manner? So who is actually the thugs in this conversation. By the way the health care law which "will ensure coverage for all Americans while reducing deficits in the long-term" (harrop) is not possible. The cost is passed on to everyone else. I think you all get caught up in this so much that you honestly start believing it. Obama is not the masai. You wanted so much changed in Washington that you believed he could do it, because things needed changing, but the tea party members are terrorists for wanting to change things. Go Figure.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Daniel
Sun Aug 7, 2011 6:37 AM
Lets face, Obama and the democrats are the ones that have driven the car into the ditch. Instead of everyone wanting to blame Bush, lets remember that the democrats were in control of the house and senate during the last four years of his presidency. Congress controls the purse strings, and thus the economy. On top of that, Bush has been out of office for over two years, and at one point all three branches were held by democrats. Thanks Democrats for wrecking the country.

By the way, I have three words for you Double-Dip Recession!!!!!! Can't blame Repubs on that one, but you will try.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Daniel
Sun Aug 7, 2011 6:48 AM
The only way, given the laws of physics, that a manufacturer can get a 54mpg fleet mileage is to produce a lot of cars that don't run primarily on gas. This sounds like a good idea, but all the atlernatives to gasoline power have a hidden cost: the electrical power or fuel cells fuel or whatever is used as the alternative has to be sourced somewhere; the difference is that the energy costs are outside the vehicle rather than beling self-contained in a tank of gas. Then you have do define "fuel"--if you include biofuels, at this stage of development they are more environmentally costly than petroleum, and ironically, ethanol also is much less dense than gasoline so it produces fewer miles per gallon. In other words, it's all smoke, mirrors, and semantics.
Comment: #5
Posted by: partsmom
Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:41 AM
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