Op-Ed

Detroit still doesn't get it

This editorial appeared in The New York Times.

We fear that a $1.50 drop in gas prices was all it took to blunt Detroit's newfound fervor for energy efficiency.

Just a few weeks ago, the Big Three American automakers convinced Congress to give them $25 billion in cheap loans to retool their plants to make fuel-efficient cars. Then, with nary a blush, the Ford Motor Co. introduced the new star in its line: the 2009, 3-ton, 16-miles-per-gallon, F-150 pickup.

The new trucks should be 8 percent more fuel efficient than the 2008 models, on average — which means that they still use about 50 percent more gas per mile than, say, a Honda Accord.

Ford and other automakers are desperate to find any way to dig out of their deep economic pit.

But even if the F-150 gives Ford a temporary bounce, it is not a long-term solution in a world where energy prices will inevitably rise again.

As gasoline soared past $4 a gallon in the summer, consumers fell out of love with trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

Gas prices are falling now because the world is tipping into what may be the deepest recession since the 1930s. At some point that will end.

Detroit's problems will not, unless the automakers understand that the days of cheap energy are over. Perhaps Congress, from which the automakers are lobbying for more taxpayer money, can help correct their ways — at the very least — by attaching strict fuel-economy requirements to any future aid.

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