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Rosenberg: re-in-car-nation
An open letter to GM, Ford and Chrysler (Mostly GM!) by Betsy Rosenberg, Creator, Host – EcoTalk Radio www.ecotalk.netCo-Founder – Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers For Clean and Safe Vehicles

Dear Big Three Automakers,
So there you are in Washington DC with your hands outstretched and your hats out, speaking truth to power. “We’re in trouble Mr. Treasury. Please bail us out Uncle Sam, Please don’t let us die Mother Earth, don’chya know we’re too big to fail?” Those were the plaintive cries heard echoing in the nation’s capitol chambers from the mouths of once powerful and almighty Titans of the SUV Age. And just like their gas-guzzling former darlings on wheels, these men, and they ARE mostly men, suddenly seem old, tired and of a bygone era. Good riddance gentlemen, your vehicles were just too big to succeed!

Somewhere in the depths of your gas-filled gut, you must have known judgment day was coming. All those years you made 10 – 15 thousand dollars profit on each giant guzzler you sold, such a large mark-up that your sales teams were trained to push the biggest and the baddest models onto unsuspecting consumers. Car buyers looking for a 2 or 4 door sedan would drive off the lots feeling high and mighty about the great deal they got, until they filled up at a gas station. That’s when the gloating went into idle.

While there is some smug satisfaction to be felt by environmental activists and gasroots groups like the one I co-founded in 2002 called Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers for Clean and Safe Vehicles, the “we told you so’s” will not last long. They cannot because there is so much work to be done in getting our economy and environment out of the ditch, and darkness is fast approaching. That’s why there will be little reveling and no joy in Motown’s demise. Because when the Big 3 go down, we all suffer, and that’s why we can no longer tolerate the dragging of wheels.

Reading about GM chief Rick Wagoner’s impassioned pleas for government intervention, I had to do a double take – almost gave me whiplash! Is this the same executive and company that has fought, with tens of millions in advertising dollars, to stave off government regulations that would tighten fuel economy standards and restrict tailpipe emissions in California and beyond? Is this the same Robert Lutz who proclaimed the dip in SUV sales a year ago was just a blip, and predicted gas would fall below two dollars per gallon again? Please excuse me Mr. Lutz, but with each passing day, you are looking more and more, like a putz!

I wonder what you’ve all been drinking – leaded gasoline perhaps? The u-turn in your change of tune, and fortunes, is staggering and surreal. And yet…this is precisely the scenario that a small group of Bay Area mothers predicted six years ago!

I recall the meeting held with two of us from Don’t Be Fueled! and Dave Barthmuss, Group Manager for General Motors’ Western Region, Environment & Energy Communications team, who was in San Francisco in 2004 to meet with “stakeholders” to discuss GM’s green future. After thanking Bill Shireman (Global Futures) for arranging the intimate gathering, we proceeded to tell Mr. Barthmuss – in very plain Mom’s English – that the company was wasting its time and money talking to school kids about the hydrogen future. Presumably they were trying to get a jump on brand loyalty from the next generation of American drivers, but they were also carefully crafting a greener image than the Hummer was providing in those high-on-gas-fumes salad days.
We mothers, backed by thousands of other outraged moms – or so we said – were demanding that U.S. carmakers give us more fuel efficient family-friendly vehicles, like hybrid minivans and SUVs. We were soccer moms, not anarchists, and we spoke in calm but firm tones. To his credit, Mr. Barthmuss listened intently when we told him they would be seen as greenwashers if GM, and other automakers (absent Honda which took the high road on this), continued to litigate, rather than innovate. We also scolded him, in our firm but gentle motherly manner, for ignoring hybrid technology available today, in favor of a hydrogen future that may or may not ever materialize. Talk about stalling…!

Several years later, at a future green car expo, Dave Barthmuss conceded to me, in hushed tones, that our conversation in that downtown SF conference room, had indeed, made an impact on him, but clearly he doesn’t run the company. The next time we spoke was on my national radio program, EcoTalk, a few years later when GM was rounding up the last of its EV-1 electric cars – to the great upset of many of its leassee who loved the groundbreaking vehicle. At that time, General Motors was forcibly removing cars and trucking the new age wheels off to the desert in Mesa, Arizona where they were crushed to death in the black darkness of night. This was in the fall of 2005, during the same week Hurricane Rita was bearing down on Galveston, Texas stranding hundreds of SUV drivers who had run out of fuel along the shoulder of freeways as they fled for higher ground. Adding to the absurdity, GM announced that it would not be crushing all the EV-1’s. Instead they would donate a few to car museums so future generations (if there are any) could marvel at the late great electric car that supposedly nobody wanted. In fact, there were about 5,000 people on a waiting list for EV-1’s at the time, according to Chelsea Sexton who organized a week long protest outside the GM facility in Southern California, and who starred in the seminal documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”.

So now you say we should bail you out; the government you fought, and the public you duped into thinking we “needed” these behemoths of the road? What do you take us for, fossil fools? No, you lived off those axles of evil, laughing all the way to the bank. Now we should save you from bankruptcy and an untimely death?
Part of me would like to see you go away. Go into a corner and have a “time out”. Think about all the bad car-ma you have wrought, all in the name of greed. Take ten minutes…or ten days…whatever it takes to feel appropriate remorse over letting down your children, your country and your sacred shareholders in the quest for short term profits, putting your special interests over the public’s interest, especially heinous in the wake of 9/11, when you lobbied hard against strengthening CAFÉ standards, when it was not supposed to be “business as usual”. The Senate believed Trent-Lies-A-Lot when he held up a picture of a purple SMART car and said “if this legislation passes, it will be the death of SUVs and we’ll all be forced to drive purple-people eaters”. You had the backing of President Bush who threatened that imposing stronger CAFÉ standards on American-made vehicles would “hurt the economy and cost jobs”. So nothing changed and look what’s happened; thousands of jobs have been lost, the economy is in the tank, SUVs are sitting on car lots gathering dust and there are waiting lists for SMART cars more than a year long! And now that we are in the driver’s seat, and you are a deer caught in the headlights, let us, the American people, ponder your fate.
I, for one, have already made up my mind. You sealed your fate several years ago when you made a deal with the devil. Otherwise we’d all be getting 35 miles per gallon, or higher, today. As we moms see it, the only way you can exorcise the devil, and come out of your corner, is to have a total car-ma conversion, become a true leader and corporate steward of the environment. That’s right, if you want to survive, then we want change we can believe in.

We will demand that green strings – no – make that green ropes, be firmly attached to any bailout and that General Motors recycle itself into Green Motors – and not just in name, though you won’t even have to change your logo. Start by replacing all the high paid executives who drove you deep into the sea of red ink. Plow full steam ahead into a more sustainable future (for GM and US) and retool those assembly plants to churn out hybrid vehicles in every model, and not just hybrid light, nothing that gets less than 30 mph will pass inspection. And while you’re at it, dust off that dormant electric car assembly line, crank those factories up into full gear, and accelerate America into a brighter, greener tomorrow. Give a jolt to the Chevy Volt you plan to debut in a year and make that prototype electric car your bread and butter. And last, but not least, you must agree to not spend one red cent on lobbying to defeat green legislation!

Then, after you’ve had your “come to what would Jesus drive?” eco-epiphanies, and your inconvenient arrogance is extracted in rehab, go on Larry King, Oprah and Ellen to beg forgiveness for your sins and to assure America that your makeover will have traction. Then, and only then, can you get back to work and remember that we will be watching you. Now we’re in the driver’s seat and nothing short of a total green makeover will satisfy us. If that sounds too radical and technologically challenging, consider that the Toyota Prius I’m driving gets over 45 miles per gallon and so did the first and second Prius’ I’ve leased since 2003. And consider the alternative…either use those green ropes to pull you through to the other side, or use it to hang yourselves. Now, doesn’t a big, bold commitment toward a greener future, through re-in-car-nation, sound a bit brighter? The choice is yours.

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