On Monday, Chrysler LLC announced an expansion of its most recent incentive program, Let’s Refuel America. This program provides anyone who purchases a new Chrysler vehicle with three years of gasoline at a guaranteed, subsidized $2.99/gallon rate — and was apparently so successful that Chrysler extended the purchase deadline for an additional month until July 7:
“[W]e are proud to introduce an unprecedented program to help put customers’ minds at ease and do something to help working people who are worried about the volatility of fuel prices and vehicle cost of ownership,” said Jim Press, Chrysler president and vice chairman. The program “puts money in your pocket today, and allows our customers to better manage their fuel expenses.”
In an era where every day is another day of record-breaking gas prices, Chrysler’s program does have an immediate appeal. Who wouldn’t want to pay $2.99 for gas, especially when experts predict that gas could reach $7 by 2012? But when you stop and think about the premise behind “Let’s Refuel America” — artificially subsidizing gas prices and incentivizing people to buy bigger cars, drive more miles and increase the American demand for oil — you start to question Chrysler’s goals.
And it’s not like Chrysler is promoting vehicles with good gas mileage. Two of Chrysler’s best selling models, the Dodge Ram truck and the Dodge Charger, get an abysmal 13 and 18 miles per gallon during city driving, respectively. Compare this to the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius, both hybrids, which average 64 and 48 miles per gallon, and it just gets embarrassing. Chrysler is not responsible for the buying choices made by American drivers, but when 67% of Chrysler customers purchase SUVs, minivans or trucks over cars, a subsidy for gas guzzlers seems an odd way to push consumers towards more fuel efficient vehicles.
Is it possible that Chrysler executives are so concerned with maximizing short-term profits that they’re willing to ignore the consensus calls for reductions in gasoline usage, investment in fuel efficiency research and learn to minimizing America’s dependence on oil? Maybe if Chrysler were willing to take the money they’re spending in driving subsidies, and instead invest in the production and development of environmentally and economically friendly vehicles, Americans wouldn’t be in the pickle they’re in today.