President Obama is out of touch with the U.S., but he is very much in touch with Scotland (where I traveled last week). And that’s the point. Obama has made no secret of his goal to transform America to be more like Europe.
Exhibit A: As part of his administration’s demands to hand over bankrupt Chrysler to Fiat last year, the Italian company had to agree to bring a 40-mpg micro-compact to the States. Thus the tiny Fiat 500, which will be produced either in the U.S. or Mexico. In Scotland the little 500 was plentiful — along with other micro-compacts like the Ford Fiesta, Smart, Mercedes A-Class, and VW Polo. But there are reasons for such vehicles being rare in the States. Obama can exert his political will on beholden Chrysler and push through federal mpg mandates, but he can’t make Americans buy Fiats by fiat.
Why? Well, there’s basic geography to start. The U.S. is a bigger country with more room, bigger garages, longer commutes. But gas in Scotland is also $6.65 a gallon (I connected through Amsterdam. Petrol is $7.65 a gallon there). Of course the Fiat 500 sells there. In the U.K., the best-selling vehicle is the tiny Fiesta. In the U.S. — gas price: $3.05 — the average vehicle is a midsize, 23-mpg Toyota Camry. Big vehicles like Chevy Suburbans are common. The biggest vehicle I saw in a week in Scotland was the small Land Rover LR4 SUV.
Obama may want America to be more like Europe, but he doesn’t have the spine for it. He’d have to begin with a $4-a-gallon gas-tax hike.