My thoughts on the matter are that GM should have begun switching over to a heavier focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles a long time ago, but I don't know enough about how the auto industry works to back that up with any solid numbers. However, I think it's fair to point out the success of companies like Toyota and Honda, who've been building hybrids and other efficient cars for awhile now, as evidence that it wasn't impossible to gaze into the future and see what was coming.
Record-high gas prices, increasing concern about climate change, instability in the oil markets, etc.
What's especially interesting about GM's recent announcement, then, is that they seem to finally be pondering the idea of cutting back on the production of SUVs and heavy trucks. They're even thinking that maybe they'll discontinue the Hummer line entirely. But just maybe. Can't quite kick the habit even when it's killing them, I guess.
Of course, some folks don't seem entirely convinced that this shift away from SUVs does or should have anything to do with skyrocketing fuel costs and changing consumer demands. Oh no, it's because we don't have as many children to pack into them. That's Dad29 for you, always good for a chuckle.
The facts speak of a slightly different reality, though:
According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2004, Washington, DC, 2004, http://childstats.gov/ac2004/tables [accessed August 24, 2004]), in 2002 72.9 million children younger than the age of eighteen lived in the United States. This number is expected to increase to 80.3 million in 2020. However, because the country's entire population will increase, the percentage of children in the population will actually remain fairly steady, decreasing slightly from 25% in 2002 to 24% by 2020.So that theory doesn't really pan out. I'll give credit where credit is due, however, and say that Dad29 is right when he notes that "there are many folks who purchased SUVs who simply did not need them, but liked the size, or weight, or the ability to see over the traffic which SUVs provided. But that need was a lot more fragile than the need to buy food rather than fuel."
It's possible, too, to drive a vehicle that fits several passengers and/or goods, that gets decent mileage, and isn't an absolute tank. The options may be slightly more limited, but you can blame manufacturers and regulators for failing to keep up with and enforce CAFE standards, as well as the relative lack of will to research and develop cleaner technologies like hybrid engines. Consumers aren't blame-free either. Our sense of entitlement to anything and everything we think we want or need has and will continue to bite us in the ass on a fairly regular basis.
In the end, it's always the workers paying the heaviest price for a corporation's failure to evolve and adapt. Now the community is left to find ways to employ those put out of work by plant closures, and to continue to push for technologies and policies that actually benefit them, instead of costing $4 a gallon. Relying solely on companies to change their ways of their own accord doesn't seem to do the trick.