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When Automakers Become Social Engineers

January 12, 2012 J

There’s good news and bad news out of Detroit this week.

The good news, according to this blog, is that greens and automakers, after decades of being at loggerheads, now seem to be singing from the same sheet music on the need to produce environmentally-friendly cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf. The shaming, badgering and blunt-force regulatory bludgeoning of automakers by Gang Green and government finally has bent Motown to the will of “gas-guzzler”-bashers. Now these former adversaries are as cozy as two peas in a pod.

And the bad news?

The bad news — and it’s a minor glitch, really — is that American car-buyers just aren’t interested in buying most of the environmentally-correct rides Detroit is selling. Paint them any color one chooses, green cars are by-and-large a flop with the people who count most. But that’s what happens when you listen and respond to the social engineers, instead of the market.

The full extent of the flop has yet to be publicly acknowledged. Government Motors has not been eager to honestly report sales figures for the Volt sales figures,and, as the piece linked just above explains, the blow has been somewhat cushioned (not surprisingly) by government fleet purchases, which are obviously being done for public relations benefits, since paying more for a vehicle that can do less is not doing the taxpayer any favors.

One can’t help wondering, especially in GM’s case, how great an influence government ownership had in the decision to vest so much in a model, the Volt, that any layperson could have recognized as a longshot. Perhaps, sometime soon, an enterprising investigative writer will tell the whole terrible tale. And there’s no denying that it might be easier for a company to take such risks, when it knows it has a direct line into the U.S. Treasuy if this misadventure in social engineering undercuts the bottom line.

But such are the results, and the dangers, when the line between big government and big business gets as blurred as it has.

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