I agree with the June 3 editorial "Detroit's Complacency," but I would add one more sign that Detroit is complacent:
The hybrid is loaded with luxury features, and is priced about $3,000 higher than a comparably equipped regular model. If Detroit were serious about the hybrids, it would offer a range of models to fit all pocketbooks. As it stands, the hybrid appears to be more a wealthy person's green toy than a car designed to make a serious impact.
The thrust of the editorial "Detroit's Complacency" was only partially right. Most of the responsibility for the fuel consumption mess we are in belongs to Congress. Before the two major gasoline shortages in the 1970s, federal gasoline taxes were by far the lowest in the industrialized world. Even after the major and prolonged shortages of the '70s, Congress refused to do anything about taxes, although it did play around the fringes of the problem with mileage standards.
We continued into the 1990s with by far the lowest taxes in the industrialized world. The editorial noted that the Clinton administration "never imposed enough of a gas tax increase to persuade consumers" to buy efficient cars, but it was not within the administration's power to impose a tax; that is the function of Congress, and the Republican Congress that President Bill Clinton faced was adamantly opposed to any such tax.
If Congress had passed legislation in 1979 increasing the federal gas tax by 5 cents a gallon each year indefinitely, consumers and automakers would have changed their habits, we would have a much more fuel-efficient automotive fleet and we would be less dependent on imports.
We have lost a lot of time, but it is not too late for intelligent change.
DONALD E. CARSON
The June 3 editorial "Detroit's Complacency" repeated a popular misconception: that the technology for the world's first gas-electric SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid, was developed by another automaker.
Technology patents in the auto industry typically are associated with physical things, such as a better widget. But a recent licensing agreement between Ford and Toyota has brought to light a less familiar class of automotive patents: those that protect the ownership of technology ideas and methods.
Ford designed, developed and validated the Escape hybrid system. It is not buying Toyota hardware or getting any technical support from Toyota. Toyota simply patented certain ideas for a hybrid system first. To use the idea -- even when Ford was doing all of its own engineering -- required a licensing agreement. For example, Toyota is licensing ideas that Ford developed first in the areas of engine and emissions technologies.
Ford also joined with some of the environmental groups the editorial mentioned to develop a legislative proposal to provide consumers with tax credits for the advanced vehicle technologies in the Escape Hybrid and vehicles offered by other automakers. Currently, hybrid vehicles are only 0.2 percent of vehicle sales, so a consumer tax credit might spur demand. Both the House and Senate passed this legislation in the energy bill, which was derailed for other reasons earlier this year.
Ford is anything but complacent. We are delivering on our commitment to bring energy-efficient vehicles to consumers.
DAN R. BROUILLETTE
Vice President, Washington Affairs
Ford Motor Co.