Maybe it’s time to plan for the worst

I remember what happened when the United States faced the OPEC oil embargo beginning in 1973.

Not only did the price of gasoline triple, but availability was severely limited and there were extremely long lines at gas stations all over the nation. The automobile industry was in chaos trying to meet the demands of consumers whose tastes had changed overnight.

I have confidence in our government during this war against terrorism, and I look forward to the time when our nation and the world will not have to live with concerns about further terrorism. It will be a long, slow war, and there are bound to be some frightening moments along the way. But we must be victorious in this war, and we must be willing to pay the price.

Meanwhile, it would be prudent for the automobile industry to make some contingency plans.

Remembering how the industry was caught off guard trying to meet changes in consumer desires in 1973, we should take the time now to think about potential changes that might help the American consumer cope with various scenarios.

And that will take some changes in the rules and the rule making.

I’m not suggesting that the government change any rules now. But if there are substantial developments that affect the auto industry, there should be provisions in place to make changes that might be necessary.

For example, if there is a tightening of oil supplies, it might be necessary to change the product mix dramatically overnight to include many more diesel engines, which are more fuel efficient than many gasoline engines but may not meet every future emission standard. Increasing diesel production could require changing or suspending NOx emission standards for the duration of the shortage.

Automakers should cooperate and together propose certain changes in the laws now that would be implemented only in a worst-case scenario. Once there is a need, it might take too long to get the necessary changes.

The National Automobile Dealers Association also should do some soul searching to determine changes that might make sense for dealers if there is a need at some later date.

The time to plan is before there is a need. And the time to ask the government for changes in the rules is before there is a crisis, even if the changes would be implemented only under the worst circumstances.

That’s a good way to make sure that those changes will never be needed.

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