The opinion-page column "Detroit Misses the Mark, Again," Aug. 19, misses the mark with me. The analysis of recent automotive history ignores the market and social conditions of the times.Consumers are not stupid. They will buy a product that meets a perceived need in spite of its other shortcomings. If consumers had wanted more fuel-efficient cars in the 1950s, they would have bought more Nash Ramblers and Volks- wagens. Today, if higher fleet average fuel economy is a desirable public goal, corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards are an inefficient method of achieving it. The most certain way to achieve a higher fleet average is to incrementally increase the gasoline tax over time, so fuel economy becomes more important to consumers. Back-door methods like CAFE, which promise "painless" gains, only result in rule manipulations such as the use of so many imported parts in the Ford Crown Victoria that it qualifies as an import and is not included in the corporate domestic fleet average. Safety features such as disc brakes and antilock braking systems became broadly available without government mandates. In the increasingly global automotive market, the Big Three are hardly able to dictate to anyone. They have made some serious competitive and managerial errors and face structural problems domestically and internationally. Let us read more about these issues and less vitriolic rhetoric. Randel Baehr, St. Louis
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