President Obama appears to be on a regular milk run to Michigan this summer. He’s visiting Detroit today to tour’s refurbished Jeep plant and GM’s Hamtramck operation, which is gearing up to produce the highly anticipated Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle.
The gig primarily is to underline the government’s $85 billion bailout of the auto makers is working. And so far it is, though the decision remains highly unpopular with taxpayers in states that don’t depend on the industry to drive their economies.
It also isn’t a coincidence that Michigan’s gubernatorial primary is next Tuesday, as Gov. Jennifer Granholm ends her 2-term reign during one of the state’s worse economic slumps thanks to the country’s severe recession. Unemployment here reportedly has hit more than 13% primarily due to the downsizing of the auto industry.
Yet, chances are Obama's security entourage will include at least one of those much-maligned fullsize SUVs as he makes his rounds. That makes perfect sense, because the vehicle must accommodate a lot of big men with ear plugs and guns at the ready to protect and defend. You wouldn’t want to try to squeeze this crowd into, say, aFiesta.
But that’s the very point the White House seems to be missing as it pushes auto makers to churn out small electric-powered cars, despite the lack of national infrastructure to recharge batteries and a skeptical public.
There’s want and there’s need.
If Obama (and those critics from Capitol Hill who enjoy lambasting U.S. auto makers for building big cars and trucks to meet real consumer demand) wants a true gauge of middle America’s car-buying public, he ought to point his road show north out of Detroit and travel the I-75 freeway all the way to the Mackinaw Bridge, which spans Lake Michigan to join the lower state with its rugged Upper Peninsula.
Even with the horde of secret service agents aboard, there will not be enough fingers and toes to count all the fullsize pickup trucks and SUVs on the road towing boats, campers, personal watercrafts, horse trailers, motorcycles, bicycles, canoes and kayaks.
Big recreation in the northern woods and lakes calls for big vehicles that can travel hundreds of miles carrying thousands of pounds of gear, and electric cars are not going to get the job done. May we remind tourism means big bucks for many states, not just in Michigan.
EVs will play an important role in navigating the urban jungle with their zero emissions and petroleum-free fuel economy, where most drivers will not outrun their 40-plus mile electric range.
But for many Americans, there always will be a need, and therefore should be a choice, of utility vehicles that take them far beyond the paved highways, where battery-charging stations dare not go.