'Detroit' Is a Global Force, and It's No Laggard
Editorial writers are fond of targeting "Detroit" as if it were a single entity producing cars and trucks, most of them of suspect quality, safety and environmental compatibility.
It is a convenient stereotype, useful in making a point, even one dulled by inaccuracy and bias.
A case in point is an editorial, "Detroit's Complacency," published in The Post on Thursday, June 3. The gist of the argument is that "Detroit" is lagging behind such companies as Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. in the production of fuel-efficient vehicles, such as Toyota's gas-electric hybrid Prius sedan.
Specifically, the editorial chides Ford Motor Co.'s plan to begin selling its Escape gas-electric sport-utility vehicle this summer, which the editorial writers called "an oddly American" approach to fuel economy, "like low-tar cigarettes or low-carb bread." And the editorial claims that "there is no question that the Japanese were there first" with the concept of gas-electric vehicles.
GM designs and produces some cars with Toyota at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. in Fremont, Calif., where the fuel-efficient, compact Pontiac Vibe (37 miles per gallon) is produced. The Vibe's mechanical and structural twin, the fuel-efficient, compact Toyota Matrix wagon (37 miles per gallon), was also co-designed with Toyota, which assembles it in Cambridge, Ontario. GM's new V-6 Saturn Vue SUV runs with a Honda-supplied engine. Honda, in turn, is relying on GM's expertise in the development of more complicated and substantially more expensive fuel-saving technology, hydrogen fuel cells.
What does that mean for gas-electrics? Simply this: The Japanese were not the inventors of gas-electric vehicles, which have been around, in one form or another, since Nov. 23, 1905, when the first recorded patent was issued for that technology. It went to American engineer H. Piper, according to extensive research on the matter done by the editors at www.autoMedia.com
There also were alcohol-electric cars developed by the Compagnie Parisienne des Voitures Electriques (Paris Electric Car Co.) in the early 1900s. In the same time frame, Austria's Ferdinand Porsche, then a young engineer with Jacob Lohner & Co., developed a system for putting electric motors in the wheel hubs of vehicles also powered by gasoline engines. Also, around the same time, America's General Electric Co. built a hybrid vehicle with a four-cylinder gasoline engine.
In short, gas-electrics -- which are by no means the most fuel-efficient hybrids -- have many parents, many of them "Detroit"-type Americans. Of course, Toyota and Honda are to be credited with pushing that technology into marketable production in the late 1990s. But it is a factual error to assert, even in that case, that the Japanese were alone in perfecting that technology. It was a matter of cooperative development involving American and Japanese car companies.
Largely unquestioning American media have hailed gas-electric vehicles as the ultimate fuel savers while ignoring the reality that Toyota, for example, simply is playing to the U.S. market.
While it is winning kudos in the United States for gas-electrics, for example, Toyota in Europe is pushing its advanced diesel vehicles, such as the Avensis sedan.
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