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GM Does Make A High Mileage Car
You just can't buy it in the USA. From a story by Asjylyn Loder in the St. Pete Times:

Drivers looking for a best-selling car that gets better than 30 miles to the gallon might find that car in a surprising place: General Motors, the nation's No. 1 automaker and one of the leading opponents of raising mileage requirements on U.S. cars.

There's a catch, of course. GM sells the Opel Astra only in Europe, where GM and other U.S. automakers average near 35 mpg - the same target they argue they can't reach here by 2020.

In Europe, Latin America and Asia, Detroit's automakers have seen profits even as their North American divisions struggle. Much of their overseas success relies on smaller cars with better mileage, often in models that aren't offered in the United States.

...But will Americans buy them?

...Consumer taste is the oft-ignored crucible where the success or failure of CAFE standards will be decided. That's because the federal government judges compliance not on what automakers build, but on what American drivers buy.

Technically, the CAFE standard is "sales weighted." In layman's terms, that means the American love for trucks drags down the gains made by Prius-driving do-gooders.

"It ain't just the manufacturers that are the bad guys," said Dennis Simanaitis, engineering editor of Road & Track magazine. "It's us. We're the enemy. We're the ones who've been buying these things."

More on cars: Mickey Kaus completely lacks confidence "that GM will capitalize successfully on any technological lead it has." Turns out we're not only paying huge costs for US autoworkers' healthcare, he found "about $1000" in costs per vehicle "not related to health care (or 'legacy' pensions, for that matter)":

I don't begrudge Detroit auto workers six-digit pay packages--unlike some professors, I don't think it odd that they make more than professors. It's harder work! But I also don't see why they should necessarily make more than Toyota's hard-working American autoworkers. And as a car consumer, every time I see a nice Detroit vehicle I might want to buy--the Ford Mustang and Pontiac Solstice come to mind--and then I see the tacky materials used in the interior, I think about how much more appealing the car would be if I didn't have to pay $1,000/vehicle in extra costs to finance the UAW's work rules, etc. (with the grand going to buy higher quality plastics or to lower the price). Toyotas don't have this problem--I'm more confident the money I spend will efficiently go into the car I buy.

Update: This better-than-MSM Automotive News article--free at the moment, with registration--argues that the coming UAW-Detroit negotiations will actually start the process of bringing GM, Ford, and Chrysler's labor costs down a notch to Toyota's level. In effect, argues David Sedgwick, we still have "pattern bargaining," it's just that non-union Toyota sets the pattern. ... But isn't it just as likely that, in the toothpulling process by which the UAW is forced to climb down from above-Toyota labor costs, the concessions will be too little, too late--or rather, just enough to keep current workers employed but not enough to actually let GM make significant anti-Toyota inroads?

Posted by aalkon at August 14, 2007 8:31 AM


Miles per gallon ... will that be a US gallon, or an Imperial gallon, which is about 20% larger? Just about the same as the difference between 30 mpg and 35 mpg.

Let's hear it for metrication!

Posted by: Norman at August 14, 2007 5:50 AM

Toyota leading the way. That's gotta frost the America First! crowd.

Although the CEO of Toyota said a few years back that he was worried about Detroit, and if Toyota remained too competitive against them, they could find themselves on the receiving end of government action to save the domestics.

If it ends up being Toyota that saves GM, that will be precisely ironic. Doubly so when you consider that a Toyota Camry is more American made than a Chevy Malibu.

Posted by: brian at August 14, 2007 6:13 AM

In my opinion there are three types of americans who have big cars. There are Americans who drive trucks/suvs/vans because they regularly carry cargo that could not fit into a smaller vehicle and/or require offroading capabilities. (Children are not "cargo" unless you have more than 3.) There are Americans who themselves do not fit into smaller vehicles (Me). And then there are people who drive these cars for, as far as I can tell no discernable reason. (For instance everyone on Cribs.)

Posted by: Shinobi at August 14, 2007 6:56 AM

"That's because the federal government judges compliance not on what automakers build, but on what American drivers buy."

This simply baffles me - why is the damn federal government involved in the first place? We are supposed to be a country with relatively free markets, yet the federal government is telling GM what they can make and sell. It sounds like GM has more freedom to market its product overseas than it does here. For chrissake. Where is Galt's Gulch when we need it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the USA is no longer in the top ten list of economically free nations.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at August 14, 2007 7:55 AM

I am the type of American that grew up in L.A. in the 50s and 60s. One needed to own more than one car just in case (ever tried to get around L.A. without a car?). Today I am old and selfish: a Buick Lucerne to drive because I am old, a GMC pickup to pull my fishing boat (why would I want to put a trailer hitch on my Buick) and a 1959 Porsche Cabriolet (couldn't pull the boat with a trailer hitch).

Posted by: Dave at August 14, 2007 7:55 AM

As for government standards for clean air, the problem is that what you drive affects the breathing of the rest of us. Whether your Hummer is red or hot pink, however, is none of anyone's business.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 14, 2007 8:17 AM

Tell me Pirate Jo are you also as upset about the government telling companies they cant dump toxic waste on your street?

Posted by: lujlp at August 14, 2007 9:36 AM

Would companies dump toxic waste on someone's street, lujlp?

Posted by: Joe at August 14, 2007 11:10 AM

And if the government didn't set building standards, would people suddenly start building houses without roofs? I sometimes wonder how much of this is a case of the fool jumping in front of the parade and claiming to lead it.

Anyway, it still makes no sense. GM builds big trucks and SUVs, which sit unpurchased on American car lots, because people don't want to spend so much for gas. Except in Europe, where they sell fuel-efficient cars, which the government won't let them to sell here? So Americans buy fuel-efficient Toyotas and Hondas?

Posted by: Pirate Jo at August 14, 2007 11:11 AM

I cant quite imagine an American fitting into a Ford Ka.

Posted by: PurplePen at August 14, 2007 11:34 AM

Jo - Contrary to the accepted wisdom, a good number of cars that are on the road in Europe aren't here because they don't meet our stringent safety standards.

How do you think they get the mileage they do? They strip a whole lot of metal off, like those 5 mph bumpers, side impact beams, etc.

You'll notice that the cars that DO meet our safety requirements (Volvo for one) get about the same mileage in their European incarnations as their US.

Posted by: brian at August 14, 2007 11:50 AM

Tangental thought on pensions ... the idea that people would be able to (let alone be ENTITLED to) retire and spend the last thirty years of their lives not working is relatively new. The whole concept is hugely unrealistic for the vast majority of people, including myself.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at August 14, 2007 11:52 AM

where GM and other U.S. automakers average near 35 mpg - the same target they argue they can't reach here by 2020.

The profit margins for SUVs are much higher than those for smaller cars. Could this explain GM's resistance?

Posted by: Doobie at August 14, 2007 12:49 PM

Doobie - the profit margin on an unsold SUV is negative.

Posted by: brian at August 14, 2007 1:21 PM

Hmmmm ... well, if you are driving a small, economical car and get plowed into by a gigantic SUV, you are pretty much hosed either way. So you could make the argument that the giant SUV's should be regulated against. But taking that argument a step further, someone riding a bicycle is is hosed regardless of what kind of vehicle they get hit by, and I'd never advocate regulating all vehicles off the road just for cyclists like me. Anyway, SUVs don't kill people, idiot drivers swerving around carrying a passel of kids while yakking on cell phones kill people ...

Posted by: Pirate Jo at August 14, 2007 3:23 PM

Being from the midwest I can attest to driving big vehicles. I drove a GMC Suburban (because I had six kids to haul around) and my husband drove a GMC Diesel Pickup (becuase he was a contractor). And our gasoline bill for a month would rival some peoples mortgage payments. This was in 2005.

But we now live in Okinawa Japan. There isn't a vehicle here that could compare to a suburban. The large personal passenger vehicle I've seen is a small minivan. And most of those are driven by americans. The typical Okinawan drives a sub-sub compact vehicle. But then I'm told gas on the local economy cost around $7/gallon.

If we americans are not changing our driving habits then gasoline isn't to expensive yet.

When I return to the states in 2009, my plan is to purchase a smaller car that get great gas mileage and I plan to live close to where I work and where my children will go to school.

Posted by: nobbinsd at August 14, 2007 5:08 PM

Doobie - the profit margin on an unsold SUV is negative.

I was referring to sold SUVs. They are still selling, although in smaller numbers.

Posted by: Doobie at August 14, 2007 10:39 PM

When I was in Italy in the early 90s, gas was over $5. It's definitely not expensive enough here yet for a lot of people to make a substantive change in their driving. Part of the problem, though, is that it's not safe on the road thanks to the asshats on cellphones (or even worse, texting while driving), to get, say, a Zapcar, or drive a motorcycle, is safety-prohibitive.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 14, 2007 10:47 PM

Conceivably, if you have alternative power (solar, for example) you could power a vehicle without any fossile fuel.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 14, 2007 10:50 PM

Well, joe lets assume I own property upstream from a large auqifer that locals use for irrigation, drinking water, and a fishing hole.

Now without government regulations a company could lease a corner of my property to store noxious materials with out bothering to dispose of them in an enviornmentally safe manner.

And should the material contaminate the local area and cause death, destruction, and birth defects, well its kinda hard to sue a mulimillion dollar industy when they havent done anything illegal - hell it isnt that easy to sue when they have

Posted by: lujlp at August 14, 2007 11:09 PM

"There's a catch, of course. GM sells the Opel Astra only in Europe, where GM and other U.S. automakers average near 35 mpg - the same target they argue they can't reach here by 2020."

Just an FYI, the Opel Astra will becoming to America later this year as the Saturn Astra.

Adam Denison
Social Media Communications
General Motors, Corp.

Posted by: Adam Denison at August 15, 2007 5:49 AM

Tell us about the Opal's emissions.

Posted by: Crid at August 15, 2007 8:08 AM

Crid - if it's going to be sold here, it will have to meet US emissions standards. If memory serves, CARB (California's regulating body on such matters) standards are more stringent than anywhere else in the world. And with more states adopting California emissions requirements, most cars already meet CARB standards since it's more of a pain in the ass to have two or more models with differing emissions equipment.

Posted by: brian at August 15, 2007 9:52 AM

> Tell us about the Opel's emissions.

Preferably the ones that occur during the daytime.

Posted by: Doobie at August 16, 2007 1:51 AM

Opel emissions:

Opel's diesel particulate filter reduces particulate emissions to almost zero. The innovative DPF is integrated in the electronic engine management system. It operates without decreasing performance or increasing fuel consumption and represents state-of-the-art technology: the Opel DPF does not require fuel additives, thereby avoiding the disadvantages of other systems. A further benefit of Opel's DPF system is that it is completely maintenance-free over the entire vehicle life-cycle.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 16, 2007 3:30 AM

My 1981 Isuzu I Mark sat 4 and got almost 48 mpg. It was slow and not overly sturdy, but 500 miles to the tank. I stopped driving it when I found out it was made by the same company that made the Zero motors that tried to kill everyone in my family 40 years before. But thanks to al gords carbon offset buy back program, not only can I buy my way to feeling better about myself, he offers a nifty deal on slightly used 'indulgences' that I can buy my way out of hell with. Of course, being a 3 headed dog that sits at the entrance, that does seem a little silly.

Posted by: Cerebus at August 16, 2007 3:07 PM

Take GasDandy for a road test!

GasDandy is an easy-to-use tool that tracks a vehicle’s mileage and maintenance information, providing data that can be used for both business and personal purposes. By making these figures readily available, the program also gives the consumer the opportunity to save money and to proactively identify problems that can shorten the life of their vehicle(s). Download a free trial version of GasDandy today at

Posted by: Dandy at August 27, 2007 11:47 AM

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