Tom Friedman writes about how Michigan automakers and Toyota have consistently fought against rises in auto emissions standards. What Friedman doesn’t get is what he calls empty-barrel politics — or the practice by Detroit automakers of constantly fighting against higher and higher MPG standards, even though they have been brought to the verge of bankruptcy by those standards.
It has gotten to the point where dealerships are closing and local used car dealers who can sell used cars with only 20,000 miles that are a lot cheaper are replacing them. And a used Honda dealer has moved into town as well. The fact of the matter is that our automakers have gotten to the point where they can no longer adapt to changing conditions — kind of like Republicans, who are stuck in a time warp and running on Bush’s platform of 2004. Despite the fact that they have outsourced 150,000 of our jobs overseas over the last few years, they are still on the verge of bankruptcy and trying frantically to shed billions of dollars of liability in health insurance and pensions.
And yet, they are ignoring a basic reality of business — they are not making cars that people want, and they are fighting against having to do so. And it seems that Toyota has joined in the racket, out of their own self-interest. This is a matter of branding — they want to be able to show how fuel-efficient their cars are. So, they are joining the effort to undermine our automakers by fighting the very fuel standards that they are following in Europe and elsewhere.
And the Big Three have a key enabler in Washington — John Dingell, the powerful Michigan congressman, who is fighting tooth and nail against any increase in fuel standards for our cars. Friedman explains the battle that is being fought:
Not so fast. Here are the facts: Thanks to the Michigan delegation, U.S. mileage standards for passenger car fleets have been frozen at 27.5 miles per gallon since 1985. Light trucks are even worse. The Senate energy bill calls for U.S. automakers to achieve a corporate average fuel economy of 35 m.p.g. by 2020. The Big Three and Toyota are lobbying to kill the Senate version and replace it with a loophole-laden increase to 32 to 35 m.p.g. by 2022. (Only the U.S. auto industry would try to postpone innovation.) The difference between the two is millions of gallons of gas.
Don’t be fooled. Japan and Europe already have much better mileage standards for their auto fleets than the U.S. They both have many vehicles that could meet the U.S. goal for 2020 today, and they are committed to increasing their fleet standards toward 40 m.p.g. and above in the coming decade. So Toyota, in effect, is lobbying to keep U.S. standards – in 2022 – well behind what Japan’s will be.
And the fact that Dingell is one of their chief enablers suggests that he is a liability to the party and to the country, given that he is putting his own interests ahead of the interests of the country. But on the other hand, this is one issue — is he as bad on other issues as he is on this one? Obviously, we cannot make an effective case for primarying based on one issue alone. We have to be able to make the case that he is doing this sort of thing across the board.
Modern science suggests that in order for us to survive as a race, we must be able to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. That means that we must be able to make sacrifices so that we can achieve those ends. The problem is that Dingell is undermining that goal by representing the auto industry instead of the people who elected him.