We need to talk.
Not about personal relationships, but about the auto industry.
Our current glorious, exhilarating ride is headed down an unsustainable track. We can't just keep sticking a straw into the earth forever, not with global auto sales at 85 million a year and rising. You know it. I know it. We all know it.
I'm not suggesting getting off the gravy train, but rather having an adult conversation about where to steer.
That's tough. While we reluctantly recognize the chaos ahead, we can't see which of many paths we'll take on the other side. After a century of personal transportation favoring privately owned automobiles, anything else seems downright scary.
And look at the sudden flood of options to the gasoline-powered, piston-engine car in the family garage. New body styles. Alternative fuels. New propulsion systems. Car-sharing. Ride-sharing. Autonomous vehicles. Rich and tech-savvy competitors entering the car biz.
In an industry in which the last new rival not backed by a major government was Henry Kaiser in the 1940s, this much this fast is a terrible shock. No automaker -- not even those building 10 million autos a year -- can master every emerging technology.
The prevailing strategy is the fast-follower mode: Dabble in everything, focus on a few likely winners and be ready to jump on the bandwagon of whatever takes off. It works, but it's expensive.
Meanwhile, look at the weird place the auto industry is in.
Next week in Paris, United Nations Climate Change Conference delegates will debate whether reports of atmospheric carbon dioxide reaching 400 parts per million has really crossed the threshold of irreversible climate change.
Next week in the U.S., automakers will sprint toward finishing what may be the best-ever auto sales year here, selling all the big pickups, SUVs and 700-hp sedans they can.
Even climate change skeptics must recognize that public perception is changing. Auto buyers are demanding space and features, but fuel economy, too.
Frankly, automakers should be grateful for those strict 2025 fuel economy rules. Without them, automakers could be lulled by cheap fuel and market demand into scrimping on fuel-efficiency research.
I'm less worried about a 1970s-style energy shock than a sudden public attitude swing.
The auto industry might be only a few superstorms from stampeding away from gas guzzlers.
For now, absolutely make the most of the longest U.S. auto sales boom since the 1920s. Milk it for every penny. But recognize it's a fluke and salt away reserves.
And keep researching those greener cars. We're going to need them.