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Empty Rhetoric Font Size: 
By Josh Hendrickson : BIO| 16 Jun 2020
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Recently, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been firing all barrels at General Motors. In a June 14 column, Friedman explained his position against GM:

On May 31 I wrote a column accusing General Motors of acting irresponsibly by offering unlimited gasoline at $1.99 a gallon for one year to anyone who buys certain of its midsize sedans, big S.U.V.'s or gas-guzzling Hummers in California or Florida. At a time when we are at war in the Middle East, with an enemy who is indirectly financed by our energy purchases, it seems to me that every American, and every American company, has an obligation to reduce oil consumption. No one should be making a huge gas-guzzling Hummer, and no one should be driving one, and no one -- certainly not G.M. -- should be subsidizing people to drive them.

The columnist might have a point if the firm he excoriates weren't developing alternative vehicle propulsion technologies. Here are some things he didn't tell readers.

The auto manufacturer has long pursued a hydrogen-powered car. In fact, since 1996 General Motors has spent over $1 billion to develop a hydrogen-powered vehicle that can compete with standard automobiles on cost. The company hopes to achieve this goal by 2010.

Hydrogen is not GM's only pursuit. At the recently concluded Michelin Challenge in Paris, GM produced several top performers; the vehicles that competed in the Challenge ran on a variety of different fuels including natural gas, bioethanol, and hydrogen fuel cell technology. One vehicle presented at the Challenge was the new Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid and it received a top rating. This new hybrid SUV features a less complex and lower-cost system than is currently used by other manufacturers.

General Motors produces cars, trucks, and SUVs that can run on ethanol (E85) or gasoline. These new Flex Fuel engines also feature Active Fuel Management technology, which allow the engines to run on eight cylinders when power is needed and four cylinders when it is not.

The columnist focuses on the fact that GM manufactures the Hummer. The fact that the Hummer is still in production, however, demonstrates that there is customer demand for such a vehicle.

Most importantly, the transition to alternative fuel systems will not be instantaneous. In the meantime, there is nothing wrong with a company that supplies something its customers desire. Thomas Friedman would do well to limit the empty rhetoric and do some actual digging on the technologies that are being developed by GM and other manufacturers. That legwork is not hard to do; after all, the world is flat these days.

Josh Hendrickson blogs at the Everyday Economist.

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