Don’t Cry for G, Buy Toyota

Today brings word that Toyota has finally displaced GM as the world leader in auto sales. To celebrate this doesn’t come naturally for me; my father was a displaced steel worker who insisted on buying American cars as long as he lived. But a brief review of the corporate record of the two entities leads me to hope the eclipse of GM will warn other companies that they need to reckon with the “Green Imperative.”

It’s often said that when emissions standards were introduced, Toyota hired a 1000 engineers to meet them, and GM hired a 1000 lawyers to fight them. I’m not saying engineers are necessarily more useful than lawyers–think of the yeomen’s labor of those who had to fight GM in court! Their sad plight is chronicled in Keith Bradsher’s High and Mighty: The Dangerous Rise of the SUV. Consider this interaction between GM and the EPA (296):

[To fight recognition of Kyoto Protocol-inspired standards], GM hired a law firm that prepared a 4-inch thick document for the EPA on why the rules were too stringent, laying the groundwork for a legal challenge. But Ford cut the ground out from under GM’s arguments by saying that it had no objection to the new rules….

GM decided not to sue the federal government to block the new rules….[But while] Ford had voluntarily and deeply reduced air pollution from its entire lineup of light trucks[,] GM had not even bothered to match Ford’s example.

…and they certainly haven’t matched the Prius. Rather, GM (and, sad to say, the UAW and some other domestic manufacturers) have furiously lobbied to weaken already lax fuel economy standards.

As Dan Filler might say, sometimes regulation can help the regulated. If GM had the “ecomagination” of a GE, perhaps it would still have the market position it lost today.

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