• Jun 14, 2006
GM's war of words [1] [2] with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times continues, but this time it's Friedman's turn to talk. We were recently tipped off to the contents of a Friedman editorial dated for June 14th (today) that's locked inside the gated online community of NYtimes.com. We're hesitant to republish it in its entirety for fear the Times will go medieval on us, so we'll do our best to sum up.
In response to General Motors' denouncement of Friedman's original op-ed that appears on the company's FastLane Blog, the reporter reminds us that in addition to making more cars that achieve above 30 mpg on the highway than any other automaker, it also sells more cars that get 9 to 11 mpg than any other automaker. Friedman is referring specifically to the HUMMER brand and presumably the H2 in particular, although Friedman doesn't specify and GM doesn't make the H2's mileage numbers readily available on its consumer website.

Friedman also learned that in addition to GM's controversial fuel subsidizing promotion that began this battle, at least some dealers in California have also been authorized to offer $5,000 discounts on 2006 Tahoe and Suburban SUVs. We're willing to cut GM some slack on this one, as its needs to get these 2006 models off the lot post haste to make room for the more popular and newly redesigned 2007 models. No conspiracy there, just a logical business decision to move last year's model.

Finally Friedman pulls out a rather sharp argument that none of the domestic automakers has yet confronted: the story behind E85. As many of you know, the domestics have been selling flex-fuel vehicles back in the mid-Nineties, though have hardly marketed the technology at all until now. Many if not most consumers were completely unaware their cars were flex-fuel capable since they first went on sale. The reason it wasn't promoted, according to Friedman, is because the automakers produced flex-fuel capable vehicles in order to take advantage of a federal loophole that increased the overall mileage of each company's fleet to within federally mandated limits. Friedmans cites the 2006 GMC Yukon 2WD that actually gets 15 mpg city and 20 mpg highway, though is rated at 33 mpg in order to meet the government's CAFÉ standards. Only by producing these vehicles as flex-fuel capable were the automakers able to take advantage of this loophole.

That's it for now until Steve Harris, GM's VP for Global Communication and author of GM's first response, gathers the General's troops and formulates another response to Friedman's response.

Thanks Dave G. for the tip!

[Source: NYTimes.com]


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  • 32 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      1) Autoblog, it is unfair to reference the $5,000 rebate on SUVs in California as simply good business practices when Friedman is using that number as a direct rebuttal to GM's argument that a $2,000 rebate on the Toyota Highland (I believe) was more of an incentive to drive wasteful vehicles. In California it seems you can get guaranteed $1.99 gas and a $5,000 rebate, and as such it also seems that GM is doing far more to encourage the use of fuel innefficient vehicles than Toyota, which was Friedman's point in his original article.

      2) #4, It isn't terribly accurate to claim that E85 has fewer emiisions than regular gasoline. Just the process of turning corn into ethanol produces far more CO2 than ethanol's use in E85 offsets. That doesn't include all of the other chemicals and limited resources that go into the corn production in the first place. As mentioned above this month's Car & Driver has an excellent article by Patrick Bedard on ethanol, E85, government subsidies, and GM.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Tom Friedman is the equavilent of pile of dog turds. He has a braid the size of a pea and a mouth the size of a
      #3 washtub, never tells the truth and IMO is nothing more than a smartass, jackass. That sorry jerk can go straight to hell as for as I am concerned. And Tom you will have to wait a long time before you see Toyota take over GM, why don't you take your sorry ass to Japan since you love it so much.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Just to make sure I understand Friedman's argument... A company takes advantage of a loophole in a government regulation that encouraged the development of alternative-fuel vehicles... and this is a bad thing?
      • 8 Years Ago
      Tahoe gets 33mpg thanks to gas consumption with E85? That's a CAFE loophole that you could drive a fleet of tractor trailers through. Yikes- no wonder why GM is pushing Live Green, Go Yellow bullshit. They can get fuel economy credits of an Aveo, yet they still make their big profits.

      There's the flip side - if Toyota goes E85 as rumored, they'll have CAFE credits out the tailpipe. Who needs the Gen III Prius, just make it optimized for E85 and it will get >100mpg per CAFE because the government said so.

      Reference links:
      Detnews: Loophole fuels Detroit's ethanol fixation
      http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060608/OPINION03/606080306/1008/OPINION01
      Businessweek: Ethanol: A tragedy in 3 acts
      http://www.businessweek.com/autos/content/apr2006/bw20060427_493909.htm?campaign_id=msn_eth
      Car & Driver: Tech Stuff: Ethanol promises
      http://www.caranddriver.com/features/11174/tech-stuff-ethanol-promises.html
      • 8 Years Ago
      The important thing to remember about E85 is that the alternative fuel is cleaner-burning than either gasoline or diesel, and using E85 in a flexible fuel vehicle can reduce air pollution. That's why the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest strongly supports its use.
      • 8 Years Ago
      caffee

      I am not defending Tom's original column. I am only applauding him for calling out GM on it's misleading "more models with better than 30 mpg" claim. It is a true statement but it also true that they make more models with worse than 30 mpg. They simply make more models than any other manufacturer. So what. It doesn't mean their cars are more fuel efficient, or even as fuel efficient, as other manufacturers. You can find comparable models from other manufacturers for all those that GM lists that get better gas mileage.

      Please caffee point out where in my post I told a lie or half truth. The mpg numbers I listed are from fueleconomy.gov.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Funny, nobody seems to be able to poke a hole in Friedman's arguments. Nice to call him a shill and a hack though.

      Phelix, yeah, it's a bad thing. It's the whole "takes advantage" part.

      Ian, I guess you missed what he said the $1 tax would be used for. Energy independence.

      Bob, read the article. I think you stopped at the summary by Autoblog.
      • 8 Years Ago
      It seems a bit strange to me to criticize GM for making and selling cars that get 9 to 11 mpg. GM wouldn't sell these cars if consumers didn't want them. Is Friedman trying to argue that GM should build and sell cars that consumers don't want instead?

      It's possible--likely, I'd even say--that GM could make more money if it sold more smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. But criticizing GM for also making inefficient cars that consumers want doesn't make any sense.

      Taking advantage of flex-fuel as a way to get around CAFE standards is indeed deceptive and worthy of criticism, although we shouldn't be surprised if companies try to take advantage of such loopholes in regulations.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "their tiny 2006 Aveo, with manual transmission, only gets 35 mpg on the highway and gets 26 mpg in the city. If you can't get better fuel economoy out of a car that size you are doing something seriously wrong. I know it's made by Daewoo but this is GM's response to the Toyota Yaris (34 city, 40 highway) and Honda Fit (31 city, 38 highway)?"


      Well, I gave up holding GM to ANY standard, even though I have never owned a GM product in my life, I have heard WAY TO MUCH bad press and rental cars to RISK 10k-30k of my money on new GM experiment (instert any "all-new" GM car here__________).

      But Toyota, you CAN hold them to a higher standard.

      Why the hell would you purchase a SMALL Yaris when you can get a bigger Corolla that are both rated at the same 40mpg?! C'mon Toyota.
      • 8 Years Ago
      There's no question that GM (and all the auto companies) need to do more to reduce gas consumption. But Tom Friedman is little more than a self-absorbed shill, promoting whichever argument is most likely to bring attention to himself and his career. This is a man who helped to popularize the phrase "Give war a chance", he's never met a war for oil that he didn't like, and now he's suddenly decided that he cares about humanity and the environment. He's a cheap hack, nothing more.
      Paul
      • 8 Years Ago
      the times gave up being a news source years ago in favor of being one large editorial paper.
      • 8 Years Ago
      I applaud Tom Friedman's columns that raise the awareness about GM. I am convinced that most of their efforts are window dressing.

      The story about E85 makes perfect sense. I was wondering why all-of-a-sudden after 8+ years of manufacturing flex-fuel vehicles, it is being touted as a panacea.

      As the hometown newspaper, The Detroit News, reported: "A gallon of corn-based E85 ethanol fuel goes only three-quarters as far as gasoline, costs more at the pump and provides negligible environmental benefits."
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