Vroom-Vro0m!! -- Detroit in crisis, no surprise

From my vantage point, what’s happening to Detroit is the culminationof a slowly developing car crash.

Anyone who’s read Keith Bradsher’s “High and Mighty,” a social history of the SUV, understands the broad coalition of groups – the companies, labor unions, federal and state politicians, suburban families, and others – who came together to resist building fuel efficient automobiles and push for big, heavy, profitable vehicles. Several of my students who’ve done internships at GM in recent years have come back with the same basic story. A good many top level managers were fully aware that corporate culture and the firm’s product line needed drastic reform to respond to the realities of peak oil and climate change. But in the middle layers or the organization, inertia prevailed. Equally disappointing from my students’ reports is the fact
that while young engineers recently graduated from the best engineering schools were aware of the pending energy crisis and the need for “sustainable technology,” their inclination was to keep designing vroom-vroom muscle cars, as if the power fantasies of the 1950s and 1960s were still the cool way to go.

Those who argue that a bailout of Detroit should revolutionize its “corporate culture” should include money for psychotherapy of the technical staff.

- Langdon

Green technology updates

GM chief admits failure to develop hybrid auto.

Detroit has long dragged its heels in energy saving, planet saving technology.

"Not making a hybrid car like the Prius was a "mistake," outspoken General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz told a room of Chevy Volt "fan boys" at the New York Auto Show this week.

"We had the technology to come out with a hybrid at the same time as Toyota," Lutz said Tuesday. "In hindsight, it was a mistake. ... We made the mistake and we won't make it again." [ABC News]

Warren Buffett's portfolio includes trains

It's been clear since the energy crises of the 1970s that a wonderfully "appropriate" or "green" technology would be a decent railroad system like the ones that exist in Europe.

"Want to invest in a green industry that employs the latest technology, reduces U.S. oil consumption and is priced very attractively? Look no further than the railroads. Laggards for decades after the 19th-century boom ended, they're hot again.

"There was steady traffic growth until last year, and the trend looks good once the economy gets back up to speed," says Kenneth Kremar, an economist who follows the railroad industry for consulting firm Global Insight. Perhaps that's why railroad stocks have largely escaped the battering that other sectors have taken so far this year." [CNN Money]