On Monday, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) made his first campaign stop in Michigan. In a speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Obama took the U.S. auto industry to task for paying too little attention to building efficient cars, and too much attention to building faster, bigger cars. That definitely aren't fuel efficient.
In addition to scolding the U.S. auto industry for lagging behind their foreign competitors, Obama presented some relatively concrete plans for addressing the challenge of reinvigorating the auto industry while forcing it to be responsive to global realities like climate change and our substantial oil addiction. From the speech:
Our goal is not to destroy the industry, but to help bring it into the 21st Century. So if the auto industry is prepared to step up to its responsibilities, then we as a country should be prepared to help.
Obama's plan involves increasing fuel efficiency gradually over the next 15 years to the point where all U.S. cars and trucks get 40 miles to the gallon, and providing federal dollars to help defray healthcare costs at the big three, which are enormous. This plan is similar to legislation Obama originally introduced in 2005, dubbed "Healthcare for Hybrids". On April 18 of this year, Obama reintroduced that legislation, along with Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA), as - are you ready for it? - the "Healthcare for Hybrids Act."
This is, I think, the most significant policy statement on the subject from a presidential candidate so far. That's good. But I don't think it goes far enough. As someone who lives in Michigan, I don't want to see the big three continue with their nosedive. But they need to take more responsibility, and it shouldn't necessarily be with taxpayer money. Their executives make huge amounts of money, and seem to be regularly rewarded for failure. If they can't design cars that are good looking, affordable, and energy efficient, they need to find some new engineers.
And 40 MPG by 2022 isn't enough. It's got to be more like 50 MPG by 2014. Also, the federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents per gallon since 2005. It's time to raise it to 50 cents per gallon, phased in over several years, and devote that money to developing more sustainable, fuel efficient transportation alternatives.