Will US Automakers Take Obama’s Challenge?

President Obama will soon get the government directive issued through federal regulators to set strict automobile emission and fuel efficiency standards.

The Obama-Biden comprehensive New Energy for America plan on White House website includes a target to put ‘1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America’. The government will also create a new $7,000 tax credit for purchasing advanced vehicles.

Will US automakers take up this technological challenge? It will mean a lot of investment in the development of new technologies in a time when almost all of them are almost bankrupt financially and there is hardly anyone but the government to bail them out. It is also time taking.

California wants to reduce the emissions by 30 percent by 2016 to address global warming. California wants carmakers to use paints that reflect more heat, tires that roll smoother and improved air conditioning to boost efficiency beyond the fuel mileage requirements. Researchers will have to work extensively for cutting down the weight of the vehicles with high strength light weight materials, for improving combustion efficiency, and other breakthrough innovations to improve fuel efficiency. US automakers must shun the idea to live on the traditional fossil fuel as main driver and hybrid and hydrogen cell must commercially replace gasoline.

Many other states also want to follow California that basically represent over half the population of the United States. It requires the auto manufacturers to produce and sell vehicles that are 30 percent cleaner. Automakers have only one point reason for not committing- the changes could add substantially to sticker prices. However, according to Mary Nichols, California’s top air quality regulator, it would add a little over $100 to the price of car, and the improvements would pay off within a year through improved efficiency. I wish automakers see the reason behind the need for new technologies for cutting fuel consumption as well as making the vehicles cleaner.

Automakers historically have been producing vehicles based on the bosses’ whims and must now make vehicles with features that match customer preferences and save the mother earth from the ills of the emissions.

It is certainly difficult task for General Motors and Chrysler that were close to declaring bankruptcy. I don’t think US and US automakers are lacking talents for coming out with the engineering breakthroughs that can make them the leader of the auto world. However, it seems the management in driving seats is not ready to change its old mindsets. It requires disruptive innovation both for the product and manufacturing processes. It will have to here after build flexible and lean manufacturing based capacity. It must take the help of the government and union to get over the huge legacy costs. It will have to develop product line-ups that can compete in every respect with the European, Japanese and Korean, who knows Chinese vehicles. The immediate problem of steep drop in demand for automobiles is in all the critical markets worldwide. But US automakers with their presence in almost all these markets has an advantage to pull together the synergies of its talents from all corner to solve its long term problems. Americans, in general, already have started preferring smaller compact vehicles.

I wish Obama’s priority and focus on clean vehicle initiatives make the US automakers take up the challenge and succeed to prove that Americans are really indomitable. I wonder why not US automakers should lead the world when its superiority in engineering and science is well established. It is also strange, as US engineering institutes work in very closely with the industries. Perhaps it is because US no more gets a Henry Ford.

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