Bring them home

In talking about the troubles of the American auto industry, two key points have been repeatedly made that would appear to be paradoxically accurate. (1) To allow the failure of this gigantically important industry would be a cataclysmic financial disaster. (2) If ever there was an industry that deserved to croak because it became a dumb, lumbering stegasaurous, that’s it.

It’s now assumed that what most Americans want to see out of Motown are nice little cars that are zippy, comfy, reliable and far less thirsty. One thing should be pointed out immediately: The Big Three do indeed have some SUVs. A few. In the category of Best Gas Mileage for 2009 Small Cars, GM has two that tie for 10th place. Both get 27 mpg urban and 34 mpg on the highway. Not bad. Ford has one respectable entry here, which gets 24 mpg city and 35 highway. In this group of 92 rated cars, 19, or about 20 percent, are from Detroit. Not really impressive, but not completely feeble, either. General Motors is the only member of the B3, though, that’s trying: Of those 19 models, 17 come from GM. Ford only has two on the list, and Chrysler puts up a big ole zero.

So, yeah, there appears to be room for improvement when it comes to American automakers getting in touch with certain realities of the modern age. Here’s a thought. Maybe they oughta look at the cars they make for, and in, Europe. It’s not as if they’d have to start from scratch. They’re already making the dang things! Example: GM’s Opel Insignia was just named the European Car of the Year for 2009. Not a Mercedes, not a BMW, not an Alfa Romeo. An Opel, from GM. Example: Ford just started selling its new Fiesta Econetic, a zippy new subcompact that seats five, has a full navigation system, and gets gas mileage that can put a serious whuppin’ on a Prius. As in 65 freakin’ mpg. So why, pray tell, has Ford decided that this new car, which would appear to be exactly what the proverbial doctor ordered, should be sold in Europe, and Europe alone? “We know it’s an awesome vehicle,” said Ford America prez Mark Fields, “but there are business reasons why we can’t sell it in the U.S.” Translation: The Econetic runs on diesel, and Ford is convinced that Americans remain hostile to diesel. Also, Ford is undoubtedly concerned that the profit margin might be a bit slim on a car that would sell for around $25k.

Yes, there are loads of emissions and safety regulations that are keeping all these smart, zippy U.S. cars made by Ford and GM from being sold here. Perhaps the time has come for everybody—government agencies, automakers, and us consumers—to make a concerted effort to get these logs unstuck and move ’em on down the river.