No one wants to touch it. Not Toyota, not NHTSA, not any politician. But the issue has to be raised. Driver error is most likely at the root of these sudden unintended acceleration incidents.
When Toyota's Prius first hit Japanese showrooms in 1997, I was highly skeptical that hybrids would catch on. Not only was the technology really expensive, I thought the nickel-metal hydride batteries would prove to be the Achilles Heel in the system. Sooner or later you'd be facing an expensive replacement bill, right?
In all this debate about whether we should provide the Big Three with a bridge loan, not enough attention has been devoted to their impact on our national defense. I'd hate to see this country ever get involved in a total global war again, but I especially shudder to think it might happen without the manufacturing capability that General Motors, Ford and Chrysler provide to the United States.
Anyone watching the auto industry these days is acutely aware that General Motors is hurtling towards disaster. It's burning through cash reserves at a rate that will put it in Chapter 11 sometime next year, no matter how much management says "that's not an option." It's still being crushed by its legacy costs, yes, even after concessions from the UAW. And it just witnessed its own finance arm, GMAC, essentially pull out of the automotive lending business.
The headlines say General Motors is feverishly putting a plan together to take over Chrysler. From my standpoint, only two theories can explain why this is happening. Either the billionaire boys from Cerberus have a master plan to revamp the American auto industry, or they are in so far over their heads that they don't know what they're doing. More on that in a minute.
A few years back I made a bet with a former Director of Engineering at General Motors. I bet him five bucks that Americans would fall in love with modern diesel engines and would want them in their cars. Specifically, I predicted that diesel sales in passenger cars would reach 1 million units by 2012. He bet it wouldn't happen.
Uh-oh. In the pell-mell race to develop lithium-ion batteries for plug-ins, EV's and hybrids, has any automaker taken a hard look at where all that lithium is going to come from? Guess what? Not only are global lithium supplies pretty tight, prices are about to skyrocket.
2010 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in the American auto industry. From a product standpoint there will be a lot of interesting hardware in showrooms, including range-extending EVs, plug-in hybrids, clean diesels, pure electrics, and flex-fuel vehicles running on cellulosic ethanol. But it's also shaping up to be the year when the domestic industry will have to deal with its greatest challenge ever.
Every day Chrysler LLC builds Euro-spec versions of the Chrysler 300 at its assembly plant in Canada, bolts a V6 diesel engine into most of them, and ships them off to Europe. That diesel 300 gets better fuel economy, over 30 mpg, than all the other vehicles in Chrysler's U.S. showrooms. But it's against the law for Chrysler to sell that car in America.
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