Thursday, October 4, 2007

Alex Taylor Takes Friedman behind the Lexus and the Olive Tree and spanks him

It's rare to see the liberal-biased media take to task a liberal...especially...when it comes to the issues of our dependence on foreign oil and/or global warming.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (who is from the Twin Cities by the way) perpetuates some convenient untruths about fuel economy, and Fortune's Alex Taylor III calls him out.

I hesitate to pick a fight with a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. On the critical issue of developing a national energy policy to lessen our consumption of imported oil, he's been early, smart, and right.

But Friedman whiffed in his Times column yesterday, called "Et Tu, Toyota," by hauling out one of the hoariest of urban myths: That forcing higher fuel economy standards on American car buyers is what's needed to encourage more energy-efficient vehicles and make Detroit more competitive with its import competitors.

That's wrong...and wrong. Forcing people to buy more efficient cars by ordering car companies to make them is like forcing people to lose weight by banning food companies from selling Big Macs and pizzas.

Friedman's second argument, that "Detroit's failure to sell more energy-efficient vehicles has clearly contributed to its brush with bankruptcy" is baloney, too.

Some of the points that Friedman makes to buttress his arguments are misleading. He praises Japan and Europe for auto fleets that have much better mileage standards than the U.S. without mentioning the fact that driving conditions are different - try steering a Lincoln Navigator through a medieval village in Italy - and gasoline taxes in those countries are so high that people are willing to squeeze into small cars.

Friedman also perpetuates the far-fetched notion that Toyota (Charts) has a responsibility to lead the charge for higher fuel economy standards. Toyota is successful precisely because it lets the market dictate its product offerings.

As Toyota spokesman Irv Miller points out, "You can't bankrupt the industry if you want it to invest in our environmental future."

UAW - are you listening?

It has been argued here before that if the government wants to be serious about improving fuel economy, all it has to do is boost the tax on gasoline. The revenue generated could be rebated to lower-income drivers who are truly disadvantaged or invested in mass transit. The auto companies aren't going to argue for such a tax because it would give them a black eye with consumers. And the government won't do it either, because of its anti-tax bias.

But Friedman, using his column as a bully pulpit, could argue for such a tax with impunity.

And it would be a whole lot more effective than perpetuating the old myth about the ignorant luddites in Detroit who are withholding the small, fuel-sipping cars that Americans really want to buy.

Update: more from Autoblog

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