Two weeks ago, with little or no fanfare, Jac Nasser, CEO of Ford Motor Co., announced dramatic plans for increasing the fuel economy of Ford's sport-utilities. I'm sure Ford employees, dealers and potential customers were pleased.
It didn't take General Motors long to hold its own press conference to say, basically, 'anything Ford can do, we can do better.'
I'm sure the cynics among you will consider both announcements grandstanding to gain a marketing advantage. In fact, competitors were among those belittling either one or both companies for being Johnny-come-latelies who merely were playing catch-up with the rest of the industry.
It seems obvious Nasser and Ford have determined fuel economy is becoming an issue in the purchase of sport-utilities. Whether the issue goes away as gasoline prices continue to fall remains to be seen. I'm sure Ford and Nasser are convinced it matters, and they are going to do something about it. Count that as a victory for the consumer.
Not to be outdone, GM wants to make sure consumers realize it is not about to let anyone get a marketing advantage. GM brass made sure those same consumers realize the automaker is planning to improve its fuel economy just as much. Count that as victory No. 2 for the consumer.
Isn't a little competition great? I have long felt the automobile industry will react quicker to the potential wishes of the U.S. consumer than it will to any government mandate. This may be the best example we've seen in a long time.
For at least 20 years, the federal government wrote safety, emissions and fuel economy standards with little or no regard for what the consumer wanted. The government knew what was good for the consumer and acted accordingly. In those days, Washington may have been right. But today is a different ballgame, and it's refreshing to see the marketplace encourage manufacturers to act.
This month, the automakers acted to improve the fuel economy of sport-utilities. Next month, it might be some form of safety or lower emissions - not because the government is about to nail the manufacturers with new regulations, but simply because it is good business.
If we let the marketplace have a say in the future design and engineering of vehicles, we might be surprised by the good results.
The free marketplace is pretty good most of the time. This was one very good example.