The signs of the Big Three automakers’ failure to keep up with rising oil prices and foreign competition are increasingly apparent. General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler have all seen quarterly losses and are cutting production. While auto CEOs scramble to put together viable restructuring plans, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute published some suggestions of its own last week. The institute reported that the Big Three needs new lines of fuel-efficient vehicles, and quickly. The study claims that if the automakers decide to uphold the status quo, they will fall further into debt and be forced to cut tens of thousands more jobs. The Big Three have been losing ground to foreign imports for decades. They must wake up and act now to save themselves.

Sarah Royce

The sales of trucks and sport-utility vehicles that long drove GM, Ford and Chrysler are slowing as consumers choose smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, Toyota and Honda have taken advantage of this trend and currently produce the four top-selling car models in the country – all getting considerably better gas mileage than the Big Three’s best-selling monsters.

It is time for the Big Three to take the lead in innovation, rather than try to play catch-up with foreign carmakers. Proactive solutions are the key – if automakers in the United States want to restore their lost market share, they cannot simply update their current lines. Using lighter materials, for example, can make current vehicles more fuel-efficient, but ultimately they must make a more serious investment in hybrid engines and other means of decreasing fuel consumption in car engines.

Concern for fuel efficiency is not just a fad that the country will grow out of; even though the price of gas has fallen a bit recently, the nation isn’t terribly likely to see gas at $1 a gallon again. New car designs typically take about three years to make it from the drawing board to the market, so automakers must act now to provide their lines with the update they need.

Ultimately, current U.S. fuel consumption is not sustainable, and increasing fuel efficiency or even building more hybrids will only provide a temporary solution. America’s dependence on fossil fuels must be traded in for alternatives like fuel cells, and U.S. automakers have the opportunity to lead the way. Although manufacturers have invested millions lobbying to keep fuel-efficiency standards low – enabling them to continue building inefficient cars – doing so only exacerbates the Big Three’s situation. It is high time that these companies use their clout to push for more federal research grants to move away from petroleum dependence.

Producing more fuel-efficient vehicles is only a first step down a long road toward cutting energy consumption and helping to free the United States from dependence on foreign oil. But if the Big Three look beyond surviving the decade and show a concerted effort to develop technologies in the long term, then they can ensure themselves a promising future.

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