An open letter to GM, Ford
and Chrysler (Mostly GM!)
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 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 Mothers from Marin
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
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. 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 leasees
who loved the groundbreaking vehicle. At that time, General Motors was
forcibly removing the 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 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
We will demand that green
strings – make it ropes – be fully and firmly attached to any bailout
deal and that General Motors recycle itself into Green Motors,
and not just in name. Start by replacing 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 now 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 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 Jesus” eco-epiphanies, and your inconvenient arrogance
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 big
brother will be watching you. 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….crashing head-on into a wall,
and certain death. Now, doesn’t a greener future through re-in-car-nation
sound a bit brighter? The choice is yours but we won’t be fueled again.
By Betsy Rosenberg, Creator,
Host – EcoTalk Radio www.ecotalk.net
Co-Founder – Don’t Be Fueled!
Mothers For Clean and Safe Vehicles www.dontbefueled.com