As the NY Times reported, Chrysler and GM have been closing production facilities left and right across the country; the latest closures have all been SUV facilities. What does this mean for the future of this American icon?
Domestically made autos will never disappear completely from our landscape – bailout packages or bankruptcy will see them through – but SUVs might become a thing of the past. The SUV platform has had quite a draw for many people – SUVs project safety and utilitarianism; unstoppable except by their fuel gauge. High gas prices this summer left many SUV owners feeling strapped and sales of new SUVs have plummeted.
The Status Quo
As American car manufacturers come to grips with the new economy, efficiency will come to the forefront, along with utility and the ability to use multiple fuel sources. Thus far, we have only been given the exact opposite:
- Ford famously makes a 73 MPG hatchback for European markets with no intention to introduce it to US markets. Why? Americans supposedly hate diesel engines.
- Most Flex Fuel Vehicles (that can take up to E85 or 85% ethanol) are only available in models with very large engines. E85 lowers mileage a bit, which isn’t a problem in efficient vehicles, but is almost crippling in inefficient ones.
- Hybrid engines are being put into SUV and truck models, not small cars.
- Electric cars and plug-in hybrids all but non-existent.
The New American Car
I could do the easy thing and point to Asian manufacturers and say, “copy them”, but I won’t. It is fully within Detroit’s reach to go back to the drawing board and to put together the New American Car.
- Big enough for families: modular folding seating has come a long way.
- Safe: reliable parts and construction.
- Efficient: 35 MPG doesn’t count as efficient.
- Flexible: hybrids are a must – if not plug-in, at least regenerative breaking.
- Fuel options: E85 and gas compatible or diesel and biodiesel compatible. Warrant them as such.
The Real Impact of Plant Closures
Layoffs and plant closures are never easy, but they always hit the hardest during the holiday season. My thoughts go out to those affected by the closures and hope that our new administration can bring a long-term viable production economy back to the US.