The death of the Hummer?

Damn, these gas prices have some bite. American automakers, who depend disproportionately on sales of SUVs and light trucks, are getting hammered.

GM saw a 28% drop in light-vehicle sales in May. Ford’s sales fell 16%. The Ford F-150, the most popular vehicle in the United States almost every year for the past three decades, was knocked off its perch by both the Toyota Camry and Toyota Corolla.

*Hummer sales fell by 60%!*

GM has announced the closure of its Janesville assembly plant, and the discontinuation of the plus-sized Tahoe, Suburban and Yukon lines as early as 2009. No word on the Hummer, but the buzzards are circling. GM will add additional shifts to plants that produce more fuel-efficient cars, and the company hopes to have the electric Chevy Volt in showrooms by 2010.

(**Update:** GM is considering selling the Hummer brand. Solve Climate snarks about possible buyers.)

(**Update 2:** David Leonhardt crunches some numbers in the NYT: “the difference between a Focus and an F-250 over five years is $60,000. The annual pretax income of a typical family in this country is also about $60,000. So choosing a F-250 over a Focus is like volunteering for a 20 percent pay cut.”)

Bad news for Detroit in this case happens to be good news for the climate. Car purchases are sticky. Consumers may lose their passion for conservation after they acclimate to higher gas prices, but they’ll still be driving more fuel-efficient cars for years to come. Further, getting light trucks off the road is one of the best levers for reducing transportation emissions, much more so than getting drivers into hybrids.

Thomas Friedman recently called for a $4 floor on the price of gasoline. This will never happen, but it’s easy to see why such a policy would be more effective than CAFE could ever be.

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