Friday, September 18, 2009

Ending Detroitís foolhardy foot-dragging

Compare the separate industrial worlds of can-do and can't-do.

Since the first scheduled jet commercial airline flight in 1952 by a British Overseas Airways Corp. de Havilland Comet, huge jetliner power plants have gone through an amazing series of vastly improved incarnations. In just over 50 years, they've been re-engineered to be more powerful, quieter, smokeless and significantly more fuel efficient.

This can-do spirit shames the can't-do attitude of stubborn Detroit automakers that've wasted decades by complaining they lack the skills to improve vehicle fuel efficiency. So they hoodwinked malleable Washington politicians into condoning their foot dragging by maintaining miles-per-gallon standards mandated as far back as the early 1970s.

President Obama proposes to end this dilly-dallying. He unveiled rules this week requiring automakers to boost average fleet mileage of cars and trucks to 35.5 miles per gallon from the present 27 miles per gallon by 2016. Companion rules also effectively limit polluting emissions.

The measures will reduce fuel consumption by millions of barrels per day plus sharply curtail greenhouse gases.

Irresponsible delays in vehicle fuel efficiency have been inexcusably costly. Detroit lost the lead to the Japanese, which cost U.S. automakers market share that led to bailouts. Billions of dollars have been poured into the pockets of overseas petroleum producers to power inefficient engines. And American air is fouler.

If it was embarrassing for Detroit to lose the lead in fuel efficiency technology, Americans have another shock coming. Germany reportedly produces half the world's solar energy and China is racing to become the world's largest exporter of photovoltaic solar energy cells.

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