By Carlyn Obringer
From Carlyn’s Column

As the White House contemplates whether to bail out the distressed Detroit-based automotive industry, the Big Three continue to roll out vehicles that defy calls for fuel efficiency and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this refusal to face reality, it is likely that at some point in the near future, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors will receive financial relief from the U.S. government, since millions of jobs are at stake, including those of Californians. When that time comes, Democrats in Congress should hold automakers firmly to the following three pre-conditions, before any taxpayer money is doled out: 1) stop blocking environmental regulations, 2) establish more competitive business plans, and 3) mandate real commitment to hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and greater fuel efficiency.

The first pre-condition would directly impact California, by putting an end to legal attacks against the Golden State’s attempts to mitigate climate change via legislation, including AB 1493, the Pavley bill. It’s time for the Big Three, and those legislators who have protected them for the last 30 years, to abandon the argument that only the federal government has the right to set fuel efficiency standards. California’s noble efforts to set higher standards in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are valid and should be acknowledged as such.

Detroit wound up in its current mess by building a strategy around a never-ending supply of cheap oil. On the other hand, its foreign competitors have enjoyed success producing cleaner, high-mileage vehicles. In order for the American taxpayer to receive a good return on investment, any money to help U.S. auto manufacturers out of their current crisis should be tied to the establishment of a business plan to ensure future competitiveness. This second pre-condition includes the immediate adoption of technology and methods that could be implemented right now to improve environmental performance such as: streamlined body designs, more efficient 6 or 7 speed transmissions, and low rolling-resistance tires.

By building hybrids and ramping up fuel efficiency, the more forward-looking European and Japanese automakers have done better in the the U.S. marketplace than their American counterparts. Therefore, any loan rescue plan should be tied to the third pre-condition that Detroit explicitly commits to building hybrids, plug-in hybrids, clean diesels and other highly fuel-efficient vehicles. This includes an aggressive increase in fuel efficiency across all product lines, from big trucks to compact cars.

With carmakers now begging the White House for a loan rescue, the United States has officially come to the end of the cheap oil road. Carmakers are facing unprecedented pressure to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles—cars that Americans actually want to buy. If looming extinction in a world of insecure and volatile oil markets, and intensifying climate change, won’t drive Detroit off its gas-guzzling course, then Democratic lawmakers must take control of the wheel and hold the Big Three accountable. Those are the brakes!

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