...when nothing could be further from the truth! American manufacturers pioneered the vast majority of emissions control
and safety devices in use today. General Motors is recognized for its development of the automotive catalytic converter, a
device which reduces oxides of nitrogen
(2nox) into nitrogen and oxygen,
hydrocarbons (HC) to carbon dioxide
and water, and carbon monoxide (2co)
to less harmful carbon dioxide. This
device removes as much as 98% of the
harmful by-prodcuts of combustion and
was mandated in the United States in
1975, but not until 1993 for most of
Europe. This device, along with other
controls such as Exhaust Gas
Recirculation, Positive Crankcase
Ventilation, and Evaporative Canisters have
all been the products of American
Innovation and are important parts of
systems worldwide to this day. It was the Chrysler Corporation. which pioneered the idea of Electronic
Engine Management with the introduction of its Lean Burn System in 1975, another example of a
universally adopted technology.
Ford Motor Company built test fleets of air-bag
equipped sedans in 1970, and GM began offering
them as options in 1974. Chrysler is generally
considered the first manufacturer to make them
standard equipment on an affordable car, starting
in late 1988.
But safety is hardly a new idea in Detroit, be it in the form of "crumple zones",
(before they became catchy marketing terms coined in imported car advertising) or
simply avoiding the crash in the first place with features such as 4-wheel anti-lock
brakes, first made available in 1971.
car builders have done a
very poor job managing
their image, and by their de-facto refusal to defend
their record of innovation and industry firsts, they have allowed themselves to be seen as barriers to
progress, rather than the leaders who have answered the call of government regulation. The United
States has a system of due-process that allows individuals and corporations the chance to question a
government decree. In spite of this (or some would say because of this) we have led the world in
both emission and safety standards.
Of course there is nothing wrong with asking "What have you done for me lately"?
There are answers here too, whether in the form of unanswered pleas for a national energy policy,
or again with technical progress like cylinder deactivation, hydrogen powered city buses, two-mode hybrid SUVs, inductive charging for
electric/plug-in hybrids and class-leading hybrid sedans like the 2010 Ford Fusion.
We are at a crossroads. We can either place our bet on the proven leaders and a system
of government that has produced leadership in technology and legislation, or we can
hope that those nations and manufacturers which have lagged the US in these areas will
take over as innovators. Given their track record of building "cleaner" cars strictly for the
US market, a leadership position seems unlikely.