SAN FRANCISCO - To: Annette Sykora
Chairman, National Automobile Dealers Association
Dear Ms. Sykora:
Thank you for inviting me to your inauguration party here last week. It was a great evening during which I promised that I wouldn't bug you for an interview until you've been in office for one month, presumably long enough for you to realize that the good ol' boys who have been running the National Automobile Dealers Association for the last 90 years are still the good ol' boys.
I'll keep that promise. But in the interim, madame chairman, I'll offer you a bit of unsolicited advice: Risk becoming unpopular.
Actually, you gave me the idea in your inauguration speech in which you urged that the nation's car dealers to start "thinking outside of the showroom," especially on matters such as corporate average fuel economy.
You are right.
I've been both troubled and amused by talk among the good ol' boys that the energy legislation signed into law late last year is a win-win for everybody. It is not. It is legislative hooey, the ineffectiveness of which will be made clear by rapidly growing global demand for a resource that is increasingly difficult to extract from the ground at a supportable cost - oil.
I am referring to that component of the energy legislation that has been so widely, erroneously celebrated by auto industry executives, institutional environmentalists and the Democrats and Republicans who voted for it - that bit requiring automobile manufacturers to roll out new-vehicle fleets that average 35 miles per gallon by 2020.
The car manufacturers like that law because it gives them more time to improve the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks. They also like it because the updated law makes a little more sense than the totally goofy 1975 corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) law in the way it treats imported vehicles and different vehicle sizes.
The mostly good ol' boys you represent like it because they love stability. They wanted the issue settled so they could get on with the business of selling cars and trucks without worrying about Congress getting in their way.
The politicians and the environmentalists like it for the same reason. Both groups want to appear to be effective in defending the public good. They want to appear to be on the side of the angels. But both are simply about appearances - and that could mean very big trouble for you and your industry and for the rest of us down the road.
Here's the problem, madame chairman:
The new CAFE bill has the same flaw as the old CAFE bill. It does not ask consumers to do one thing, pay one thing, give up one thing or participate in any meaningful way in fuel conservation.
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