Once again the federal government thinks that by waving a magic wand you can change the progress of the automobile industry.
Recently President Barack Obama issued a presidential order that all new vehicles bought by the federal government would be electric, hybrid or other alternative-fuel vehicles starting in 2015.
The government quickly corrected the statement by mentioning that the president's limousine, all the support vehicles and a number of other vehicles would be exempt.
It is a noble idea, but it is impossible to mandate progress.
There are barely enough electrics and hybrids for sale in the United States to fill the General Services Administration requirement for vehicles.
And what if most of the available vehicles are built outside the United States? That would just be substituting imported cars for imported oil. That wouldn't make a lot of sense.
It's true that higher fuel prices would push people toward hybrids and electrics. But even though our neighbors around the world sometimes pay twice as much for gasoline and diesel fuel as we Americans do, we seem to think that cheap gasoline is our right. And we're not going to see a new tax on gasoline; politicians realize that it would be political suicide, and they'd never get re-elected.
I was raised on cheap gasoline, but that was a different time. Today we'd have to incentivize buyers to get into smaller cars powered by something besides gasoline. To be sure, the transition to electrified vehicles is going to take decades.
If the president wants to encourage a different model, he should go slower. Certainly some percentage of GSA purchases each year over 10 years would balance the demand with the supply of nongasoline vehicles. The president should include diesel as well, since it is so much more efficient than gasoline.
The federal government and the states can get involved with slowly changing the purchasing and consumption habits of Americans. But it will take time.
In the nearly four decades since the first oil crisis, our governments, local and federal, have done little or nothing beyond the initial corporate average fuel economy standards of the '70s. Only recently did Congress raise CAFE and start to get involved in other ways.
It cannot play catch-up for four decades of neglect in four years.
The motives may be good, but the execution leaves a great deal to be desired.