U.S. could follow China's lead to get car buyers to downsize

PARIS -- Whether driving the streets of Paris or walking through the Paris auto show, one is struck by how small the cars are here compared to those in the United States.

This is nothing new.

Americans have long favored big vehicles. We've had the luxury of relatively low and stable gasoline prices to afford them.

But as domestic automakers develop smaller fuel efficient cars, some U.S. executives wonder if the U.S. market will ever embrace them in mass volume.

I walked the show with one executive, who works for a U.S. manufacturer in the Asian region. He lamented government policy.

He told me the Chinese government's focus is to change consumer mindset. China creates financial incentives for consumers to buy small, fuel efficient products through tax breaks.

Whereas in the United States, the burden of change rests mostly on the shoulders of the automakers. The U.S. government mandates increased CAFE requirements. It offers only some tax incentives to those who buy certain hybrid vehicles.

This U.S. executive stopped short of issuing his opinion of which policy is best, he was, after all, with a reporter. But reading between the lines the conclusion is obvious: The U.S. consumer needs more incentives to fully embrace change.