Between The Lines: New York Times Op Ed "Et Tu Toyota?"
The New York Times may be called The Old Gray Lady, but I reckon it’s one of those old gray ladies you find lingering at lunch counters, constantly sticking their nose into everyone’s business. In today’s Op Ed piece, Thomas L Friedman takes Toyota to task. He's miffed that the Japanese automaker's siding with The Big 2.8 against proposed federal regs raising the required corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) figure to 35mpg by 2020. The arguments behind “Et tu Toyota?” may be old news to TTAC readers, but like the Times itself, we can’t resist a bit of nasty gossip.
“What is it about Michigan that seems to encourage assisted suicide? That is all I can think watching Michigan congressmen and senators, led by Representative John Dingell, doing their best imitations of Jack Kevorkian and once again trying to water down efforts by Congress to legislate improved mileage standards for Detroit in the latest draft energy bill.”
It’s not the most coherent of leads, but the point of Friedman’s opening salvo’s is clear: Detroit’s ongoing campaign to oppose radical changes to federal mileage standards works against the domestic automakers’ best interests. This shibboleth is not unknown in these parts: Detroit COULD meet higher fuel economy standards by building more miserly machines, but it CHOOSES not to. Instead, it CHEATS in Washington and then PAYS THE PENALTY.
You’d kinda think Friedman and his fellow Detroit bashers would be happy with this karmic payback. But no. ‘Cause that would make them anti-American. So Friedman says he "gets" pork barrel politics- but only if they work.
“What I don’t get is empty-barrel politics — Michigan lawmakers year after year shielding Detroit from pressure to innovate on higher mileage standards, even though Detroit’s failure to sell more energy-efficient vehicles has clearly contributed to its brush with bankruptcy, its loss of market share to Toyota and Honda — whose fleets beat all U.S. automakers in fuel economy in 2007 — and its loss of jobs. G.M. today has 73,000 working U.A.W. members, compared with 225,000 a decade ago.”
Nope. In fact, you could argue that forcing The Big 2.8 to make [crap] small cars to average-out their fleet's fuel economy has hurt them more than Toyota and Honda ever could. But Friedman saves his biggest rhetorical blast for Toyota, whose decision to join Detroit in its opposition to the draft Senate energy bill puts ToMoCo beyond the pundit's pale.
“Now why would Toyota, which has used the Prius to brand itself as the greenest car company, pull such a stunt? Is it because Toyota wants to slow down innovation in Detroit on more energy efficient vehicles, which Toyota already dominates, while also keeping mileage room to build giant pickup trucks, like the Toyota Tundra, at the gas-guzzler end of the U.S. market?”
Although Toyota has not sold itself as the treehugger’s friend (they adopted the brand on their own), Friedman's got it half right. Obviously, Toyota is against the higher CAFE numbers because they wants to sell loads of "giant, gas-guzzling" (a.k.a. full-sized) pickups. But they're not supporting Detroit's position to gain a competitive advantage. If anything Toyota's trying to help Detroit stay in business– avoiding a US auto industry strengthened by Chapter 11 and/or a transplant backlash.
After quoting ToMoCo’s Prez’ declaration of support for higher fuel economy standards, Friedman counters with “the truth:”
“Not so fast. Here are the facts: Thanks to the Michigan delegation, U.S. mileage standards for passenger car fleets have been frozen at 27.5 miles per gallon since 1985. Light trucks are even worse.”
And there you have it: the crux of the matter. Friedman’s use of the word “worse” to describe the mandatory corporate average fuel economy for light trucks proves that he’s operating from the same position of simplistic ignorance that informs this whole “debate.” As far as environmentalists and their allies are concerned, the higher the required mileage, the better. Period. Anyone who dares suggest otherwise is a sleazy, money-grubbing planet killer.
It’s a shame that Friedman couldn’t move this debate on a bit like, I dunno, suggesting we scrap the whole CAFE system and put a big old tax on gas (if we must). But good governance is besides the point. Better to dredge-up the old “free market capitalism sucks” argument and be done with it.
“Hey, Toyota, if you are going to become the biggest U.S. automaker, could you at least bring to America your best practices — the ones that made you the world leader — instead of prolonging our worst practices? We have enough people helping us commit suicide.”
Friedman’s plea betrays the worst kind of American self-loathing. More to the point, the New York Times scribe believes that the regulatory framework surrounding the US automotive industry’s fuel efficiency standards is fundamentally flawed and inherently corrupt. In this we agree.
[Read the full text of "Et tu Toyota" here.]
More by Robert Farago
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