At a special Reuters summit in Detroit, numerous auto industry executives are cited as suggesting that the government raise taxes on gasoline substantially to spur the adoption of fuel efficient vehicles. States Tim Leuliette, chief executive of privately held parts supplier Dura Automotive, "In the United States, we're afraid to touch the fuel price. We've got to continue to raise taxes in the United States so that, by the end of the next decade, gas is about $8 a gallon in today's terms."
He adds, "What you have to do is do it in a manner that is slow enough and predictable enough that vehicle selection and choices by people over the cycle can be made in a logical way."
Eight dollars-per-gallon gas? The idea certainly sounds absurd. However, the idea of the government pouring over $100B USD into the auto industry and partially nationalizing GM and Chrysler might have sounded ridiculous a decade ago too.
Mike Jackson, chief executive of AutoNation Inc., offered similar sentiments, complaining, "The U.S. allows the price of gasoline to go back and forth across this line where the consumers don't care about fuel efficiency and where consumers do care about fuel efficiency."
He suggests a near term fix of taxing gas to around $4 or $5 a gallon to help vehicles like GM's 2011 Chevy Volt EV grab marketshare. Jerry York, a former GM board member and an adviser to billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian, concurred. He states, "Unless gas is $3.50 or $4 a gallon, consumers are not going to want to buy those cars."
Hearing such pleas for government intervention and taxation certainly seems a strange one coming from the business sector, which normally argues and lobbies for minimal government involvement. However, a growing number of industry executives feel that a $25B USD advanced technologies loan program and the expensive cash-for-clunkers program just aren't doing enough to boost the sales of clean autos. The solution, they argue, is for the government to hit consumers where it hurts -- in the wallet.
Some are suggesting tax rebates at the end of the year for customers with hybrids and a food-stamp-like subsidy for poor citizens. But at the end of the day the general message is the same; tax fuel. Concludes Dura's Leuliette, "Energy independence in this country ultimately means that fuel has to be more expensive."
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