All automakers, no doubt, feel that proving our commitment to environmental protection is important. But for reasons not always obvious, it is sometimes difficult to take consistent, tangible action that bears fruit.

Too often the burden of achieving environmental benefits is placed solely on corporate shoulders, but individuals can be just as effective in improving the environment as they can be in degrading it.

Recently, Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Cal.) illustrated the futility of establishing mandates applying only to the corporations. Using the polluted bed of Southern California's San Gabriel River as his example, he argued that the pollution was not the result of corporations dumping industrial wastes, but rather the consequence of individuals improperly disposing of many consumer products, including used crankcase oil.

Another reason is that there cannot be tangible improvements in environmental quality without consistent, long-term regulatory policies. Worse, the automobile industry cannot react to ephemeral regulations and mandates that change because of apparent inefficiencies or harmful side effects. There needs to be a comprehensive and consistent process of visionary and farsighted rulemaking.

At a time when the nation feels encumbered by the bulk of its government, it is unrealistic to consider "comprehensive," "universal" or "centralized" environmental protection programs.

Paradoxically, this shifts more responsibility for achieving environmental gains on automobile manufacturers. Carmakers now are charged with leadership roles in consumer education as well as providing motorists with environmentally sound vehicles that meet driver's needs and expectations -- and all at an affordable price. For this, automakers must be creative, innovative, and capable of effectively mixing the old with the new.

Mazda's Millenia S, the first mass-produced Miller-cycle engine car, is one example of creativity and innovation. It offers the fuel efficiency of a 2L vehicle with the performance of a 3L. Pioneering the Miller-Cycle concept in a passenger car is creative. and adapting the Lysholm compressor for increasing induction pressures is innovative. The result is reduced consumption of natural resources.

And in markets where diesel engines are viable, Mazda's adoption of,pressure-wave supercharging simultaneously improves fuel efficiency and performance.

Another example of improving fuel efficiency is Mazda's lean-burn engine technology, enabled by development of its innovative three-way catalyst.

The development of alternative-fuel vehicles, whether for the purpose of reducing reliance on imported petroleum or for reducing vehicular air pollution, has become an indispensable strategy for automakers.

Fuel-flexible vehicles, for example -- again, transparent to the motorist -- can be operated on methanol or gasoline, or any mixture thereof. Like other manufacturers, Mazda has developed such vehicles, just as it has developed vehicles that run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) with performance matching those of conventional vehicles. Mazda also is developing clean, natural-gas-powered vehicles.

In the wake of California's 1998 zero-emissions-vehicle (ZEV) mandate, automakers are developing vehicles with immeasurable tailpipe and evaporative emissions. While there has been much ublicit covering electrochemical battery-powered electric vehicles, there has been considerable work on fuel-cell-powered vehicles. Mazda, like other manufacturers, has been working diligently on both of these fronts.

An example of combining the old with the new to meet environmental constraints is Mazda's hydrogen rotary engine vehicle. The HR-X2 concept car with its hydrogen rotary engine has a range and performance comparable to those of conventional automobiles. Also, thanks to its liquid-crystal-polymer-reinforced plastic body, which is easily separable from the chassis, the HR-X2 is virtually 100% recyclable.

Developing vehicle powertrains constitutes only one phase of automobile manufacture. Innovation and creativity are needed in all aspects of vehicle conceptualization, planning, design, engineering and manufacturing in order to produce vehicles that ultimately will send less to landfills.

While pollution control and environmental conservation are central to Mazda's business principles, the automakers' biggest challenge is educating the consumer to behave in an environmentally-responsible manner. This is where the automobile manufacturing community is lacking most in experience.