AUTOMAKER'S OIL TIRADE IGNORES PAST TWO DECADES

Bob Tippee
Editor

If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.

From the automaker that uses gratuitous judgment to sell cars comes a tirade against oil companies.

Jason Vines, Chrysler Group vice-president of communications, exercises his company's penchant for blather on a web log for financial analysts and journalists.

"Big Oil would rather fill the pockets of its executives and shareholders rather than spend sufficient amounts to reduce the price of fuel," he writes, attributing gasoline price hikes to "greed by the big oil companies."

An ExxonMobil ad apparently provoked the snit, which found its way into news reports. Vines writes: "ExxonMobil had the gall to say in a recent print ad, 'Every form of transportation—planes, trains, and automobiles—now benefits from improved fuels and engine systems. So why is it that despite this overall progress, the average fuel economy of American cars is unchanged in two decades?'"

Untrue, Vines charges, citing Environmental Protection Agency data showing average vehicle mileage for model-year 2005, at 21 mpg, was the highest since 1996. He compares that figure with the 1975 average of 13.1 mpg.

But that was three decades ago. ExxonMobil said two.

An EPA chart based on a 3-year moving average shows fuel-economy improvement for cars and trucks combined ended in the late 1980s. Mileage then drifted downward until turning up modestly last year but remains below levels of 1987-88. For cars alone, mileage has improved since then by perhaps 1 mpg.

Anyone who drives in the US knows why fuel economy flattened: the proliferation of sport utility vehicles and light trucks. ExxonMobil notes the obvious in its ad.

Vines responds with vituperation against oil companies' "exorbitant profits" and refusal to protect the environment, saying, "Big Oil insists on transferring all of that responsibility on the auto companies."

Again, Vines ignores the past two decades, during which fuels became cleaner and during most of which low oil prices suppressed oil company profits but helped automakers sell outsize vehicles.

The Chrysler hyperbolist's oil analysis certainly lives on the edge. And it takes up more space than it's worth.

(Online Apr. 14, 2006; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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