The other day, I saw a TV commercial sponsored by the Sierra Club. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey was the spokesman.
I was surprised at the commercial's simplicity. I know I might get a zillion letters and e-mails telling me how wrong I am. But I'm sorry: Building a car is not as simple as that ad says it is.
The message? If only Detroit would do what it can do, we could all stop worrying about imported oil and live happily ever after. It was as though all our vehicles could get 50 mpg if Detroit just wanted to do the right thing - and then snapped its fingers to make it happen.
Life is just not that easy. If any company could figure out how to get another 10 mpg, that competitive advantage would be worth almost anything in the marketplace. Instead, auto companies worldwide are struggling to gain one-tenth of a mile per gallon.
Sure, we could see some quick mileage increases if the EPA and the corporate average fuel economy people were able to agree on emission rules. We would see a bunch of diesels in sport-utilities and other trucks tomorrow.
But a massive increase in fuel economy is not going to happen without some pain on the part of the American consumer. And today, those consumers aren't interested in giving up what they are buying.
Americans like big cars, pickups and sport-utilities. Petroleum products are taxed heavily in America - but nothing like they are elsewhere in the world. And there is no chance any time soon that the politicians are going to raise the federal tax on gasoline by $2 or $3 per gallon. It's just not going to happen.
American consumers aren't going to switch to smaller vehicles on their own, either. So the quickest way to save fuel is to fit large vehicles with diesels as soon as possible. Otherwise, it's going to be tough to change the public's buying preferences.
So I hope the Sierra Club will start running ads that persuade Americans to be interested in small trucks and smaller sport-utilities. That's a lot more realistic than hoping for a miracle that's not available from any engineer in the world.