The Sky Is Falling

(A Modern-Day Fairy Tale)

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After the first burst of creative energy and risk taking which led to the mass-produced gas car, the auto industry has refrained from taking any chances--some have said, they have not only refrained, but quashed innovation. It took some doing to drive the turn-of-the-century 1900 model electric car out of existence, it lasted into the 1920's. But after that initial leap, the industry has been more re-active to changing requirements than pro-active and flexible.

The auto industry has fought against nearly every proposed safety innovation -- seat belts, air bags, upholstered dashboards, safety locks, inside trunk locks, catalytic converters, emission control engine devices, etc., etc. -- to make cars safer or less harmful to the environment. Auto industry executives
claim outrageous cost, lack of market support, and general dire consequences if they are forced to adopt a new technology for the public good.

Later, when the new technology succeeds, they
claim credit for the accomplishments. This view gives us a unique perspective on the auto industry’s response to California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) requirement.

Safer Cars

In 1971, when Lee Iacocca was president of Ford Motor Company, he was so strongly opposed to automobile airbags that he appealed personally to then-President Richard Nixon, and persuaded the president to kill a pending federal regulation mandating airbags for U.S. cars. (Of course, Iacocca didn’t know the conversation was being taped.) As the head of Chrysler Corp. in 1988, he announced that by 1990 all of Chrysler’s U.S.-made cars would be equipped with driver-side airbags. Chrysler officials were driven more by federal law than by their own engineering judgment or concern for drivers’ well being.

Despite auto maker projections that a single driver-side airbag would add $1,000 to the cost of a new-car and industry predictions that benefits were marginal and that consumers wouldn’t want or pay for them, airbags today are standard in every new car in America. Car dealers tried to talk customers out of purchasing airbags when they were offered in a few models as an option, suggesting they were too expensive, unreliable and might suddenly inflate for no reason and cause the driver to lose control.

Even when forced to acknowledge the value of airbags, industry did not generally offer the "expensive" so-called "smart" airbags, but used the cheapest version -- which were prone to low-speed impact collisions, thus arguably sabotaging the program. Only after an estimated dozens of deaths of smaller persons by airbag inflation did industry generally offer the "smart" airbags.

Former General Motors President Edward Cole played a key role in the airbag’s development. Reflecting back on that era, Cole said an automaker must "create a desire on the part of the user" to buy an option like the airbag. Did GM do that? Cole’s reply: "No." Foot-dragging, misinformation campaigns and political pressure bought the car makers a 20-year delay in making passive restraints standard in our cars – the initial government notice regarding the safety systems was published in 1969.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 4,750 people are alive today as a result of the federal airbag requirement that finally took effect in 1990. Similar tales can be told for the car industry’s response to seatbelts, padded dashboards, energy-absorbing steering wheels, shatterproof windshields, fixed head restraints, and the like.

Cleaner Cars

When faced with regulations requiring significant reductions in tailpipe emissions, car makers have predicted catastrophic consequences – economic chaos, rampant unemployment and massive barriers to implementation. Was this the response to the California Air Resources Board’s Low Emission Vehicle program and ZEV rule? You bet. But it wasn’t the first time the cries had been heard.

Former General Motors Vice President Ernest S. Starkman claimed, "If GM is forced to introduce catalytic converter systems across-the-board on 1975 models, the prospect of an unreasonable risk of business catastrophe and massive difficulties with these vehicles must be faced. It is conceivable that complete stoppage of the entire production could occur, with the obvious tremendous loss to the company, shareholders, employees, suppliers, and communities. Short of that ultimate risk, there is a distinct possibility of varying degrees of interruption, with sizeable dislocations."

Ford claimed in testimony that if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not suspend the catalytic converter rule, it would cause Ford to shut down and would result in: 1) reduction of gross national product by $17 billion; 2) increased unemployment of 800,000; and 3) decreased tax receipts of $5 billion at all levels of government so that some local governments would become insolvent.

Both companies are still in business and car companies claim credit for reducing automobile emissions by 96 percent since the 1960s.

During earlier reviews of the ZEV rule, automakers hired public relations firms to try to convince Californians that the clean car rule should be overturned. A solicitation sent by the American Automobile Manufacturers Association to PR firms planning to bid on the proposal claimed that, "Recent surveys indicate a majority of Californians believe zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) or electric vehicles are a ‘workable and practical’ means of reducing air pollution. This is a shift from surveys and focus group results of 1993, and may indicate greater consumer acceptance of electric vehicles." The solicitation went on to challenge firms to organize a grassroots campaign seeking "to create a climate in which the state’s mandate requiring automakers to produce electric vehicles in 1998 can be repealed." In 1996, and again in 1998, automakers succeeded in weakening the ZEV rule. In 2000, they are seeking to kill it once and for all.

Western States Petroleum Assn. lobbied the CARB hearing extensively, reputedly paying for bussing retirees under the guise of a front organization called "Citizens Against Hidden Taxes", run by one Anita Mangels. Articles by a certain Mr. Craven recounted the "explosion danger" of EVs. Cartoons and articles were and are planted which misrepresent the experience, numbers, status, and success of the ZEV Mandate and EVs in general.

And by the way, the sky is falling. Today, airborne pollution is causing more than 90 percent of California’s citizens to breathe air that is harmful to their health. Mobile sources such as cars and trucks are still the primary source of air pollution.
Special thanks to Wendy James at the Better World Group


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My class are talking about polution can you help?

01/16/2005 5:10

If you ask me your all enviromental idiots and should lighten up. Here's some news for you and people like you 1) Global warming is a myth 2) deforestation also myth 3) cars are alot cleaner than you morons will give em credit for.
Geese green peace feeds people like you false information and you eat it with a spoon. If you would take the time to question the things you hear maybe you'd be a little more informed.
03/19/2003 11:00

Electric cars REALLY DO WORK WELL! battery technology is already available that would give EV's a range of at least 200 miles. The auto industry and oil industry clearly have to put the cabash on any mass production like that because if such a car became known to and available to the public, especially with rising gas prices, Detroit's precious bottom line might get hurt. I also want to add that since EV's do not have moving parts, no oil changes,etc. down-sales profits from maintenance costs would slide. American automakers can't be having that happen, now can they? It's no mystery why electric cars have not been promoted and, in fact, actively portrayed as nothing more than glorified golf carts. WRONG!!!
01/16/2003 23:22

I'm so pissed off I went and bought TWO electric vehicles (Soleq EVcort RAV4 EV). Planning on replacing my gas ICE work truck with diesel so I can burn bio-diesel instead of fossil fuel. If we all resist just a little...
J. Marvin Campbell
"Fools you are who say you like to learn from your mistakes. I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid the cost of my own".
-Otto von Bismarck
11/23/2002 8:00

I'm so pissed off I went and bought TWO electric vehicles (Soleq EVcort RAV4 EV). Planning on replacing my gas ICE work truck with diesel so I can burn bio-diesel instead of fossil fuel. If we all resist just a little...
J. Marvin Campbell
"Fools you are who say you like to learn from your mistakes. I prefer to learn from the mistakes of others, and avoid the cost of my own".
-Otto von Bismarck
11/23/2002 7:59

people chould not polut the world
11/09/2002 7:55

since the government has the tech to build the good cars tha dont spit out polution than they should make them .Just becauese they want to make money they shouldent do that because the world is getting very poluted and I think that if they put out those car's then the world would be a little better.
10/22/2002 10:45

One more try:
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08/05/2002 13:38

Sorry, that is< a>
08/05/2002 13:37

The new advances in hybrids and fuel cells may be a turning point. Ie, just go to and search for hybrids and you will get tons of hits.
08/05/2002 13:36

I like chickens
05/08/2002 7:51

This is not the first time something like this has happened and it will not be the last I am affriad. Thomas A. Edison was very succesful in keep another mans name out of the history books. Do you know who it was? Thats right, Nikola Tesla, the true father of electricity! Tesla is the one hwo actually invented poly phase or alternating current (AC)electricity and alot of the modern day gadgets the run on AC electricity. Neon and floresent lighting, step up and step down transfomers, you have all heard of the MRI (magnetic resonace imageing)well there is a scale of how strong the magnatism is in particular MRI's that is refered to as Tesla, 1.5 Tesla, being the strongest that should be used on living humans. Any way chances are if you were to ask alot of your friends if they know who and what Nikola Tesla was and what he has done for mankind chanes are good that most of them will not have a clue. There is a question that some younger kids, mostly teenagers, might ask there peers, "are you AC or DC" which refers to ones sexual oreintation. Does anyone know where this came from? You geussed it, its a result of the bashing Edison did to Tesla. Was Tesla gay? I dont know and frankly dont care. The point is, with all of todays techno terrors that mankind has created that feed from AC electricity the name Tesla is not even in the Smithsonian Institute. Oh, who do you think invented the radio? Wrong, not Marconni. Years before Marconni got a U.S. patent for the radio Tesla was seen playing with a remote control toy boat in a pond near Madison Square gardens. The same year that Tesla died the U.S. Sepreme court overuled Marconni's patent and awarded it to Tesla. Do you realize that mankind has lived on this Earth for over 7,000 years and it has only been in the last 100 years we have had electricity and now the majority of you cant live without it. I pity mankind on Earth. Hes like a dog chasing his on tail around in circles to no end. And for what?
02/11/2002 4:07

Add pictures of actual dashboards with the make, model, and year on it.
11/19/2001 12:49

Why not make a magit motor its a simple thing to do ..
07/31/2001 11:13

I think you should have some usable pictures, that kids can use on their projects in school.
06/07/2001 7:33

it,s all a big conspiracy.the big car companies created vehicals the knew would destroy the they're trying to push "greener" cars because of the polution thier former creations caused.the old cars were just a way to help thier real consepts get you think anyone would buy a honda insght 80 yeras ago? hell no! i'll leave it at that!
04/17/2001 6:19

Are automobiles "still the primary source of air pollution" or is it rather industrial air pollution? I hate to break everyones heart, but while I believe ZEV is the way to go, it will not solve air pollution in Califorinia or anywhere else. There is not a "magic bullet" that is going to solve this problem. Gov't regulation seems to cause only more problems. Can anyone spell MTBE?
04/12/2001 14:19

Reminds me of what happened to the Tucker automobile (post WW2; it had tons of safety innovations; seat belts, disc brakes, pop-out safety window glass, padded dashboard)...the big car companies responded by banding together with each other and their friends in the government to drive the company out of business....typical....David Knight, Tyler, Texas
06/18/2000 18:31

Wonder about those rumors that the car makers suppressed many inventions...remember in the 1940's, a consortium of General Motors, Firestone, and Standard Oil was fined in Federal Court $5000 for conspiring to buy up and dismantle street rail ways in 55 major cities.
03/04/2000 0:08

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