According to a poll in yesterday’s Washington Post, rising gas prices are beginning to chip away at President Obama’s approval ratings. Over at the Post’s Wonkblog, Bradford Plumer debates whether pain at the pump will have an impact on the November election. But there’s no debate on one central fact: It’s getting less painful to fill up new car.
Three reports on U.S. fuel economy have surfaced this month, one from the private sector, one from academia and one from the government. While using slightly different methods and reporting different figures, all agree on the overall trend: If you drive a new car, you’re getting more miles per gallon than ever before.
"Trucks That Work", from the Nat'l Wildlife Federation, outlines fuel savings and reduction in carbon pollution as a result of new federal standards.
Yesterday, Obama was at a Freightliner Truck plant in Mt. Holly, North Carolina, where workers chose to become members of the UAW during a contested organizing campaign back in 1990.
Freightliner – a unit of German-based automaker Daimler — is now producing trucks fueled by natural gas, which run cleaner, more efficiently – and less expensively – than typical diesel trucks. The Mt. Holly plant, the president noted, recently sold its 1,000th natural gas truck – and has recently added back 1,000 workers who were laid off during the recession.
Obama tweaked his Republican rivals again yesterday, this time casting doubt on calls for a quick fix to bring down energy prices. “The next time you hear some politician trotting out some 3-point plan for $2 gas,” he said, “you let them know, we know better.”
The state of California, which has been regulating smog since the 1950s, has a waiver from EPA to set its own tailpipe emissions rules so long as they are as tough –or tougher—than federal regulations.
Despite all the improvements we have made, we still have in some areas, some of the worst air quality in the country… The advanced clean car program will require a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. The impact on the road, we’re expecting, will be about 1.4 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road in California…Our goal overall is to make clean cars, plus hybrids, about 87 percent of the fleet in California by 2050.
We expect the [technology to add] about $1,900 per car [to the purchase price] in the initial few years, before 2025. We also calculate that with the reduced maintenance and fuel costs, the average buyer will probably save about $6,000 over about five or six years of the car’s life, by the time that they’ve paid it off.
Speaking to delegates at the UAW legislative conference in Washington yesterday, President Obama celebrated the return to health of the U.S. auto industry – and gave union members the lion’s share of the credit:
It wasn’t because of anything the government did. It wasn’t just because of anything management did. It was because I believed in you. I placed my bet on the American worker. And I’ll make that bet any day of the week.
He also made the case that improving U.S. fuel efficiency over the next decade will deliver long-range benefits to the U.S. economy, reducing imports of raw materials while increasing exports of manufactured goods:
“I think there are unexplored areas of efficiency in combustion that will give us much greater opportunities than people think, and we are just beginning to experience ways in which we can reduce the energy demands of a vehicle. This is going to require the efforts of everybody on the engineering side to get it done. If anybody sits back and says, ‘I can’t find the answer by 2025,’ they shouldn’t be in this business.”
It’s the Consumers, Not the Cars, says UM Researcher
TheFutureofCars.Net caught up recently with Brandon Schoettle, a research associate in the Human Factors Group at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Institute. He’s a co-author of a January study showing that average fuel economy of U.S. vehicles jumped to 21.5 mpg for the 2012 model year, a 14% increase over the past four years.
UMTRI also made news this week with the latest data from its Eco-Driving Index, showing U.S. fuel economy reached 23 mpg in January of 2012, a 4% improvement from December 2011, and tying the previous high mark, recorded in March 2011.
Buyers Move the Market: Consumers are driving the trend as much as carmakers, said Schoettle. The UMTRI data shows that average mpg moves even higher when weighted by sales – the vehicles people actually buy, as opposed to the unweighted range of offerings available from manufacturers.
Chrysler, he claimed, was acting as a surreptitious SuperPac, inserting pro-Obama messages into its ad campaign:
I was, frankly, offended by it. The leadership of auto companies feel they need to do something to repay their political patronage. It is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.
I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.
A few observations:
1. Of course it’s political: U.S. taxpayers invested $12.5 billion to rescue Chrysler, and another $72.5 billion to save GM and related finance and supplier companies. (We got most of it back already, and may get even more, depending on future performance of GM stock.) When the topic comes up during a TV show watched by more than 100 million people – a rare moment of common attention in a fractured media universe – it’s no surprise the discussion quickly turns political. Why shouldn’t it?
Rove, who has spent his entire life working in politics, tries here to make the term a dirty word, awash in “minions,” “patronage” and other signifiers of nasty, partisan self-dealing. But “politics” also means the ongoing contest over distribution of power, money and resources. Most of the time, especially when business decisions are involved, all the important stuff gets talked about behind closed doors.
In this case, with so much public money at stake, an effort by a government-supported car company to sell cars inevitably becomes a discussion about whether taxpayers should have a role in keeping car companies in business. I’m a former UAW staffer and still a UAW member, so it’s no surprise I think the answer is a resounding yes. But it doesn’t offend me that some people think otherwise.
2. Mrs. Rove didn’t raise no fool: Rove, of course, has no interest in a theoretical discussion about the proper role of government in private industry. He runs American Crossroads –a real SuperPac, not an imagined one – and he’s trying to win an election.
For all the Republican bluster about Obama’s electoral weakness, it won’t be so easy to beat a guy who saved in the neighborhood of a million jobs in the industrial Midwest –one of the neighborhoods in which U.S. presidential elections are usually decided.
Rove didn’t have such an easy time of it 2004, either, when he was running George Bush’s re-election campaign. Bush, a former National Guardsman with a habit of not showing up for his assignments, was running a disastrously mismanaged war in Iraq; his opponent, John Kerry, was a decorated war hero.
Saving the American auto industry, and putting real-live job creators in a position to increase sales, hiring, profits and U.S. investment is an indisputable success story for the Obama administration. Rove isn’t just reacting to a single commercial which annoys him; he’s laying the groundwork for a narrative which turns this success into a failure, replacing an optimistic scenario of new jobs and investment with a dark, corrupt tale of “Chicago-style politics” and “political patronage.”
3. That dog won’t hunt: It’s one thing to use selective video editing, not to mention outright lies, to muddy up people’s memories about what happened decades ago in a faraway jungle. In the case of Chrysler, however, the company has earned its first profit since 1997 and will distribute $1,500 profit-sharing checks to 26,000 people today.
No spin, no ad and no attack dog will convince anybody those checks aren’t real. The even larger profit-sharing checks that GM will distribute to an even larger number of people later this year will be just as real. Banks will cash them, workers will spend them, and merchants will gladly accept the proceeds.
(Memo to Newt: Obama is already the paycheck president. When you figure in the taxes paid on auto wages and bonuses, as opposed to the food stamps and unemployment benefits that would have been paid by Uncle Sam if GM and/or Chrysler had gone under, the cost/benefit calculus of the auto rescue is much clearer – and much more favorable to the U.S. Treasury.)
4. The Eastwood ad is helping the company sell cars: Rove knows full well that the White House has better things to do than spend its time scripting and directing Chrysler advertisements. What really happened is that Chrysler and its ad team came up with the Eastwood spot as a way to extend last year’s successful “Imported in Detroit” ad, which featured Eminem driving a Chrysler 200.
My first reaction to this year’s version was not so different from Karl Rove’s: Looks like a nice message for Obama, but how does it sell any cars? The 2011 Eminem ad showed a high-octane celebrity behind the wheel of a Chrysler vehicle; in the 2012 update, you hardly see any vehicles at all, and when you do, Eastwood is nowhere near them.
I take the old-fashioned view that product ads should feature the product as much as possible. This comic Chevy Camaro spot, also on air during the Super Bowl, is a good example: It had a shiny yellow model of car on the screen for nearly the entire 30-second spot.
Turns out Karl and I were both wrong. The Eastwood ad driving traffic to Chrysler, just like it’s supposed to. Not only that, by making the ad a topic of controversy for days afterward, Rove is helping the company even more. From yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (sub):
Auto-shopping website Edmunds.com said it saw a 27% jump in consumers looking for information about Chrysler after the ad aired. The ongoing debate seems to have helped keep that momentum going. Edmunds.com said Tuesday’s traffic for the auto maker is showing a 23% increase, down slightly from Monday, but higher than all but two of the other auto brands that appeared in the game.
“Chrysler and its dealers have to be in heaven right now,” said John Durham, advertising professor at the University of San Francisco. “The shelf life of this ad has been significantly extended.” Super Bowl buzz “typically dies out shortly after the game.”
Nice work, Turd Blossom!
By the way, Chrysler sales were up 12% in 2011 over 2010, Dodge/Ram sales up 18% and Jeep sales up 44%. Just a thought, but it could be that the sales team in Auburn Hills knows exactly what they’re doing – and it has do with cars, not politics.
The Chevy Sonic — the first subcompact car made in the United States in more than 40 years — gets 40 MPG on the highway. It’s built by UAW members in Orion Township, Michigan.
You can also make music with it, as featured during a 60-second Super Bowl spot; longform version below. Of course, if you don’t have 1,000 musical instruments lying around the house, you might not want to try this at home.
That’s probably why they’re wearing the helmets, too, tho I don’t get the fashion statement. Makes OK Go look like the Dukakis Quartet. Then again, I suppose if you are as cool as OK Go, then you don’t have to worry about *looking* cool.
What on Earth is wrong with the conservative media movement that it feels it’s OK to spread false information, OK to damage the reputation of perhaps the finest piece of mechanical technology our country has produced since the space shuttle?
Two days later, monthly auto sales figures for January became available. I’m just guessing, but maybe Lutz – who is retired but still a consultant at GM – had an advance peak at the numbers, which were not pretty. Chevy sold 603 Volts in January, down 60.6 % from the record-setting December pace of more than 1,500 sales.
TV pitchman Dennis Lee, debunked by Dateline, settled for more than $2 million with the FTC
The Feds charged false advertising against Dennis Lee, Dutchman Enterprises and United Community Services of America. The HFAC – sold for as much as $1,900 with installation – is supposed to allow a vehicle engine to run on a gas-water mixture, converted into hydrogen fuel. In promotional videos, Dennis Lee claims the device will deliver double or more fuel economy. But like other additives and aftermarket devices, the promised improvements evaporate quickly when subject to independent testing.