A Green Dream

Here’s an interesting piece on GM and “green cars.” The apparent focus of GM and Chrysler on “green cars” as the lever that will move them out of the ditch is wishful thinking. Sure, there are some Americans who will buy “green cars,” regardless of their quality and reliability, just to say that they are driving green cars. (See the classic South Park “smug” episode.) I think the number of those consumers is pretty small, however. Here’s a method of approximating that market — the next time you drive to work during rush hour, look at how many drivers are content with humping along in the slow lane, and then from that number subtract all white-haired drivers and all drivers who are shaving, combing their hair, fiddling with their Blackberry, or performing other morning ablutions. The remainder is a good approximation of the potential audience for hybrids and electric cars. You aren’t going to buy one if you must have a car that can give you the crucial burst of acceleration that allows you to cross three lanes of traffic and pass that slow-moving panel truck that has been getting on your nerves.

The other change in the car market — and one that has been devastating for GM and Chrysler — has been the increased focus of consumers on buying cars that last. When I was a kid, Americans seemed to accept that they needed to buy a new car every few years, just to have the biggest fins or the biggest engines or the station wagon with the most realistic faux wood paneling on the side. Those days are long gone, however. I’ve been driving my car for many years, have put more than 120,000 miles on it, and hope to continue to drive it for years more. The fact is that consumers don’t buy GM and Chrysler cars because they perceive that many of those cars are poorly made and unreliable. I think even “green” consumers will be looking for green technology that is reliable. Why buy a green car from a company that has a well-earned reputation for building poorly made cars when you can buy a proven green car from a company like Honda, whose reputation for quality is unassailable?

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