07/31/2007 04:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Consider the Source

Detroit, MI -- For over a decade the Sierra Club has made the pilgrimage to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, to meet with the auto industry, the leadership of the UAW, and with Michigan political figures. And always with the same message: the American auto industry has real problems and it cannot solve them using the same old, outmoded and inefficient technology. It must compete. It needs help to compete, but only if it competes can it make money. A few years ago, I looked out the windows of Solidarity House, the UAW headquarters, with Steve Yokich, then the head of the UAW, as he noted to me how few SUV's were in the lot -- because, as he put it, "the guys on the line are car guys, and they know what's good and what's not." I listened while William Clay Ford urged me to be "the barbarian at the gate" to help him move the culture of Ford. I had a vice-president at one of the Big Three tell me, sadly, on the phone, that her engineers were distraught that Detroit had all of the technology the Sierra Club had identified to make vehicles efficient, yet was not willing to use it -- while Tokyo was. I've had the best and brightest in the industry and the union tell me they were leaving because "it's hopeless." I've worked with third-generation Big Three auto dealers, who stunned me by saying, "the best business move I ever made was to add a Korean dealership." And I've talked with members of Congress from Michigan who were excited to learn that the Sierra Club really thought it was important to save the domestic industry, only to call me back resignedly and say, "but they won't deal. They are still in denial. You can't help them."

But now it's official. The Big Three can make lots of money by making more fuel efficient vehicles. The Transportation Research Institute of the University of Michigan found that passing the toughest fuel efficiency law being considered -- the Markey-Platt bill -- would increase Big Three profits by $14.4 billion by 2017. This is serious change. And it comes from an academic source so close to the auto industry that it might as well be the industry itself -- in its non-delusional frame of mind. What led Michigan to this conclusion? Because the tougher the fuel efficiency standard, the more consumers will like what Detroit makes.

Take a look at the story -- and weep. Because Detroit is doing everything it possibly can to keep that $14.4 billion in added profits at bay. It has a murder-suicide pact with its workers and communities. They just don't know it.