Listening to the recent rhetoric from the Detroit 3, you'd think the auto industry had been bleeding red ink since striking the CAFE agreement with the Obama administration, sitting on acres of unsalable wind-powered golf carts and handing out pink slips by the millions.
On the contrary, the latest CAFE round has coincided with rather robust growth in jobs, sales, profits, horsepower and fuel economy.
These may not all be correlated, but clearly, higher profits, better product and environmental progress can coexist. The industry is far more capable than its executives admit.
Case in point: The new Chevrolet Cruze diesel, which just notched a highway rating of 52 mpg. Assuming they're not cheating (alas, we must apply this boilerplate industrywide now), GM's engineers are achieving what the industry lobby suggests is too difficult.
Did GM have to mortgage its headquarters to hit that number? No, but it will charge a reasonable premium for the things that make its clean emissions and mpg miracle possible, pushing the car's price to about $25,000. The people who want it will have to pay for it.
And that's the right way to deal with the cost of fuel-saving technology. Don't backtrack or complain about it; we've come too far for that. Rather, accept it, itemize it on the vehicle sticker and charge for it. Let the consumer pay the price at the dealership and reap the rewards over time at the filling station.
Consumers who swear by their trucks -- which require ever-more-sophisticated efficiency solutions -- should be prepared to subsidize the investments that make big advances in efficiency possible. Call it a gas-guzzler tax, but this tax should accrue to the automakers and trickle down to r&d and the engineers who are actually getting the job done.
Ultimately, all of society must bear some cost for having contributed to global climate change and the deterioration of air quality.
Better to pay it in dollars than the way they do it in New Delhi and Beijing, by inching closer to death with every breath.