Issue: Mar 2003

Kobes Beef

It's So Obvious

by Gerry Kobe

If NHTSA Chief, Dr. Jeffrey Runge is indeed a ?doctor? he must be a proctologist. Because when it comes to the auto industry he has a knack for pulling things out of his?uh?his hat. Yeah, that?s it, his hat. Last December, NHTSA proposed raising CAFE standards for pickups, vans and SUVs from 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg. The standard would rise to 21.0 mpg in 2005, 21.6 in 2006 and 22.7 in 2007. The good ?doctor? even says he wants to go higher after that.

Well I?ve got my checkbook out and I?m going to send Doc Runge a donation with which he can purchase a clue about vehicle development.

Let?s see, he wants to make changes effective 2005? Has anybody told him that automakers are already introducing 2004 models? Is he aware that 2005 models are completely defined? Do you think it might shock him to know that automakers need to investigate technologies, engineer designs, choose vendors, build prototypes, test, make tooling, do durability testing, tune and then do half of it all over again for different vehicle applications? Does it click in his mind that different engines need different solutions? Is anybody home? Hello?

First of all, somebody has to limit NHTSA?s authority to a minimum of five years out. If Runge were talking about making improvements in 2008, I wouldn?t have any squawk with it. But he isn?t. Furthermore, he is not technically astute enough to understand the ramifications of what he says. He just blurts out a number based on input from a group of men who couldn?t engineer a program if their lives depended on it. Then he holds a press conference and mumbles something about CAFE and national security, using fear to build momentum for his bad idea.

That?s got to stop.

Secondly, the way NHTSA throws accolades at Toyota and Honda makes me think it must have a bust of Benedict Arnold in the foyer that everyone pats on the head on their way into work. Hey, I love Toyotas and Hondas as much as the next guy, but for the most part they don?t even build vehicles in the segments that are being most affected by this. And certainly the few that are affected are not in the volumes things like F-Series or GM?s full-size truck line-up.

Of course the Japanese embrace the higher CAFE standards. It doesn?t affect them and it?s way of inflicting pain on U.S. manufacturers and crippling our competitiveness. Wake up Doc.

And by the way, I don?t care if the product planners at Toyota and Honda hurl invectives at me for saying this, but their trucks and SUVs don?t even come close to meeting the same duty cycle as the U.S. products that consumers clamor for. Give me a nice 4X4 dieselpowered Suburban or V-10 Excursion and let?s play tug-of-war if you don?t believe me. I?ll drag their high-mileage Japanese SUVs from here to kingdom come and there won?t be anything they can do about it until I unhook them. So let?s not compare apples to oranges.

Lastly, NHTSA has been historically out in left field when it comes to estimating the cost of any CAFE or safety initiative and it?s playing deep on the warning track for this one as well. First it makes false assumptions that ?stacking? technologies on any given powertrain will yield the same total improvement as each technology taken individually and then added together. These guys need to go back to engineering 101, because there is no basis in science to support that. So automakers always must do more than NHTSA ?guesstimates,? generating additional cost and undeserved criticism.

NHTSA and Runge need to come to grips with the fact that none of this makes sense unless there is a market pull, which is where NHTSA?s effort would best be served. The Japanese and Europeans are not ahead of us CAFE because they are smarter or more concerned, they have better numbers because their fuel costs $5 a gallon and people are willing to drive smaller vehicles and pay for fuel saving technology. It?s so obvious.

\"Frank has been working on a new hands-free coffee mug.\"

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