Planet Gore

Green autos: Is public opinion shifting – or being pushed?

“We may look back on 2007 as the year public opinion shifted toward greener cars and trucks,” writes New York Times auto writer James G. Cobb. Such statements are accepted wisdom in America’s news pages today. They are also the triumph of dogma over fact.

The statement is misleading at best.

The most significant story of 2007 – significant because it actually reported facts – was a November 10 article by Detroit News reporter Sharon Terlep headlined: “Trucks hold own even as gas rises.”

“(In 2007) passenger car sales are down 3 percent — almost twice the decline in trucks, according to Autodata Corp,” wrote Terlep. “Allegedly passe, gas-guzzling SUVs also are holding their own. General Motors Corp., for example, has seen double-digit gains in demand for its hulking Cadillac Escalade ESV and Chevrolet Suburban compared with 2006. . . . Overall, light trucks claim 53 percent of U.S. car and truck sales, up from 48.7 percent at the beginning of the decade.”

As if in rebuke to stories like that in the Times, Edmunds’s chief economist Jesse Toprak says: “The decline in trucks is really not that significant — the numbers are not telling the story that’s being told out there. Maybe that’s the perception people wanted to create so it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

In other words, even at $3-a-gallon gas, U.S. consumers’ buying habits will not significantly alter a 20-year market trend line that has seen average mpg remain flat. That means Congress’ mandate of a 40 percent increase to an AVERAGE 35 mpg of all vehicles sold over just the next ten years will come at significant odds to consumer tastes.

Only two – TWO! – vehicles under the revised 2008 EPA mileage estimates get a combined city/highway 35 mpg today (those are the 46 mpg Toyota Prius hybrid and 42 mpg Honda Civic hybrid). Not a single SUV qualifies – a vehicle segment that accounts for 53 percent of consumer sales. Not even the ballyhooed Mercury Mariner hybrid SUV (32 mpg) favored by green pols like Al Gore and the Clintons make the arbitrary Washington gold standard.

There is no public opinion shift to greener cars. Which is precisely why Washington elites are having to force greener cars by government edict.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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