Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Proposal.

It's possible (probable?) that either GM or Ford (or both) will soon get in line for their helping of Goverment Cheese, i.e., federal bailout money. Would it be anti free-market to then require that 50% of their 2013 model year vehicle fleet be electric, hybrid, CNG, or E(M)85 powered, with an effective in-service fleet CAFE standard that would reduce gasoline consumption by 40% by 2020? There are tangible financial and strategic advantages for the government in achieving this (keeping petrodollars in the country and energy security), and consumers would not be forced to buy these vehicles. And they can pay us back over time, with E-Z terms.

Thoughts and comments are always cheerfully accepted.

Postscript: Well, Holman Jenkins strongly disagrees with such a proposal. His arguement - that CAFE standards forced the Big 3 to loses billions producing small cheap cars that consumers didn't want - makes sense to explain their problems in the '90s when oil was less than $20 per barrel. But at the current $100+ per barrel, consumers are ditching their lower mpg trucks and SUVs for higher fuel economy vehicles. The Ford Focus, for example, with 35 mpg is a hot seller right now, while F150 sales have dropped by nearly 25% this year. GM's Rick Wagner has announced that there has been a fundamental change in the market toward fuel economy, and that this change is more likely than not irreversible.

Perhaps $100 oil for the forseeable future will make CAFE standards irrelevant? A decline in fleet average fuel economy from 20 mpg to 16 mpg would cost consumers about $800 per year at $4 per gallon (based on 16,000 miles driven per year), or $4800 of additional operating expense over a six-year vehicle life. One wonders whether relaxing CAFE standards could result in a lower vehicle purchase price that would compensate for this increase in operating costs and still improve the automakers margins. Again, Jenkins' arguement does make sense in the world of $20 oil. Too bad we don't live that world.

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