Planet Gore

Obama’s Pricey Electric Toys

It’s fun to play with other people’s money.

With Washington groaning under record federal deficits, President Obama Wednesday unveiled another pricey plan to spend taxpayer dollars — potentially doubling the cost of the government’s vehicle fleet by mandating that all 600,000 cars be hybrids and electrics (so-called “advanced technology vehicles”) by 2015. But . . . under a clever loophole in the mandate, the Guzzler-in-Chief will still get to ride around in his big SUVs.

With hybrid sales tanking, 35 mpg Smart sales crippled, and Americans returning to SUVs, the president’s Road of Dreams — 1 million electrics sold by 2015 — looks very much in jeopardy, as does the likelihood that automakers will be able to meet absurd fleet-wide 35.5 mpg standards. The president’s answer? Build them . . . and I will come (and buy them with other people’s money).

Of current vehicle sales, the average mpg is only 22.2 — a long way from the mandated 35.5 required just four years from now. But the government’s purchases provide a big loophole to allow manufacturers to add enough credits to keep from paying massive fines. “The policy question today is how to encourage more consumers to buy these high mpg vehicles,” Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. “Government fleet sales help answer that question.”

Obama’s new diktat, announced in a Washington speech this morning, fits his centralized planning goal of internal-combustion-engine elimination by 2025 with a draconian, 62 mpg standard. A global warming zealot, Obama had promised a transformation of the U.S. auto industry — even as he has taken credit for GM’s return to profitability thanks to increased light-truck sales.

Obama’s auto fancy, however, will be enormously expensive to taxpayers: the $41,000 Chevy Volt electric vehicle cost more than double the gas-powered, $17,000 Chevy Cruze built on the same platform. The public already forks over $7,500 dollars to the (generally wealthy) buyers of each Volt.

Of, course, many Washington officials — including the president — are transported in giant, gas-guzzling SUVs. Obama’s 10 mpg Caddy — codenamed “The Beast” by the Secret Service — is regularly escorted by a fleet of giant GM SUVs.

But Obama’s proposal allows for the continued purchase of such vehicles under its “advanced technology vehicle” standard which the feds designate as electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles and (wait for it!) vehicles that can run on E85 ethanol. Since most SUVs are E85 capable — even if the fuel is very difficult to find — the pols don’t have to give up their big cars.

“Here’s the bottom line,” Obama said. “We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again.”

The only serious way to do this would be to raise gas prices to $7-a-gallon as in Europe where small cars (if not, electrics) abound. But that would be political suicide. And there’s re-election to be won in 2012.

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

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