Today Joseph B. White at the Wall Street Journal posted his Eyes On The Road column with the subtitle “Sen. Clinton’s Push to Double Autos’ Average Fuel Economy Is Possible But Complicated.”

Mr. White is one of my more admired writers in the mainstream press.  The Wall Street Journal is far from being a mass media outlet and makes reason and forethought a criteria for getting to press.  That’s why I’m posting about Mr. White’s column and taking him a bit to task.

The column takes off looking into the situation, noting that Bill and Al did, well, nothing about fuel efficiency and that Hillary has a campaign plan out to, well double, by government fiat no less, the fuel mileage of cars and trucks.  Mr. White goes on to explain quite quickly and to the point the drivers behind the political view that’s pushing the campaign plan.

Mr. White then shows that historically and technically that the demand Ms Clinton suggests is possible, but.

The column relies on an MIT paper “Factors of Two: Halving the Fuel Consumption of New U.S. Automobiles by 2035.”   Like any paper the authors rely on what they choose to include for their prognostications.  That’s fine, as far as it goes.  It doesn’t get very far.  The limits the research imposed are power trains, vehicle weight, and a reduction in accelerative power.  As the prospects are only turbo-gas, diesel, and hybrid-electric the prospects do, of course, limit you to reducing weight and power.

Now we diverge with a vengeance.  The paper wanders off into financial forecasts that pop out some numbers for auto company investment and increased costs for cars and trucks.  More over the paper uses just one gas price ($1.85, when did we see that last?) to calculate the recovery time to get back the extra price in fuel cost savings.  So here’s the trick. To sell Ms Clinton’s plan she has packaged up $20 billion of low interest bonds to “retool the oldest auto plants,” which bought off the unions, or so they might think.  As Mr. White points out, $20 billion doesn’t get very far.

The most relevant note is “Car makers fret that without higher gas taxes or other government subsidies to drive consumers toward smaller, less powerful, and more expensive cars, they’ll wind up losing money.”

Now I’m spooked.  The politicians are deciding what the auto economy will be like, that means big changes to the whole economy and our expectations and choices won’t be our own.

As regular readers know this blog is about getting through to and adopting the alternatives with our lifestyles intact or better.  I’m not willing to go along with a political solution that destroys quality of life, reduces mobility, and adds expense or limits choices.  The plan should be Dead on Arrival.

Meanwhile the ability to prolong the oil and gas fueled lifestyle is being ignored and may well be impaired by more fiddling with the tax code, we’re signed up for the ITER fusion debacle to the tune of a half billion dollars a year, thousands of improvements, inventions and innovations are in difficult straights with no program to assist these individuals and companies with testing, certification, analysis, and other steps that would serve to get the million ideas down to the few hundreds that industry can adopt to make the changes which would maintain or improve our standard of living.  Where is the invention – innovation tax credit for energy and fuel development?  Might a company that finds or licenses an innovation or invention benefit if the tax code incentivizes change?  We leave the best tools in our complex and embattled public life out of sight and out of reach.

So, Ms. Clinton and others who are running for office, experiments in forecasting deals don’t build credibility for you, they destroy it.  You might instead have a look at what will expand the economy, create new jobs, expand markets and build up pensions and shareholder values.  You may fool the mass media, you may have made a plausible case the Wall Street Journal will poke small holes in, but for the reasoning citizen – the forecasters like the guys at MIT do you no favor, the truth is the mandate idea is just dumb.  Just lay it out, buy a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon or we’re going to hammer you hard with fees, buy one that does better than 50 mpg we might help pay for it with the fee income. The weak ego in search for a status symbol that helps buy other’s cars won’t play – fuel efficiency will come.

Thanks Mr. White, I was looking for a lead into the dopey ideas the politicians come up with.   But every one – leave the price of gas alone or help it get down, we need to get to the time we can buy highly efficient cars and trucks with our lives intact.


4 Comments so far

  1. Kelly on November 20, 2007 11:47 PM

    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always to read your posts.

  2. M. Simon on November 21, 2007 1:02 AM

    I discuss some of the same issues from the carbon trading aspect at Its Taxing To Make A Buck.

    You got a link.

  3. M. Simon on November 21, 2007 1:06 AM


    How about we avoid the tax bit all together and just do the transition when it makes economic sense.

    If you want efficiency that is the most efficient way. Otherwise you get a lot of wasted capital. Bad idea, waste.

  4. Brian Westenhaus on November 21, 2007 8:29 AM

    I would love to not use the tax bit altogether and rely on the economic drivers. But that assumes that everyone or most everyone gets it about declining oil resources and increased wealth willing to buy at ever higher prices. So I think its waste a little early for guides to conservation rather than wait for a disaster level crisis at the moment everybody gets it from being in a gas line.

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