When I visited my former college roommate in northern England last summer, one thing that stood out in my mind was the price of gas. My roommate did the math for me (since they sell it by liter rather than by the gallon) and it was about $10 per gallon. Can you imagine spending $150 to fill your tank?
Most of these high prices come from gas taxes, and the idea has been bounced around the US too. It isn’t a very popular idea here, but GM’s “Maximum” Bob Lutz thinks a higher gas tax would help. And this from the guy who declared global warming a “crock of s***”.
Now it isn’t as much of an about face as you might think. But from the guy who trumpeted awesome-yet-inefficient cars like the defunct Pontiac GTO (a rebadged Holden Monaro) and the Chevy Camaro, well, it raises some eyebrows. The market and environment is a lot different now than it was in 2000 though, when Lutz joined GM and said that a 500 horsepower car would save the General from itself. That… didn’t turn out so hot.
Lutz doesn’t even like hybrids, but the world certainly seems to with hybrid sales ratcheting up in 2009. The problem is, if gas prices stay too low, people aren’t going to buy hybrids or fuel efficient vehicles if they have other options. By ratcheting up the gas tax and keeping petrol artificially high, it would help automakers sell the fuel efficient cars the government is mandating they build. 35 MPG by 2020 is a tall but not unreachable order, if you remake your lineup with enough small cars and hybrids to offset bruisers like the Camaro and Cadillac CTS-V.
According to CNN, Lutz said Monday at the Detroit Auto Show that “If the rise in gasoline prices is gradual, I think that all of us in the industry would frankly welcome that, because there is nothing more illogical than forcing fuel-saving technology when gasoline is extremely cheap.”
Hmmm, “gradual” — why does that word ring a bell?
In An Interview With CNBC, Barack Obama Said He Would Have Preferred A “Gradual” Increase In Gasoline Prices. BARACK OBAMA: “Well, I think that we have been slow to move in a better direction when it comes to energy usage. And the president, frankly, hasn’t had an energy policy. And as a consequence, we’ve been consuming energy as if it’s infinite. We now know that our demand is badly outstripping supply with China and India growing as rapidly as they are. So…” HARWOOD: “So could these high prices help us?” BARACK OBAMA: “I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing. But if we take some steps right now to help people make the adjustment, first of all by putting more money into their pockets, but also by encouraging the market to adapt to these new circumstances more quickly, particularly US automakers, then I think ultimately, we can come out o f this stronger and have a more efficient energy policy than we do right now.”
(Gas was about four dollars a gallon when Obama made that statement in June of 2008. And of course, the New York Times, Washington Post, and GE/NBC in the form of Tom Brokaw ultimately agreed with him.)
To paraphrase Mr. R. Zimmerman, you gotta serve someone — the consumer or The One. Lutz knows who signs his checks these days.