Tag: Policy

By on April 17, 2012

When government, media and industry agree that a trend exists, it’s generally taken as fait accompli. After all, these three institutions wield immense cultural power, and together they are more than capable of making any prophecy self-fulfilling. But there’s always a stumbling block: acceptance by the everyday folk who actually make up our society. And when a trend is taken for granted, the ensuing rush to be seen as being in touch with said trend often generates more heat than light. Such is the case with the trend towards “green cars.” Few would deny that they are “the future,” but at the same time, there’s been precious little examination of how this future is to be realized. And when such examination does take place, it tends to raise more questions than it answers.
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By on March 12, 2012

“The electric things have their life too. Paltry as those lives are.”

Phillip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

At the High School I attended, progress reports were never a good thing. Halfway through each term, students who were averaging a D or lower would receive a print-out of their grade accompanied by a line from the teacher explaining how the miscreant in question was failing to live up to expectations. True to form, the White House’s just-released “One Year Progress Report” [PDF] on President Obama’s “Blueprint For A Secure Energy Agenda” includes some devastating evidence of abject failure. But unlike my post-progress report conversations with the parental stakeholders, Obama has a lot more to explain to voters than a simple “insufficient homework turned in.”

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By on January 11, 2012

The Chinese government finally announced its long-awaited and much discussed subsidy program for the fledgling electric car industry. China will waive sales taxes on electric and fuel cell cars. There is only one limitation, which likely will make some Michigan Senators scream bloody murder: The cars must be made domestically in China. (Read More…)

By on July 12, 2011

Electric vehicles present all kinds of challenges to the traditional ways of understanding cars. From design to differentiation, from range to refueling, EVs simply act different than the internal combustion-powered cars we’ve been refining for centuries now. And yet, through consumer incentives and subsidized charging stations, governments seem to be barreling headlong towards the goal of simply replacing our gas cars with electric ones, as if the two were fundamentally interchangeable. Sadly this is not the case, and a study by Project Better Place and PJM Interconnection [PDF] illustrates in stark terms just how costly an unplanned, uncoordinated rush to electric cars can be.

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By on June 2, 2011

AutoNation boss Mike Jackson has long been the front runner to inherit Bob Lutz’s mantle as the most opinionated guy in the car business, and recently he’s been moving to lock up the distinction. Jackson recently gave the world the concept of the gas price “freak-out point” as well as delivering memorable quips on “green car” demand (while calling for higher gas prices), and has been outspoken about the industry’s struggles with “push” production, oversupply, fleet dependence and more. And now he’s laid out what may very well be the basis for a solid “car guy consensus” for political progress on safety issues. Autoobserver reports:

The main points of Jackson’s outline to improve road safety: 1) Make text-messaging illegal – and since that’s unlikely to make much difference, install technology to block text messages in moving vehicles; 2) Raise the gasoline tax to fund safety-enhancing and congestion-reducing traffic-management technology, including intelligent road signals and total automation of toll collection; 3) Get serious about lane discipline by restricting trucks to right-hand lanes and passing only in the left lane.

Can I get an “Amen”? Politics are one of the most divisive issues in American life, and TTAC struggles with the inevitable polarization caused by political topics every day… so hats off to Jackson for solidifying a non-partisan agenda that all (or at least most) car guys can get behind.

By on February 4, 2009

Point three of Barack Obama’s ethics pledge to the American people is that “no political appointees in an Obama-Biden administration will be permitted to work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years. And no political appointee will be able to lobby the executive branch after leaving government service during the remainder of the administration.” Obviously that’s a high standard, and one that seems increasingly important as the lines between government and industry are blurred by rampant bailouts. And clearly not everyone makes the cut. But as Obama assembles a team to “restructure” the auto industry, the spirit (if not the letter) of his ban on revolving door hiring seems to be falling by the wayside.

According to the Detroit News, the leading candidate for Obama’s “Car Czar” position is a certain Mr Steven Girsky, who the DetN describes as a “longtime auto industry analyst.” Having advised Centerbridge Industrial Partners and JP Morgan on auto issues, Girsky is more than simply an analyst. Automotive News [sub] reported in October of 2008 that Girsky was hired by the United Auto Workers to advise on the proposed Chrysler-GM merger and as AN dryly put it “he may also advise the UAW on a possible federal bailout of the U.S. automakers.” Girsky was also a consultant to GM’s CEO and CFO for just under a year, leaving the firm in 2006. As of October 2008, he also served on the board of Dana Corp, a massive auto supplier firm.

Does Girsky’s experience make him incapable of living up to Obama’s high moral standards? Technically, no. Like Tom Daschle before him, Girsky is clearly a lobbyist, though he’s not registered as one (the de facto bright line rule for Obama). But having been paid by the UAW within months to advise them on bailout strategy, he’s also clearly not going to live up to the “no work on regulations or contracts directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years” standard. And if he is appointed as Car Czar, it’s safe to say that he will be guiding regulations and money disbursements that are “substantially related” to the work he has been doing for the UAW.

But as with so many political decisions, the choice of a Car Czar will likely be decided on the lesser of two evils. After all, Girsky may be steeped in the cozy relationships between GM management, the UAW and the government, but at least he has industry experience. Steven Rattner of Quadrangle Group has also been named as a possible czar, but as Newsweek reports, his main qualifications appears to be as a Democratic fundraiser (he is married to the National Finance Chairwoman of the DNC) and media-elite insider. Sure he covered energy and economy beats at the NY Times back in the day, but there’s little to indicate that he would make an especially good Car Czar.

Meanwhile, for all of Girsky’s industry connections, some of his ideas are decidedly TTAC-ish. Like when he got AN Executive Editor Edward Lapham‘s collar up by suggesting [sub] that the Detroit Three might need to cut as many as 70 percent of its dealerships. He even seems to cause some consternation among his UAW employers, based on this post at Salon. And that might just indicate the kind of experience and perspective that Obama’s team clearly needs. After all, his Climate and Energy Czar Carol Browner told Automotive News [sub] at the DC Auto Show that there are “lots of clean cars out there and options for the consumer.” You know, because the OEMs say so.

Meanwhile, it seems that nothing will stop or slow the rolling tide of money that is about to slosh into the automotive industry. $2b worth of battery research money is said to be going into the forthcoming stimulus package, and the Senate just approved an amendment to the stimulus bill which would make auto loan interest and state sales taxes deductable from federal taxes. Whether Girsky or Rattner is appointed as Car Czar won’t likely make much of a difference in terms of the amount of money that will be funneled into the industry over the following years. The crucial distinction is whether experience is worth the possibility of a conflict of interest.

Obama’s strict ethical standards are admirable, but if his options for Car Czar are between an industry insider who defines the term “revolving door” and a candidate who is being considered solely due to his political connections, something has clearly gone wrong. I’m not sure this kind of compromise is what people had in mind when they voted for “change we can believe in.” But in this familiarly frustrating choice, at least Girsky has a record of taking stands on crucial issues facing the industry. If he can publicly explain his recent UAW dealings in a way that passes Obama’s muster, Girsky may actually be the least of the available evils.

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