Volkswagen To Produce Lawn Mower
OK. That’s not exactly the way the VW CEO, Martin Winterkorn, put it. Speaking at the Geneva Auto Show, what he actually said is that the company will introduce a one-liter auto no later than 2010, featuring a one cylinder engine displacing 300 ccs.
That actually means it has less displacement than my garden tractor, a two-cylinder number sold by my friendly Sears store with an engine built by those folks from Milwaukee, Briggs and Stratton.
And, between that mower and a VW with the displacement of a soda bottle, I somehow think I’d rather have the garden tractor.
One liter is about 60 cubic inches.
(more after the jump)
But, this is what passes for executive leadership in the ranks of automobile companies these days. Even as blunt and candid a force as Bob Lutz can only say that “global warming is a crock of s—t” in a semi-unofficial way, to be recanted as rapidly as Rick Wagoner can speed-dial Lutz’s celphone.
The Geneva Auto Show is yet another show marked, primarily, by the need to be green. Talk at the Geneva show has very much centered on the costs of meeting new fuel economy and CO2 regulations, both in Europe and the United States. German car makers, in particular, are believed to be facing serious financial challenges to meet the new standards, because their vehicles tend to be larger and more powerful and, hence, more difficult to bring into compliance with the increasingly stringent standards.
Do not, for a split second, think that carmakers – here or in Europe – are really bothered by all of the government intervention and regulation. To the contrary, they love it.
They see a new market, one that is created by government regulation. They’re not upset about responding to the constraints of the green movement – whether global warming is a crock doesn’t matter to them. It’s an opportunity.
And, it’s one they need – because a new car is no longer a necessity, or even a practical investment.
In the United States, the median age of a car is about ten years old. Vehicle reliability has increased dramatically, because consumers have demanded it. The vast panoply of consumer goods competes with new cars for fashion and prestige purchases. Car manufacturers have been subsidizing car sales with cheap loans for over a decade, in the process striping themselves of the capital the needed to compete.
But, like every other industry that has found its salvation in government regulation, the car industry has found a savior: the government.
You see, the car industry has a hole card. Say they build an electric car, and no one buys it. No problem. The government can offer tax incentives, as they did with hybrids – effectively letting the taxpayer foot the tab for the usual carmaker rebate. Or, the government can raise the gasoline tax. That’s long ago been divorced from building roads, and the generalized anger at obscene oil company profits somehow obscures the fact that taxes, not profit, is the biggest extra in the price of a gallon of gas.
Carmakers are investing in their future, and the one liter VW is just one example of that investment.
It’s a future in which you’ll buy what they sell because the government won’t let you have what you want.
And that makes absolutely no difference to the car maker. In fact, they like it. It’s their dream come true: you’ll have to buy it.
Think this is over the top?
Well, then think about that old favorite, the incandescent light bulb.
You know, the one Edison perfected. The one that’s in almost every light fixture in the house? The one that costs about 60¢ and gives you a comfortable light by which to read?
Well, it’s going to be illegal.
Yes, that same energy bill that raised CAFE fuel standards for cars also outlawed the incandescent light bulb, starting in 2012 and fully effective in 2014. You’ll have to buy those god-awful fluorescent things. At three times the price.
Oh, sure. The advocates of this measure say the fluorescents last longer, so they’re cheaper in the long run. That the light they provide is plain ugly, they ignore.
As they did my right – and yours – to chose what I wanted.
But, did you hear the light bulb manufacturers complaining?