The Greening of the Automobile Industry

by Dennis Machicao

Many years ago, when gasoline was an affordable price compared to the rate of inflation, not many people thought about the environment and how cars influenced its survival. In Europe and other countries they were not so much aware of the environment, but were aware of the cost of driving since fuel was at a much higher cost than it was in the U.S., as it still is today. That is why European cars were, and are, much smaller and more economical than in the U.S.

The oil crisis of 1973 sparked America’s way of thinking about cars and conservation. Long lines at the pump were something new, something that the American driving public hadn’t experienced since World War II. There was a new generation that never experienced rationing. And the price of gasoline went up. People started thinking that maybe we should get rid of those big, heavy cars, V8 Super Cars with high horsepower and go smaller like the Europeans. Let’s buy smaller, economical vehicles. Sound familiar? But that way of thinking lasted a millisecond. Crisis over and big cars were back in vogue. Sound familiar?

It seems that every time there is an oil crisis and the cost of gas goes up, people think of conservation, not so much of the environment but of their pocketbooks. Japanese and European automakers took note and started marketing smaller, more efficient cars while Detroit was sleeping. But the Japanese and Europeans could not resist America’s appetite for large vehicles and thus the modern SUV was born. With smaller cars in their product line, the Japanese also wanted to cater to the SUV customer. Detroit was good at this and the war was on. Each year bigger and bigger SUV’s were on the road. And then gas prices began to rise again. ‘GET RID OF THAT SUV, GO SMALLER.’ Sound familiar?

With each oil crisis, people and car manufacturers moved closer and closer to thinking that maybe, just maybe, economically and now environmentally more fuel-efficient vehicles should be the norm. And automobile manufacturers domestically and abroad have really stepped up to address the situation.

Cars of today are much more efficient than ever before, have much higher mpg city and highway than cars of the past. New materials are used that are lighter in weight, yet strong enough not to compromise safety. Now we are seeing cars that run on alternative fuels, combination gas and electric like the Toyota Prius, all new Chevrolet Volt plus nine other models that have over 30 mpg highway. The Ford Motor Co.’s 2011 models also have high mpg cars in their lineup like the Fiesta, Focus and Fusion Hybrid, all at 40 miles per gallon highway.

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