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Readers Debate the Perfect Car

Steven Mufson writes this morning that automobile manufacturers here and abroad haven't figured out how to make money building fuel-saving hybrid or plug-in electric automobiles. That's a problem because we all know we need to break our gasoline addiction even if prices at the pump are way down at the moment.

On the eve of what is traditionally America's busiest travel day, this article has attracted a lot of attention from our Readers Who Comment. They argue about whether the technology will reach the point that profitable cars can be sold for reasonable prices. Some want a higher gas tax to encourage development of alternatives, as does the Post's editorial board. Some want plug-ins but others worry that electric vehicles will result in more pollution from the burning of coal needed to produce the electricity.

There are proponents for more diesel or natural-gas powered vehicles, and one suggestion for a return the 55 mph speed limit.

We'll start with ramash_rays, who wrote, "Plug in cars may not seem viable at this stage,but future cars have to be like that. If you have to come out of the clutches of big oil companies and save the environment as well, there is no other option..."

AMjaepstein63 suggested that "Now is the time for a significant gas tax in this country. We could add a nickel per month for the next 24 months, to yield $1.20. This will make our gas price reflect the true cost to our treasury..."

Lizardo agreed, proposing "...a tax on gas such that the pump price is never low again. That will take some courage to do. But the argument is right, car companies can't make cars no one will buy."

zcezcest1 added, "...there are many countries around the world which do tax gas at a high rate. Plug-in hybrids in these countries will be welcome...
You create that incentive via gas taxes. Both at the pump and in the showroom for low mileage vehicles."

msbhong wrote, "All products based on new technology are expensive until the manufacturers refine those at lower production costs and sell at lower costs... Hybrid or alternative-fuel automobiles will be no eception..."

But billmosby warned, "You sound so sure about that. Successful products have followed this path, true... But there are no guarantees about which products will be successful financially..."

sillyteam asked, "Why are we not making more diesel cars. The technology is proven and a diesal is 40% more effiecent then a gasoline engine."

But cpwash said, "I don't want a hybrid as it's too expensive. I want a pure all electric car. No more gasoline! No more oil changes! No more expensive maintenance!..."

nativewashingtoian predicted that "China or Japan will come out with a Great all electric car that is under 30K and leave the American auto industry in the dust"

But EuroAm warned that "...Around 80% of the nation's electricity is still generated by burning COAL. Everybody buy a plug-in electric car and let's burn more coal. After all, mining, precessing, transporting and burning coal is ever so much better for the environment and the economy than drilling, pumping, distilling, transporting and burning oil - not!..."

mrlewish said, "Apparently the big 3 are incapable of making a conventional car at a profit also."

And albers1 asked, "Why not stopping developing the horribly expensive American cars...."

But _virginian_ responded, saying, "albers, you do know why American cars are "horribly expensive," right? Because of the unions! Each American car starts off with a $1500 per car deficit as compared to the Japanese because of union labor and legacy costs..."

rgould22 wrote, "So lets say that electric cars could magically start coming off the assembly line tomorrow and that people could actually afford to buy them. What is going to happen when they all get plugged in at 6pm after the commute home?......The currently overtaxed power grid is going to collapse..."

And grobinette said, "And how do they think we will generate all the additional electricity for these new vehicles without causing more polution?
Electric cars are a poor short term solution. Hydrogen or fuel cells would be a better bet."

runjay questioned the article's statement that Toyota is "widely believed by analysts to be losing money" on each Prius hybrid. "You can hear the same scam used with WMD," runjay wrote, "Note that the "analysts" are not named - no hard data is given..."

chrisrevett said, "Of course the Prius is making a loss at the moment. The Japanese are prepared to accept this at present knowing fully well the way the future is going... It's a pity that Western enterprises don't seem to have this patience..."

We'll close with a proposal that was one of the least successful attempts to modify American behavior in my lifetime. jailkkhosla asked, "Why not limit speeds to 55 mph? That will drop gas consumption by 30% and bring gas prices well below the current $2..."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  November 25, 2008; 7:44 AM ET
Categories:  Auto Industry  | Tags: Auto Industry, gasoline tax  
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If people had an honest source of information, there would be less problems in gaining accord. If we had electric cars, coal would not be the only source of electricity and if it were it would not have to contribute to pollution and we may even want to warm the Earth a bit. Remember the new buzz term is "climate change." You can hide a lot in that box.
As for size, some will always want to be in a size war and perhaps they should drive 18 wheelers. Others will go for the logic that equal small cars will not harm other small cars.

This is an information problem, not one for engineers. So the papers can help us the most - if they do their job.

Posted by: gary4books | December 1, 2008 6:07 AM | Report abuse

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