Notes from the conservative stagnation, Part 11: CAFE standards caused car companies’ woes

A key reason for Detroit’s woes is that for decades they successfully fought efforts to build the kind of fuel-efficient cars the public has increasingly wanted to buy. Virtually all independent observers acknowledge that fact, but no conservative leader can. After all, they provided the political support and the votes that blocked repeated efforts by progressive to toughen federal fuel economy standards.

Denying their contribution to the current mess, however, is not enough for these master deniers. In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of conservatives, somehow a law passed last year to boost fuel economy standards to 35 mpg by 2020 — a weaker standard than China and Europe already have — is a key cause of the Big Three’s current troubles.

ThinkProgress has the surreal quotes:

— MITT ROMNEY: Well, government did [cause a lot of this]. There’s no question but that the CAFE standards have put an unusual burden on the domestic automobile manufacturers. And our energy policies as a country continue to put burdens on domestic manufacturers. That’s just — that’s reality. [11/19/08]

— WILLIAM KRISTOL: Well, one problem with the auto industry is we have been telling them how to operate an awful lot, you know, in terms of CAFE standards and other things, probably which should not have been most — may have been the most — not the most intelligent way to help that industry. [11/16/08]

— SEAN HANNITY: They [the government] — you know, between the unions, between trade policy, safety standards, CAFE standards, you know, economy, fuel economy standards, they’re forcing these auto companies to be in a position where they’re not as competitive. [11/14/08]

[Note to Sean: You’re saying that requiring seatbelts and then requiring air bags killed the car companies? Really?]

I have another recent quote, from Charles Krauthammer:

One of the reasons Detroit is in such difficulty is that consumers have been resisting the smaller, less powerful, less safe cars forced on the industry by fuel-efficiency mandates. Now Detroit would be forced to make even more of them.

Seriously. In Krauthammer’s Bizzaro World, mandates that haven’t been changed for a quarter century killed Detroit, not, say, Detroit’s monomaniacal pursuit of ever larger — and, yes, ever unsafer — SUVs, despite repeated warnings that higher oil prices were inevitable.

As for those blaming the 2007 law, how could fuel economy standards that only became law a year ago, impact the car companies profitability today? In fact, after no change in CAFE standards for over two decades, the car companies have more than enough technology today to meet the standards:

A 2002 report by the Board on Energy and Environmental Systems of the National Research Council found that technologies existed then that “would significantly reduce fuel consumption within 15 years” — technologies that manufacturers were “already offering or introducing” in overseas markets. What’s more, those existing technologies would hardly bankrupt the auto industry. NPR reported that technologies to raise fuel-efficiency “to around 33 mpg across the fleet pay for themselves within three to four years.” Indeed, Tom Cole of the Center for Automotive Research, said that with only about $1,000 worth of changes, “a conventional, gas-powered car could go 25 percent farther on a single gallon of gas.”

Given that avoiding catastrophic global warming will require plug in hybrids averaging 100 mpg, how will the conservative stagnation ever reconcile itself to the government led efforts needed to spur that automotive revolution?

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