Wednesday, September 08, 2004


The big automobile companies have always resisted change. This is to be expected. Change brings risk.

Auto companies resisted seat belts, emissions and fuel economy standards. Of course, when the government mandated these technology ehancements, the auto manufacturers complied and profited at the same time. Tax incentives and regulation reduce competitive risk, and allow companies to innovate.

Thanks to our Big Oil administration, we're not likely to see fuel efficiency standards upgraded anytime soon. Bush and Cheney are ex-oil company executives, and 31 of their appointees are alumni of the energy industry (including four cabinet secretaries and the six most powerful White House officials). Upgraded CAFE standards would reduce our dependence on oil, and, if you're an oil man, you don't want that. Especially not when increasing oil prices are going to bring increasing profits to you and your friends.

With our government no longer standing up for the people, our future rests in the hands of corporations. It's very rare, but once in a while, a corporation actually does something right. That's why I want to single out Toyota for commendation.

You've probably seen the lovable Toyota Prius. It's practical, efficient (60 MPG!!!), and certainly a lot less boring than most other cars on the road.

Now, Toyota is taking pre-orders for its new RX-400h hybrid SUV. This is a machine that turns out 270 horsepower, but gets better than 28 MPG. Lexus has taken more than 9,000 orders, setting a new record for vehicle pre-orders.

Toyota has taken a big risk. They've invested in hybrid technology early, and are going to show the world that it is possible to greatly improve fuel efficiency without compromises. When buyers flock to Lexus and Toyota to buy their guilt-free cars and SUV's, American cars are going to look like Ford Pintos.

I drive an American muscle car, and I'm willing to pay a high price for the privilege. However, I still feel a bit guilty every time I see a Toyota Prius.

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