If the peak oil theorists are correct, within 20 years Americans will have to live on 10% of our current per-capita energy consumption. This means that the auto industry as we know it must undergo radical change. The conclusions for the auto industry are clear, and it will be up to the Obama administration to transform it according to the following imperatives:
1. The era of high personal mobility is ending. Americans may still own lots of cars, but they will be driving and replacing them dramatically less.
2. Auto sales are going to plunge to a fraction of what they are today, and the types of cars and trucks sold will shift to electric-powered vehicles.
3. The productive capacity of America’s auto makers must be shifted to the manufacture of other goods to avoid massive unemployment and further economic collapse.
4. The precedent of WWII factory conversion of manufacturing away from automobiles should be followed by the Federal Government, but it is mass transit vehicles, buses and train cars that should be produced, not weapons.
5. The production of clean buses, electric locomotives, and rail cars will absorb the unemployed and under-employed workers of the auto industry and enable the rapid expansion of public transportation in America.
6. The Federal government should supply funding, leadership, and technical assistance for this strategic industrial conversion.
7. Fiscal stimulus, in the form of massive subsidies for the build-out of inter-city rail, light rail, and bus service, will be the most productive anti-recessionary policy the government could pursue.
Americans should understand that the current economic turmoil is not a temporary interruption in our old energy-squandering way of living, and that the fat times are not going to return soon. We have got to radically restructure our society to function with less energy, and we will have to start with our automobile industry.