Right for the Wrong Reasons?

Here’s interesting news from the North American International Auto Show: Automobile manufacturers would like the federal government to raise the tax on gasoline. From USA Today:

The carmakers acknowledge that raising the gas tax is an unpopular idea, but they also saw how fast consumer preference shifted toward small cars when gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon last summer. Without that economic incentive, the tide is turning back to bigger cars, crossovers and trucks.

And that could be a problem for automakers such as General Motors, (GM) which are investing millions to get fuel-saving technology on the road. At the North American International Auto Show Monday, GM CEO Rick Wagoner said taxing gas or providing rebates on fuel-efficient cars “is going to be the most effective way to move the needle fast.”

Gas now is taxed at the federal level at 18.4 cents a gallon. States tack on their own taxes, as do some metro areas. But the total pales in comparison with what European drivers pay. Taxes are about 60% of the pump price in Europe — pushing fuel prices as high as $6 a gallon now.

Yes. A gas tax. It could pay for needed infrastructure improvements. And it could pay to help encourage people to burn calories instead of carbon.

Detroit just wants to sell cars. That’s fine, if we’re talking hybrids and electrics — exactly the kind of cars the manufacturers are apparently feeling forced to produce.

Here’s an interesting observation from an article in The New York Times yesterday headlined Detroit Goes for Electric Cars, But Will Drivers?:

Ford plans to make only 10,000 of the electric vehicles a year at first — very few by Detroit standards — to test the market cautiously.

How many?

And just guess what they will cost.

Can you say “guaranteed failure”?

Ah, but not so fast. You see that’s where the whole tax thing comes in. Higher gas prices will “encourage” (well-to-do) drivers to choose higher-priced electrics — maybe. What’s Joe the Hourly Wage Workin’ Dude going to do?

I’m all for electrics and hybrids. I’m more all for people getting out of cars (of any kind) and onto bicycles, public transportation, or their own two feet. And higher gas prices could make this possible by providing the money needed to pay for active and public transportation infrastructure. If the car manufacturers manage to offer a reasonably-priced electric on top of all that, well, then that’s great.

And this brings me to my conclusion: A reminder about the Missouri Bicycle Federation’s A Vision of Active Transportation in Missouri that was issued last fall. We can’t wait for a higher gas tax (unlikely) and electric cars to solve our transportation problems. We have to get a chunk — a big chunk — of the federal stimulus package to build infrastructure for a post-oil world (which, BTW, will be a better world). There’s a new website dedicated to this effort called Stimulus Bike. Check it out.

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Comments 4

  1. Abhishek wrote:

    I hope this does not take focus away from public transportation and bicycle infrastructure.

    Posted 13 Jan 2009 at 3:31 pm
  2. Andy Cline wrote:

    Shek… It depends upon if the mfgs push this, which I doubt. This simply sounds like a trade show trial balloon to me.

    Posted 13 Jan 2009 at 4:10 pm
  3. Andy wrote:

    Thanks for linking to my site! It’s small now, but as more details are released and as the stimulus package becomes the forefront of the news in the next few weeks, this should grow immensely. Thanks again.

    -Andy

    Posted 13 Jan 2009 at 4:21 pm
  4. Andy Cline wrote:

    A.- You bet. Good luck!

    Posted 13 Jan 2009 at 4:38 pm