It’s official. American cars are no longer king. This past quarter, for the first time in history, a foreign auto maker — Toyota — has surpassed General Motors in sales. The legendary former Chrysler Chairman, Lee Iacocca, brought Chrysler back from the the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1980s and was largely responsible for the rise of the mini-van. In an interview with NPR this morning, he had some telling thoughts about where Detroit went wrong.
“We didn’t adapt fast enough . . . We were on a joy ride with free oil, almost.”
Iacocca suggested that the American auto industry missed the writing on the wall about energy efficiency as the frontier for the future of the automotive industry. “I’ve become a real fan in the last year of plug-in hybrids . . . I think that’s the wave of the next five years, big time. Plug-in hybrids” And he oughta know.
I’m ready. I’ve only been holding off on trading in the Camry for a Prius because of rumors that off-the-shelf plug-ins may be available within a few years. But, like other ancient and gigantic creatures, Detroit’s venerable auto makers move slowly. And so does the market. Maybe we need a kick in the pants. According to Iacocca:
“Everybody was waiting for the millennium, meaning we gotta have hydrogen. Well, you’re not gonna have hydrogen. It sounds good. I’d say that’s maybe 25 years off. It seems to me we need something like the Manhattan Project. We need some urgency saying, ‘Here’s what we should be doing. We’ve got to get off fossil fuels.'”
What changed his mind? Are you ready for this? Watching An Inconvenient Truth. “I hate to say it, maybe Al Gore did. I used to think he was nutty . . . He stuck with his principle, though. He’ll be remembered for triggering a real look at what we’re doing to the planet . . . I never thought I’d pay bucks to go see a power point presentation. That’s what it was. You went to school! (laughs)”
“We should have done more hybrids.”
Hail to the chief.