With almost 18 months left until the general election, it is becoming painfully obvious to those who look through the media smokescreen that Barack Obama is not ready for prime time. A nice smile, two autobiographical and admittedly not strictly factual books, and a ready supply of feel-good bromides about fighting cynicism do not a capable president make.
John Hinderaker of Powerline has done an admirable job of exposing the sheer reckless mangling of facts by Obama (and his Media Matters defenders) when he attacked Detroit's Big Three and ludicrously claimed that Japan's automobile fleet gets an average of 45 miles per gallon, a claim that Toyota itself quickly refuted. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must reveal that I have been a consultant to Toyota for years, and continue in that relationship. I had nothing to do with Toyota's contradicting Obama. Incidentally, in case anyone wonders, I also spent years working for one of the Big Three as a consultant in the past.)
Aside from the factual problems of Obama's claim, John points out that the vehicle mix in Japan contains many machines that Americans would not even consider cars. He is quite correct in that regard. I have lived in Japan, and was even a car owner (a very hot Nissan sports model, one not sold in the USA, if you care to know, which got around 17 miles to the gallon of premium gas). Way, way back in time, before I had the financial ability to own a car, I used to borrow a friend's Honda N360, which had the same basic design as a Mini Cooper, only much smaller. I even drove it once all the way from Tokyo to Niigata, on the Japan Sea coast. That was the last auto trip I ever took in such a small car because it scared the wits out of me. American drivers would never accept such a vehicle. In Japan, where urban streets can be extremely narrow (some of them so narrow that a full size American sedan cannot physically fit), and where people are smaller on average than Americans, such vehicles make sense as city cars. Incidentally, such cars not only save money on gasoline, they are taxed at a significantly lower level than cars with larger engine displacement.
One other aspect of Japan's auto fleet versus ours bears consideration. Japan enforces a very rigorous inspection program, the dreaded shaken system, which forces vehicles off the road at an average age of around seven years, and an average mileage of roughly 70,000 miles. If your car has a dent in it, don't even bother showing up for your shaken. Basically, if a car is not in like-new condition, it cannot be driven. As a result, one of Japan's lesser-known big businesses is the export of used cars to Russia, New Zealand, and other lands where a lower price is appreciated and regulatory authorities see nothing wrong with a car that fails the shaken.
In other words, if you are Japanese driver, there is no ability at all to buy a beater on a used car lot for a couple of thousand dollars. At least not if you intend to drive it legally. Used cars nearing the time for the required shaken lose almost all their value, for it can require many thousands of dollars to bring a perfectly serviceable vehicle up to shaken standards.
So Japan's auto fleet is renewed about twice as fast as the American fleet, meaning that improvements in mileage of new cars comparatively rapidly raise the overall fleet mileage. If America wanted to raise our average fleet mileage, the single most effective measure we could take would be to force older cars off the road, for they average much poorer mileage than newer cars. Of course the less affluent among us (the people Obama supposedly cares about) would no longer be able to afford any car to drive, which is the situation in Japan.
I would really like to see Obama defend such a proposal. Take away those beaters from poor people, make cars unavailable to anyone unable to come up with serious bucks and see how many votes you get, Senator Obama. Go ahead, make my day.
Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.