Finally, finally, Congress is set to act to demand that American automakers improve the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks. The Senate is expected to vote in the next two weeks on a bill demanding an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. Left to their own devices since 1985, the automakers have been in reverse: 1987 model-year vehicles averaged 26.2 miles per gallon; last year's fleet averaged 25.4 mpg. Clearly, know-how is not the problem.
But the automakers will say any old thing to avoid changing, even when their declining market share suggests that, from a purely financial perspective, change is necessary. GM's chief begged lawmakers to be "responsible" so as not to "disadvantage the domestic industry." Yet it may well be the lack of fuel efficiency that has put Detroit at a disadvantage in recent years relative to Japanese automakers Honda and Toyota.
GM also lashed out against CAFE, charging that the law "has not accomplished what it set out to do," because American fuel consumption has continued to increase. Here again, lies, bloody lies. The auto industry has lobbied continuously and aggressively against strengthening fuel standards since they were first introduced. And, they've backslid from the efficient cars they made in the 70s and 80s.
Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.) reportedly gave the Big Three the schooling they've long needed. "We protected you from CAFE and you lost market share, jobs and money anyway." (GM, Ford and Chrysler lost a combined $16 billion last year and put thousands of Americans out of their jobs.) "You've lost," Dorgan said. "Your position is yesterday forever."