Planet Gore

Green Auto Sales: Obama’s Tax Breaks for the Rich

Thanks to President Obama’s massive tax breaks for wealthy auto buyers, hybrid-electric vehicle sales in November rose to a lofty 3.5 percent of all vehicle sales — numbers the industry hasn’t seen since the summer of 2008 when gasoline hit $4 a gallon.

Electric vehicles are targeted at customers making over $200,000 — and they are generously rewarded for their politically correct choice, receiving subsidies of $7,500 for a $40,000 Chevy Volt or a $36,000 Nissan Leaf. Buyers of Toyota’s $32,000 Prius plug-in get a $2,500 tax credit — and purchasers of Ford’s $33,000 C-Max Energi plug-in get $3,750. But sales for both the Volt and Leaf lagged last month, moving Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn to warn that more subsidies are necessary to keep sales numbers up (to put hybrid-electric sales in perspective, their 40,000 vehicle sales in November was 16,000 fewer than sales of the Ford F-150 pickup alone).

The increase in hybrid-electric sales came with the continued rebound of U.S. auto sales — now at their highest levels since 2007.

The bad news for greens is that the industry’s revival is coming on the backs of more-profitable trucks, with SUV sales making up a majority of the market at 50.6 percent. Greens have quietly cheered the Great Recession which brought lower carbon emissions — in part because cost-conscious auto buyers took refuge in fuel-sipping econo-boxes (sedan sales in 2007 significantly outpaced SUV sales).

“If ‘business as usual’ conditions continue, economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or even bigger will be needed to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2,” warned Tapia Granados, a researcher for the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, in a study this May.

President Obama says that global warming is “one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation.” But to fight it, he will paradoxically need continued tax breaks for the wealthy — the target of his 2012 class-warfare campaign and his fiscal-cliff negotiating stance. Obama giveth, and Obama taketh away.

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

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