Commentary: Car buyers will pay
Scripps Howard News Service
It was, to use a Washington cliché, a kumbya moment. Standing with President Obama in the Rose Garden for his announcement of new fuel-efficiency standards were auto-company executives, lawmakers and governors, regulators, industry defenders and critics and environmentalists.
Missing was anybody approximating the average car buyer.
The states and environmental groups got the stricter standards they had been seeking. The automakers are free from the possibility of a patchwork of state standards and the lawsuits to fight them. The United Auto Workers got an implied commitment from the federal government to stick with the bailed-out companies.
And American car buyers will get $1,300 added to the cost of a car that they may not even want to buy. But, Obama promises, the higher mileage of the new cars will pay off that cost in three years and save $2,800 over the life of the car.
He promises much else as well: Ultimate savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil, the equivalent of removing 177 million cars from the road over a 6-1/2-year period.
All the automakers have to do is, by 2016, cut carbon-dioxide emissions by one-third and increase the average mileage of their passenger cars to 39 mpg and their light trucks to 30 mpg, for a fleet average of 35.5 mpg.
Assuming the automakers can reach that standard, could they do it in an acceptable way? The quickest route to high mileage is smaller and lighter ó and more dangerous ó cars.
Finally, would Americans even want to buy the cars? Absent high gas prices, Americans have a clear and longstanding preference for larger cars, SUVs and pickups. If they have to pay a premium for an Obamamobile, maybe they’ll decide to bite the bullet and shell out extra for the vehicle they really want.
The government may be left with unappetizing alternatives. A tax to drive gas prices above $4 a gallon ó and what lawmaker wants to go first on that one?
The fuel and emissions standards seem as much hope as policy, but then Obama did run on a platform of hope.