Karma's a Bitch.

(cross-posted at kickin it with cg and motley moose)

Note: I originally wrote this one year ago and yet - it still seems more timely than ever.

With last week GM reporting a $15.5 billion loss in the second quarter, it is quite clear that American car manufactures are getting their come-uppance.

Edmunds.com published a list of the top 10 most efficient 2008 sedans available.  They ranked the cars based on EPA fuel economy numbers.  And sweet moses would you guess that not one from an American manufacturer made the list!  Even the Wall Street Journal, not known for its criticism to big business, has sharp words about American car manufacturers.

Now we see the results of the myopia that has afflicted Detroit auto executives. These are the people who staked their companies' futures on gas-guzzling, heavyweight behemoths.

Auto execs claim they were giving Americans the products they wanted. Really? For proof to the contrary, look at their U.S. market shares, which are slumping to historically low levels as Japanese auto makers gain ground.

In lieu of GM's stunning losses, I was reminded of the complete and utter arrogance they displayed when they crushed its fleet of EV-1 electric vehicles in the Arizona desert.  The EV-1 was among the fastest, most efficient production cars ever built. It ran on electricity, produced no emissions and catapulted American technology to the forefront of the automotive industry.

The story of the EV-1 is documented in the amazing film Who Killed the Electric Car? It chronicles the life and mysterious death of the EV-1 and it examines the cultural and economic ripple effects caused by its conception and how they reverberated through the halls of government and big business.

A summary:

The film deals with the history of the electric car, its development and commercialization, mostly focusing on the General Motors EV1, which was made available for lease in Southern California, after the California Air Resources Board passed the ZEV mandate in 1990, as well as the implications of the events depicted for air pollution, environmentalism, Middle East politics, and global warming.

The film details the California Air Resources Board's reversal of the mandate after suits from automobile manufacturers, the oil industry, and the George W. Bush administration. It points out that Bush's chief influences, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card, are all former executives and board members of oil and auto companies.

A large part of the film accounts for GM's efforts to demonstrate to California that there was no demand for their product, and then to take back every EV1 and dispose of them. A few were disabled and given to museums and universities, but almost all were found to have been crushed; GM never responded to the EV drivers' offer to pay the residual lease value ($1.9 million was offered for the remaining 78 cars in Burbank before they were crushed).

Embedded below, the film in its entirety:

However its not all bad news.  In the same WSJ piece - it would seem that some have climbed aboard the bus.

In a recent meeting with Ford executives, CEO Alan Mulally dared to challenge the Detroit gospel that you can't make money on small, fuel-efficient cars.

At last Ford appears to be making bold moves to design and sell vehicles that people want. In Paris earlier this summer I spotted an unfamiliar car so attractive that I went over to see what it was. It was a Ford. Presumably this is one of the six European models that, as part of the "Drive One" campaign, Ford will introduce in the U.S. Ford is also boosting production of its fuel-efficient "EcoBoost" and four-cylinder engines, speeding up hybrid introductions and converting three truck plants to small-car production.

Even GM seems to be facing reality. It said it's planning for oil prices in a $120-$150 range for the foreseeable future, boosting light vehicle production, and suspending production at four truck plants. It, too, is accelerating production of efficient four-cylinder engines, and announced a global Chevrolet small-car initiative.

While promising, what pulls my chain about the above is that rather than take responsibility for the planet and in the role these car companies play in emissions, the American car manufacturers are only taking these steps because of the price of gas.  Let's hope their successful.  However as they say, karma's a bitch.

Tags: electric cars, Environment, green, hybrids, karma, losses, US car manufacturers (all tags)

Comments

6 Comments

an old friend of my husband's

worked in GM's electric car division during the early/mid 1990s. I remember him telling us around 1995 or 1996 that it was obvious GM wasn't serious about investing in this kind of technology. The division where he worked was just for show.

On a different subject, a scientist/environmentalist friend of mine prefers hybrids to plug-ins that run solely on electricity. Although plug-ins produce zero emissions, they still consume electricity when you charge the battery. He fears that if plug-ins became very popular, they would lead to more coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The best hybrids have very low emissions.

by desmoinesdem 2009-08-09 05:23AM | 0 recs
Re: an old friend of my husband's

Thank you for pointing this out.  Electric cars use...wait for it...electricity.  Currently around 60% of the electricity in this country comes from coal.  Coal is, and has been for a long time, one of the leading causes of environmental degradation and worker abuse worldwide.  It is the leading cause of acid rain, and heavy metal pollution such as mercury and lead.  It is currently not feasible that coal would have any rivals for electric power generation on any large scale.  Sure, natural gas is nice, but it isn't currently utilized on a large scale, and comes with its own environmental price tag (See Powder River Basin, Wyoming).  The only other big dog in electric power generation is nuclear.  It is true that coal, gas, and nuclear all produce power in such a way that they either emit no CO2 or the CO2 could be captured, but this is not currently done and we don't really know how well geologic sequestration works.  Bottom line - drive less, ride a bike, use public transportation, design livable cities.  Any questions?

by the mollusk 2009-08-10 02:10PM | 0 recs
Re: Karma's a Bitch.

NO!

IT'S TEH UNIONZ!  WIT TEH BIG MUSCLE!!  BIG LABOR!!!

by Jess81 2009-08-09 12:03PM | 0 recs
Re: Karma's a Bitch.

You do realize that the author of "Who killed the Electric Car" has recanted... He admits that his own film was unfairly biased, and regrets all the politicizing that has come from it...

He is planning a sequel praising GM and their efforts with the Volt...

BTW, 43% of cash for clunker rebates are going towards GM cars... (including my own)

As much as the left coast liberals want to punish the midwest and destroy our livelihoods, GM does live on, the American dream lives on, and the unions who make Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, etc. blue live on... You'd think you'd be more grateful... after all, it was Ohio that put Obama over the top in the electoral college...

Yet, you still want to destroy us... Why do you hate midwestern Democrats?

by LordMike 2009-08-09 01:48PM | 0 recs
heh.

firstly links would be nice. secondly you are kidding right? this is about poor and unethical business decisions made by car executives - not midwesterners.

by canadian gal 2009-08-09 04:22PM | 0 recs
Are you talking about Chris Paine?

Where did you hear that he recanted his story? I can't find anything to back you up so help me out, OK?

As for people on this blog trying to destroy midwestern Dems, there may be a some, but I haven't seen them. The chief reason most of us are Democrats is because we want a robust middle class, and that can't happen unless we manufacture more of the goods we buy.

The U.S. auto industry has long suffered from short-sighted management. That doesn't mean the American worker isn't good, but it does put him at a disadvantage. Through the 80s and 90s, innovative competitors from other nations offered better, cheaper and more efficient cars. While the technology gap has closed considerably of late, the US auto industry's reputation continues to suffer from years of auto executives' unbridled hubris.

by Spiffarino 2009-08-10 01:54PM | 0 recs

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