Commentary

I get a kick out of rappers and hip-hop artists who thump their chests about “keeping it real.”

Last I checked, there is little consensus on what is real.

Consider the erstwhile sustainability advocates at Global Green USA, creators of the influential Red Carpet/Green Cars Campaign that encourages movie idols to roll up to the Oscars in Toyota Priuses.

This year, when General Motors offered rides in hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, Global Green got all red in the face.

“They are trying to peddle a gas-guzzler as a green car,” said Global Green President Matt Peterson. “It is clear GM is capitalizing on our work the last five years to get stars in green cars and to capture the willingness of the entertainment industry to do something.”

He makes it sound as if the General is crashing a private Hollywood party. So much for a global solution to global warming.

And what about that “gas guzzler” crack? GM’s 2-mode hybrid system enables 7-passenger SUVs to get the same mileage as a 5-passenger Toyota Camry, and tow a sailboat.

I know the red carpet has been rolled up for weeks now, but GG has yet to respond to a dozen interview requests from Ward’s. Some were polite. Others, not so much.

However, a receptionist confides Toyota gets top marks not just because of its indisputable hybrid credentials, but because of its overall carbon footprint.

Really? The same Toyota that increased its U.S. light-truck production by 22% last year?

According to Ward’s data, GM cut its light-truck production in 2007, as did Chrysler.

Clearly, perception is reality.

Detroit auto makers are fiercely trying to change the way they’re perceived. Aggressive quality-improvement initiatives target the lingering stink of laissez-faire management and assembly-line slackerdom spawned by decades of market domination.

Ford recently launched a media blitz to convince consumers its products have achieved parity with Toyota and Honda, the industry’s perennial quality champions.

Good luck with that, says a Canadian sociologist. The National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. will have to discover a direct link between Toyota seat cushions and prostate cancer before buying patterns turn around.

“The world around us creates the way that we think,” says Vicky Paraschak, an associate professor at the University of Windsor in Canada. “The difficulty is shifting people’s thought patterns once they’ve been embedded.”

No matter that the Internet puts more data at the fingertips of more people than ever before.

“As we’re being inundated with more information, people are shutting down – except for the stuff that they’re seeing as important,” Paraschak says.

That stuff, consisting of long-held views, “becomes our default belief,” she warns.

But some things are all too real. Like the price of gasoline.

The per-gallon cost of regular reached a national record this week: $3.51.

So expect another sale month like March, when car-buyers took greater notice of fuel-efficient small vehicles such as the Dodge Caliber.

Says Bill North, affable general manager of King Cotton Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Covington, TN: “We’ve seen people come in with a lot of reality on their minds.”

Peace. Out.

emayne@wardsauto.com