“When analysts tell you that the only thing that will bring down the price of oil is a recession, you know you’re in trouble.” Gal Luft, Executive Director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, delivered that quote of the day here in Vancouver during a panel discussion on future automotive markets at the biennial Globe trade fair and conference — a premier event on the business / environment nexus.
Luft’s policy solution to break oil’s virtual strangle-hold on transportation fuels markets worldwide? Mandating production of flex-fuel vehicles (that can burn a range of alcohol/gasoline blends) and plug-in hybrids (that can charge overnight on comparatively diversified electric power systems). “Flex-fuel should be a standard feature in every automobile,” says Luft, “just like the rear-view mirror, seat belts and air bags.”
Mea cupla of the day goes to Walter McManus, former director of forecasting for automotive market analysts J.D. Powers & Associates. During the same Globe session McManus, now at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, admitted personal culpability in Detroit’s decision to sit out the first round of hybrid vehicle development–handing the market to Toyota. He says that Detroit, himself included, considered fuel economy to be simply a question of cost and thus discounted the weight consumers placed on it as “irrational.” He now advises market researchers to pass consumer demands up to senior management even when those demands don’t jive with the researchers’ preconceived notions!
I vividly remember McManus selling me preconceived notions just a few years ago when I was exposing Toyota’s dominance of hybrid technology for MIT Technology Review. (We didn’t quote him in the resulting story, “Hybrids’ Rising Sun”, which ran as TechReview’s April 2004 cover.) I look forward to getting back to my files and digging out my own McManus quotes. For now, here’s a representative quote from a 2004 L.A. Times story: “We don’t see hybrids, per se, ever being more than a niche vehicle.”