The scenario was clear: Constantly rising prices at the gas pump would encourage more and more people to switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
As corporate average fuel economy standards continued to march toward 54.5 mpg, the U.S. auto industry would do everything to reach that foreboding fuel economy number.
Smaller engines, smaller vehicles, even aluminum bodies are part of the solution for doubling fuel efficiency.
It's a perfect plan because fuel prices are heading for the sky.
Uh-oh. Prices at the pump are falling like a rock.
Gasoline is now less than $3 a gallon and looking like it will go even lower as the price of crude continues to plummet.
So how do you sell electric cars? Or introduce diesels as an attractive alternative to gasoline? Or launch an aluminum truck with downsized drivetrains?
What's a car guy to do?
The only workable option seems to be to stay the course. You have to assume that this is an aberration. Fuel prices are not going to stay low forever.
What does seem certain, Republican Congress or not, is that car companies selling in the U.S. face a formidable target of 54.5 mpg that isn't going away.
Can the government help? It can continue to subsidize EVs and perhaps offer even higher tax incentives. Alternative fuels could get the same sort of increased tax incentives. That probably wouldn't work, but the feds could try.
However, if ever there were a time to raise tax dollars to rebuild U.S. roads and bridges and other infrastructure, this is it.
With so many international hot spots near crisis, the last thing the car industry needs is falling U.S. gasoline prices to add to the global uncertainty.
But it has happened before. No doubt it will happen again. Energy prices will always rise and fall.
As tough as it will be, auto companies must focus on the long-term picture and ignore the current energy situation.
Somehow car companies are going to have to balance low fuel prices today and high fuel standards for tomorrow.
It won't be easy, but they must stay the course.