NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Japanese Gas Guzzlers

April 23, 2003

As the Ford Motor Company scaled back expectations this month for its first hybrid-powered vehicle and backpedaled on a pledge to improve the fuel economy of its sport utility vehicles, Toyota was introducing its latest Prius, which will get about 55 miles a gallon and be the first midsize vehicle with hybrid technology.

For environmentalists, the contrasting developments reinforced the sense that only foreign carmakers care about curbing America's swelling appetite for oil. But the picture is also more complicated -- and bleak, from the perspective of reducing oil consumption:

  • Toyota, Honda and Nissan are flooding the American market with sport utility vehicles of all sizes.
  • Toyota and Nissan are redoubling efforts to take on the last largely unchallenged stronghold of Detroit, the pickup truck.
  • Sales of new-model S.U.V.s from Japan far outnumber gas-sipping hybrids, which supplement the internal combustion engine with electric power.

A recent report by Environmental Defense found that General Motor's automotive fleet produced the most climate-warming carbon in the 1990s -- a function of its rank as the largest automaker. But Toyota's carbon emissions grew the fastest, by 72 percent, compared with 33 percent for the market, a function of a product mix that is approaching the truck-heavy tilt of the Big Three.

"They're getting all this great green press over the Prius," said John DeCicco, a senior analyst with Environmental Defense, "but their product strategy has moved into trucks big time."

Source: Danny Hakim, "Cloaked in Green, but Guzzling Gas," New York Times, April 19, 2003.


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