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Thomas Friedman: A Quick Fix for the Gas Addicts

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  • Felix Kramer
    This hard-hitting column could be seen as a sequel to his June 17, 2005 column, As Toyota Goes...
    Message 1 of 1 , May 30, 2006
      This hard-hitting column could be seen as a
      sequel to his June 17, 2005 column, "As Toyota
      (in which he first endorsed plug-in hybrids).

      The New York Times May 31, 2006
      Op-Ed Columnist Thomas L. Friedman
      A Quick Fix for the Gas Addicts

      Is there a company more dangerous to America's
      future than General Motors? Surely, the sooner
      this company gets taken over by Toyota, the better off our country will be.

      Why? Like a crack dealer looking to keep his
      addicts on a tight leash, G.M. announced its
      "fuel price protection program" on May 23. If you
      live in Florida or California and buy certain
      G.M. vehicles by July 5, the company will
      guarantee you gasoline at a cap price of $1.99 a
      gallon for one year — with no limit on mileage. Guzzle away.

      As The Associated Press explained the program,
      each month for one year, G.M. will give customers
      who buy these cars "a credit on a prepaid card
      based on their estimated fuel usage. Fuel usage
      will be calculated by the miles they drive, as
      recorded by OnStar, and the vehicle's fuel
      economy rating. G.M. will credit drivers the
      difference between the average price per gallon
      in their state and the $1.99 cap." Consumers
      won't get any credits if gas prices fall below $1.99.

      "This program gives consumers an opportunity to
      experience the highly fuel-efficient vehicles
      G.M. has to offer in the mid-size segment," Dave
      Borchelt, G.M.'s Southeast general manager, said
      in the company's official statement. Oh, really?

      Eligible vehicles in California include the 2006
      and 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban (half-ton
      models only), Impala and Monte Carlo sedans,
      G.M.C. Yukon and Yukon XL S.U.V.'s (half-ton
      models only), Hummer H2 and H3 S.U.V.'s, the
      Cadillac SRX S.U.V., and the Pontiac Grand Prix
      and Buick Lucerne sedans. Eligible vehicles in
      Florida include the 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet
      Impala and Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse.

      Let's see, the 6,400-pound Hummer H2 averages
      around nine miles per gallon. It really is great
      that G.M. is giving more Americans the
      opportunity to experience nine-miles-per-gallon
      driving. And the hulking Chevy Suburban gets
      around 15 miles per gallon. It will be wonderful
      if more Americans can experience that too — with G.M.-subsidized gas.

      Our military is in a war on terrorism in Iraq and
      Afghanistan with an enemy who is fueled by our
      gasoline purchases. So we are financing both
      sides in the war on terror. And what are we doing
      about that? Not only is GM subsidizing its
      gas-guzzlers, but not a single member of
      Congress, liberal or conservative, will stand up
      and demand what most of them know: that we must
      have some kind of gasoline tax to compel
      Americans to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and
      to compel Detroit to make them.

      Where are the presidential aspirants on this
      issue? I have yet to hear John McCain, Mitt
      Romney, George Allen, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton
      support at least a $3.50 floor price for
      gasoline, so that it will never fall below that
      level and the alternatives can really flower and spread.

      But if you go to G.M.'s Web site, here's what you
      will see: an ad with a young African-American boy
      saluting an American flag, above the following
      offer for U.S. military personnel: "In
      appreciation of your commitment to our country,
      G.M. extends a $500 exclusive offer to active
      duty military and reserves when you purchase or
      lease select 2005, 2006 or 2007 G.M. cars, trucks
      and S.U.V.'s — just show your military ID!"

      That's really touching. First G.M. offers a
      gasoline subsidy so more Americans can get hooked
      on nine-mile-per-gallon Hummers, and then it
      offers a discount to the soldiers who have to
      protect the oil lines to keep G.M.'s gas guzzlers
      guzzling. Here's a rule of thumb: The more
      Hummers we have on the road in America, the more
      military Humvees we will need in the Middle East.

      You want to do something patriotic, G.M., Ford
      and Daimler-Chrysler? Why don't you stop using
      your diminishing pools of cash to buy votes so
      Congress will never impose improved mileage
      standards? That kind of strategy is why Toyota
      today is worth $198.9 billion and G.M. $15.8
      billion. G.M. is worth just slightly more than
      Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company ($13.6 billion).

      President Bush remarked the other day how
      agonizingly tough it is for a president to send
      young Americans to war. Yet, he's ready to do
      that, but he's not ready to look Detroit or
      Congress in the eye and demand that we put in
      place the fuel-efficiency legislation that will
      weaken the forces of theocracy and autocracy that
      are killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan
      — because it might cost Republicans votes or campaign contributions.

      This whole thing is a travesty. We can't keep
      asking young Americans to make the ultimate
      sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan if we as a
      society are not ready to make even the most minimal sacrifice to help them.

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      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
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