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Instead of Going Bankrupt, Detroit Innovates and Goes Green

J. Mijin Cha

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's father George Romney, former chairman of American Motors, on the cover of TIMEMitt Romney famously wrote an op-ed in the New York Times a few years back called, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” In it, he argued against the auto bailout by claiming that Detroit would fail if given a bailout. Well, someone might want to show him the latest numbers the U.S. auto industry is posting. Auto sales rose again in March and are nearly 13 percent higher than March 2011. Not only are people buying American cars, they are buying greener cars.

In an example of learning the lessons of past crises, since 2007 and 2008, the last time gas prices spiked, the U.S. auto industry has made significant improvements in fuel efficiency and invested in electric and hybrid cars. While hybrids account for less than three percent of sales, their increasing sales has put pressure on all manufacturers to boost gas mileage. GM sold more than 100,000 vehicles that averaged more than 30 miles per gallon in the month of March alone. Just three years, only 16 percent of the cars GM sold averaged more than 30 miles per gallon. Now, that figure has more than doubled to 40 percent.

And, while hybrids and electrics cars are more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly overall, making the current fleet of cars more fuel efficient has significant benefits. Increasing fuel efficiency decreases the amount of gas used, decreases pollutants from engines, and saves consumers money. One of the few strong environmental measures the Obama Adminstration has introduced is new fuel efficiency standards, which had not been updated since 1985. Known as CAFÉ standards, the new regulations require that cars and light-duty trucks built after 2016 must have an efficiency of 35.5 miles per gallon. By 2025, cars and light trucks must reach 54.5 miles per gallon.