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Sunday, September 09, 2001

There's a couple of stories in the NYT Biz section today on the interplay between the profit motive and the environment. One touts the savings and even profit to be made from redesigning the flow of wastes from production plants, both in terms of its composition (fining safer chemical products, for instance) and its re-use. Unfortunately, its smily business message is rather contradicted in the article on low emission autos. If you follow the auto company juggernaut and their fight against CAFE standards (an obsession with yours truly, as my readers know), the profit to be made from more environmentally sensitive autos is balanced, in Detroit's mindmeld, by the panic that Green cars might, after all, compete successfully with the Behemoth guzzlers that are the most profitable sector of the auto industry. So Detroit follows a two-fold strategy. It poormouths the technology needed to produce cleaner cars, with the big claim being that they are more dangerous - an ironic claim, given that the danger comes from the size of the Behemoth guzzlers. It also claims that Green cars are not good handlers. And there is a subtle sexual claim here as well - cars haven't been advertised for fifty years as an accessory to essential malehood to no effect. Green cars are, in the subconscious of an industry that hires women to design cars about as often as Bush utters five consecutive grammatical sentences, a surrender of privilege. The other leg of the policy is to comply, with great fanfare, to the mandate to research Green vehicles, but to hike prices and make the vehicle as scarce as possible. Ford did that with their EV SUVs in the 90s.

Here, however, we can say something good about globalisation. Or at least about international competition in the car market. Hybrid's and, eventually, fuel cell powered cars are a more rational vehicle for the Japanese and Europeans than the gut burgerliche Detroit mobiles, and so they have developed there. Now they are coming to the American market.

Key grafs in the Times piece:
Cleaner Cars Are Here, if You Can Find Them
Unlike electric cars, hybrid gas-electric cars need no special equipment, like battery-charging stations.

"A lot of people are surprised that you don't have to plug them in," said Ernest Bastien, corporate marketing manager at Toyota Motor Sales USA, who is in charge of American sales for the Prius. The car became available in Japan in 1997 and in the United States last year.
But first, you have to find one. Both the Prius and the Insight are in short supply � the Prius is sold out until April, while the Insight can be extremely scarce in markets like California, where they are most popular. (The City of New York just bought 231 of them, while New York State and New Jersey bought several dozen to be used by municipal and state agencies.)

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