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Storm Signals Mean Political Change Ahead It's Not The Dependency Ratio, Stupid

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What Gas-Guzzling Dinosaur?

by Christopher Chantrill
August 23, 2006 at 3:51 pm


THE CAR GUYS don’t appreciate New York Times foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman setting up as an expert on the auto industry. He allowed as how he thought Toyota should take over the bankrupt General Motors. It would be in America’s economic interest and its geopolitical interest.

You see, writes Friedman, General Motors “based its business strategy on building gas-guzzling cars” whereas Toyota “has pioneered the very hybrid engine technology that can help rescue not only our economy from its oil addiction (how about 500 miles per gallon of gasoline?), but also our foreign policy from dependence on Middle Eastern oil autocrats.”

The reaction of Detroit News editorial cartoonist Henry Payne reminds me of an earnest young man in a shop selling fine whiskies in Edinburgh, Scotland. Asked what he thought of a journalist’s recent book on malt whisky, he allowed as how “the man’s a buffoon; he knows nothing about whisky.”

Let’s see. According to edmunds.com GM’s 2007 mid-size Chevrolet Malibu weighs in at about 3,300 pounds with a base 2.2 liter gasoline engine rated at 144 horsepower and 24/32 miles per gallon. Toyota’s 2007 Camry weighs in at about 3,300 pounds with a base 2.4 liter gasoline engine rated at 158 horsepower and 24/33 miles per gallon. Who is the gas-guzzler here?

What about the real thing: evil gas-guzzling SUVs? The Chevrolet Tahoe weighs about 5,500 lb., with a 5.3 liter engine delivering 320 hp. and 15/21 mpg. The Toyota Land Cruiser weighs about 5,400 lb, with a 4.7 liter engine delivering 275 hp. and 13/17 mpg.

To think that back in 1983 the Toyota Camry debuted at a lean 2,400 lbs with a 2.0 liter engine generating 95 hp.

Now about that 500 miles per gallon that Tom is talking about. He means, of course, the net use of gasoline in a “plug-in hybrid,” a car that you plug in every night to charge off the electric grid. Next day you drive around mostly without kicking in the gasoline engine. That way you can put up a bumper sticker on your modified Prius boasting “500 MPG”—right next to the fraying “ReDefeat Bush” sticker.

But when everyone is charging their cars off the nation’s electric grid then we are going to have to build more generating plants, a lot more. Are we talking coal plants (33 percent efficient), nuclear plants, natural gas combined-cycle plants (up to 60 percent efficient), or subsidized wind power here? And are liberals really going to cooperate as we pave the nation over with new power plants and cover the viewscapes of rich liberals with wind farms?

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Toyota is a corporate miracle and its Hybrid Synergy Drive the coolest thing imaginable. It’s just that, from the perspective of saving the planet, energy is energy. If we don’t power our SUVs with gasoline, we’ll power them with something else.

What really upsets me is the gall of some liberal pundit saying yeah, let’s have brilliant Toyota take over lazy gas-guzzling GM. Mosts of GM’s problems were made in America by liberals. It was liberals, remember, who wrote laws to exempt labor unions from the common law’s ancient prohibition against combinations in restraint of trade. The consequence was that Big Steel and Big Auto were intimidated into promising most of their future profits to their unionized employees and retirees.

It was liberals who insisted that we change the rules on Big Auto in the 1970s and mandate higher gas mileage for cars. Don’t tell me that they didn’t know that the rules would benefit Toyota, manufacturer—in those innocent times—of small fuel-efficient cars. But Big Auto had the last laugh. It learned how to sell monster vans and trucks to American women. How did they do it? They sold the soccer moms on safety. It took a while, but today Toyota and Honda sell mini-vans and SUVs that concede nothing to GM and Ford in the size and weight department.

Like every liberal fashionable, Tom Friedman this week thinks that hybrid is the future. Maybe it is. Or maybe the hydrogen-powered fuel cell is the future, or plug-in hybrid, or solar cells in space. Maybe nuclear is the future, or biomass, or wind power. It’s a free country.

The political class is like everyone else. It much prefers meddling in the technology business to doing the government’s business. And why not? Tom Friedman’s day job is thinking deep thoughts about the mess in Iraq and the quagmire in southern Lebanon. Telling Toyota how to fix General Motors sounds like much more fun.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


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Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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