Bureaucrats Befuddled By America's Auto Market

Tiny cars not surprisingly pushed aside at the North American International Auto Show

DETROIT — My muffled chuckle was not appreciated by the 20-something clipboard carrier hovering around EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy here at the auto show.

I tried to restrain myself as McCarthy emerged from a tiny Chevy Spark tucked along a wall at the General Motors display.

"This is my baby," she said turning back to admire the micro car.

I chuckled. 

Her statement was as amusing as it was telling. After all, only a bureaucrat could look at a car that almost no one will buy and beam with pride. The only thing less popular than ultra tiny vehicles in America is Congress.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow wasn't far behind. The Lansing Democrat who famously told The Detroit News editorial board that she could feel global warming when she flies, also kicked the small car’s tires and climbed in to see the fruits of her and her colleagues’ government mandates. 

Sanity returned at a Ford Motor Co. press conference nearby. And it came from Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who channeled his inner F.A. Hayek during a question and answer session with reporters and bloggers.

"We’ll always make the cars and trucks that people want," he said. "I think the automobile industry is always going to be driven by economics." 

I leaned over to the guy sitting next to me to confirm what I just heard. After all, most of the press conferences and even the question and answer sessions with executives are closely scripted and lack any depth.

He went on: "The most important thing we can do is to continuously improve the internal combustion engine" because it's going to be around "for a long time." 

I was stunned. And encouraged. 

Despite the best efforts of bureaucrats, the auto market in the United States is largely driven by consumers. That's why the Ford F-150 pickup has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for more than 30 years. The Dearborn automaker sold more than 760,000 last year.

GM sold more than 418,000 Chevrolet Silverado pickups in 2013; Chrysler sold more than 355,000 Ram trucks. Those were the top three vehicles sold last year and accounted for 1.6 million of the 15.6 million vehicles sold in the United States in 2013. 

That translates to jobs and money into local economies across this country. None of that happens with the sale of electric vehicles and clown cars, especially when the sale of them depends on tax breaks and incentives..

Someday bureaucrats and politicians might recognize that fact. Until then, we will unfortunately have to listen to them blindly, and foolishly, push bad policies and promote products that most people don’t want.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.