Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chaging My Mind?

A topic that has been easy to ignore lately is the efforts that foreign auto competitors have been making to improve the quality of their products. Consider the following statement which has been excerpted from a New York Times article describing the improvements to be found in the 2010 Toyota Prius:

"Perhaps more significant, the combined city-highway rating is 50 m.p.g. That easily beats any other car sold in the United States — it is 8 m.p.g. better than the No. 2 contender, the Honda Civic Hybrid. It is also 400 percent better than the nation’s thirstiest car, the Lamborghini MurciĆ©lago Roadster.

"Consider, too, that the Prius is slightly larger than its predecessor, weighs 122 pounds more and has a bigger engine. So how can it get 5 more m.p.g. than the model it replaces?

"For one thing, the car’s fractionally greater girth is put to better aerodynamic use. Sharp creases on the corners streamline airflow over the body, as does a longer spoiler, flat underbody panels and an optimized roof arch.

"Moving the roof’s peak farther back also created more headroom in the rear seat. A bit more leg and shoulder room has also been carved out.

"The Prius weighs a bit more (it’s now 3,042 pounds) because of added crash protection measures. The car would have been heavier if the drive train hadn’t been lightened by 20 percent."

News in the last six months has fixated on the problems of the American auto industry. GM, until recently the leader of the world in auto production, is sinking fast and almost everybody in America is committed to the need to bail out this monolith. As I read about the new Toyota, my heart sank a bit. It hit me like a wooden plank banging against the side of my head; i.e., the starkness of the realization that GM really and truly has missed the boat, so to speak, by concentrating on SUVs and Hummers while Toyota and Honda have directed their energies on energy and the saving of it. The big question is where was GM while all this technology was occurring in plain sight? Where was the vision that was necessary for GM to sustain economic viability as Toyota rose slowly to become the world's largest automaker? I hate to admit it, but the answers to these question are obvious and this realization has me rethinking my opinion about the wisdom of the bailouts.

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