Interesting article: Why innovation is dying in America

Posted By on January 24, 2012

…all new inventions in the U.S. are assigned a political party. In the transportation and energy sectors, anything to do with petroleum, natural gas, biofuels, clean diesel, hydrogen and any means of producing electricity other than wind turbines or solar panels is Republican.

Hybrids, plug-ins and battery-electric vehicles are Democrat technologies, in addition to anything related to solar or wind energy.

Drew Winter from WardsAuto wrote an insightful article earlier this month, although I had a little bit of an opinion too. I agreed with Mr. Winter’s assessment that innovation is assigned a political label … such as "Govt Motor’s Volt" (as it is referenced by some) being targeted as dangerous (not appropriate), Volt_Plug_Inbut I will also point out that non-innovation gets targeted too – the Keystone XL Pipeline Project comes to mind.

I welcome better energy innovation for our country, be it solar, wind or even the electric cars (perfect for some drivers), but as believe the development need to be privately advanced. The computer and electronics innovation Winter mentioned was "privately advanced;" it proves that capitalism works without government’s heavy hand or funding. I cringe when I see government nosing into capital ventures and business … be it by one party or the other. The recent bankrupt Solyndra solar company loans (D), agri-lobby biofuel mandates and tax credits (R), Wall Streets banks and automotive company bailouts (both R & D) and the senseless roadblocks targeting natural gas, shale and sand oils or big oil’s offshore drilling are not helping our nation’s energy or automotive industry policies. What we need is less government involvement creating a level playing field, even if it seems skewed toward the establishment players (enforce the laws are already in place when innovation is squelched.)

Innovation needs to stand on its own merit … let investors fund and consumers choose what makes the most sense without manipulation by either party. If our governments debt and deficit is not a good enough reason for a smaller federal government, their heavy handed involvement in competitive businesses is a pretty good reason to support shrinking Washington DC (bigger government and more regulations is not the answer).

Why Innovation is dying in America

Unlike most countries, all new inventions in the U.S. are assigned a political party. Then partisans destroy each other’s innovations for political gain.

winter-drew-2010-2Despite the lip service we as a nation pay to the importance of creating new ideas, most Americans won’t pay extra for new technology unless it’s a new smartphone or big-screen television.

The kind of innovation that builds new industries and creates tens of thousands of good jobs here in the U.S. is dying.

Actually, dying is too kind a word. Innovation is being murdered in America.

Elected officials fund new technologies and then defund them, depending on political winds. U.S. trial lawyers demonize inventions from airbags to electronic throttle controls in an effort to make a buck; environmentalists mandate innovation in cars and trucks, but think buying electric cars is someone else’s responsibility.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of the Chevy Volt. It is the most innovative vehicle to come out of Detroit in a generation, yet Republicans are trying to kill it and Democrats and environmentalists are not digging into their own pockets to show it the support they say it deserves.

Unlike most countries, all new inventions in the U.S. are assigned a political party. In the transportation and energy sectors, anything to do with petroleum, natural gas, biofuels, clean diesel, hydrogen and any means of producing electricity other than wind turbines or solar panels is Republican.

Hybrids, plug-ins and battery-electric vehicles are Democrat technologies, in addition to anything related to solar or wind energy.

It would be fine if each party merely championed their respective interests for the common good, but partisans are determined to destroy each other’s innovations for political gain.

Heading into an election year, Republicans are doing everything they can to make President Obama look bad, and attacking General Motors and the Chevy Volt fall into that category.

In their latest nakedly political assault, House Republicans are suggesting the Volt is dangerous because one caught fire three weeks after a government crash test where technicians apparently did not follow proper procedures. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which usually does tougher tests than the government, crashed the Volt and gives it a “Top Safety Pick” rating.

Yet now both the government and GM are doing all sorts of ridiculous things such as crash testing batteries without the car’s body shell. There are more than 200,000 car fires every year in the U.S. where gasoline ignites in seconds. Is a battery that takes three weeks to catch fire reason to panic?

But Democrats are just as guilty of stifling innovation. Consider the liberal war on combustion. Democrats are busy attacking, obstructing or undermining biofuels, natural gas and hydrogen. The left-leaning California Air Resources Board, which has undue influence on the Obama Administration, is trying to regulate clean diesels out of existence, mainly because it wants everyone to drive electric vehicles.

But Greenies are notorious for not dipping into their own pockets to support their beliefs. At $32,500 after a $7,500 federal incentive, the Volt costs $2,500 more than the average car sold in 2011, an extra $42.00 per month for a 60-month loan. Yet, GM sold 7,671 Volts in 2011, far less than its 10,000-unit target.

Like many bold automotive advances, the Volt is not selling as well as hoped. The Toyota Prius, one of Japan’s greatest engineering marvels, had a slow sales start in the U.S., too. 

But it did not have the kind of opposition the Volt is facing. The Prius eventually became a phenomenon because the Japanese government nurtured Toyota’s efforts, and the U.S. federal government and state of California worked together on tax incentives and perks such as special access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes and premium parking spots.

A diverse group of constituencies saw it was in their self interest to help the Prius succeed.

Ultimately, the Prius not only made Toyota look like the greenest, most-advanced auto maker on Earth, it enhanced Japan’s reputation as a nation that fostered innovation.

If Republicans stop beating up on the Volt and Democrats started putting their money where their mouth is and buy a few cars, the Chevy Volt could become America’s Prius.

But if we continue on this path, Republicans will be bragging about destroying one of Detroit’s greatest achievements and Democrats will fund a whiny movie called “Who Killed the Volt?” that blames everyone but the liberal hypocrites who did not buy one.

With China vowing to be a leader in electric cars and Japan and Europe coming on strong, America can’t afford to look that stupid.

dwinter@wardsauto.com

Comments

  • Drew’s comments has me realizing that in a global economy that not all is as simple as it seems …

    I have two problems with marketplace solutions in the auto industry:
     
    Our global competitors, mainly Germany, Japan and China give their domestic industries lots of supports and incentives, plus tax disincentives to promote fuel efficient vehicles and new technology. The support and government
    controls of our foreign competitors puts U.S. auto industry at a disadvantage if they do not receive help as well. Prius would never have made it through tough first years without behind the scenes support and encouragement of Japanese government.  

    Secondly, huge fuel taxes in Europe and Japan make consumers highly motivated to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and pay extra for advanced technology. U.S. consumers only care when our comparatively low prices spike suddenly.

    My stance is we don’t need some magic-bullet solution to become more energy independent, we just need a lot of bullets, and our elected representatives are not helping when they trash each other’s ideas.

    http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/54ed38e6#/54ed38e6/1

Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.