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2009年3月25日 (水)


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 23(IHT/Asahi: March 24,2009)
EDITORIAL: U.S. emissions control

The unprecedented economic crisis, together with the emergence of President Barack Obama's administration, may well change the gas-guzzling habits of the United States.

In stark contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush, who was reluctant to tighten regulations on vehicle emissions, Obama has announced plans for stricter emission control standards.

The Obama administration intends to recognize California's standards, which require a 30-percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from cars by 2016. Thirteen other states are preparing to introduce similar regulations, increasing the possibility that this strict rule will become the de facto national standard in the United States.

It would be difficult for the currently struggling U.S. Big Three automakers to create products that meet such requirements in the U.S. vehicle market, which centers on large models. Even Japanese automakers with a good track record of fuel efficiency would have trouble.

Nevertheless, Obama intends to encourage automakers to invest in environment measures as a part of his administration's Green New Deal package. He expects such investments will also help stimulate the economy.

American consumers have always loved their mileage-poor, big cars. Taking advantage of this, the Big Three have continued to mass-produce large models and made few efforts to improve the fuel efficiency of their products.

The U.S. government allowed them to stick to the traditional business model, fearing that changes in the strategy could further damage the automakers' competitiveness.

Former Vice President Al Gore, known for his commitment to environmental issues, criticized this business model. In "An Inconvenient Truth," his documentary film, Gore pointed out that the Big Three's business performances are worse than those of Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., which are making fuel-efficient cars. He said the U.S. policy to protect domestic manufacturers with lax environmental standards was already out of date.

Obama intends to spur competition among automakers to improve fuel efficiency by imposing tighter regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. government is finally responding to the criticism from "An Inconvenient Truth."

If the Big Three--General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC--commit to cutting emissions, the U.S. government can further justify its bailout of the automakers.

Public opinion is largely against supporting the Big Three, but the government cannot simply spurn them because of the potential impact on employment.

The U.S. government expects its bailout of the Big Three automakers to gain the understanding of voters if support is extended, in part, to accelerate research and development into gas-electric hybrid, electric, fuel-cell and other next-generation vehicles.

Of course, Obama has a bigger plan in mind. The automakers' investment in "green" cars will likely help to expand environmental businesses. The United States is searching for a new industrial sector to spearhead in the economic recovery in place of the battered financial industry.
Environmental business is a promising alternative.

Once environmental vehicles become the mainstream in the U.S. market, research and development for next-generation technologies will take off around the world.

This will be a good opportunity for Japanese automakers, which already hold an advantage in fuel-saving technologies. This is something to pursue in earnest.


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