Friday, January 13, 2012

Automakers Make Lousy Social Engineers

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 bludgeoning of automakers by Gang Green and government regulators finally has bent Motown to the will of the efficiency enforcers. 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 to 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, and, as the piece linked just above explains, the blow has been 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, performance-wise, certainly isn't doing the taxpayers 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 might it not 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? How could it not be?

Such are the hazards when the line between big government and big business becomes as blurred as it is now.

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