Detroit — or at least General Motors Corp. — is at it again.
With the United States at war and talking tough about expanding its anti-terrorist attentions to Iraq and Iran, Joe Public has every right to feel vulnerable about future oil supplies and to encourage elected officials to seek methods to help the nation become more energy independent.
Still, automakers continue to consider the potential toughening of vehicle fuel-economy standards to be something akin to Satan. Heaven forbid we actually address fuel-supply concerns by designing our cars and trucks to use fuel more efficiently!
U.S. vehicle manufacturers have a highly annoying habit of claiming that certain legislation is unreasonable, impractical, and would all but sign their death warrant. Then, once such rules (can you say “air bags”?) are shoved down their throats, they somehow still manage to rake in record sales and profit while in some cases even claiming credit for the very legislation they previously opposed.
In a subtle way, it appears they're up to their old tricks. The Wall Street Journal reported that GM sent a letter to suppliers recently, urging those firms to let their senators know they oppose any raising of corporate average fuel economy requirements. The letter reportedly includes a reply envelope and asks the suppliers to send a copy to GM of any such letters they may write.
This puts automotive plastic product suppliers in a particularly uncomfortable spot. The drive for improved fuel efficiency frequently translates into the substitution of lighter-weight plastics for metal or glass. So, GM effectively is asking such plastics manufacturers to lobby against themselves — with the unstated implication that Big Brother Automaker will be watching and keeping score.
GM, of course, while pumping out gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles as fast as it can sell them, will claim it is working hard to develop alternative fuel-cell technology and to improve the fuel efficiency of its fleets, and just doesn't want or need government bureaucracy gumming up its efforts. At the same time, automakers are busy lobbying Congress that lightweighting vehicles too much will make them unsafe.
General Motors has every legal right to ask its suppliers to help it play politics. We just happen to think its time and energy would be better spent developing more fuel-efficient vehicles than by laying a heavy arm on its supplier partners to help it fight the concept.
The automaker insists its recent request of suppliers (and dealers and employees) is totally voluntary. Good thing, because the plastics suppliers we know have much better things to do.