Will Americans Buy into Energy-Efficient Cars?

The American public has had a long and complicated relationship with the automobile.

Cars once symbolized freedom, rebellion and adventure, and the open road reached out to all of us: rebellious teenagers, vacationing suburban families, slick hot rod enthusiasts, rootless counter-culture drifters and middle-aged husbands alike.

Then things changed.

The Ford Mustang, the classic Cadillac and macho GTO took a back seat to more energy-efficient cars made by employees living on the other side of the planet. Foreign-built cars were more reliable, less expensive and–most importantly–got better gas mileage. The American automobile industry has never been the same.

Lee Iacocca is long gone, and so is the bravado that once defined the American car industry. Then, in 2008, the business hit rock bottom as all three major car brands—GM, GMAC and Ford—asked for a government bailout to stave off an unmitigated economic collapse. They got the money. Some Americans crossed their fingers while others clenched their fists.

But here we are, four years later, learning about a new deal struck by the Obama administration that will require all cars and light trucks made in the U.S. to get 54.5 miles to the gallon by 2025. That is almost double the current standard.

The rule was designed to save cash-strapped consumers money at the gas pump while also reducing American’s reliance on foreign energy sources–especially oil. But critics claim that hot rod-loving Americans will be reticent to adapt to new energy-efficient hybrids and electric cars.

There may be some truth to that sentiment. However, when considering the dilapidated state of the economy and environment, we feel like any coming change in the way we roll may be less of a true choice than a matter of survival.