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U.S. Car Buyers Still Want Gas Guzzlers: GM Executive

General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that U.S. consumers still wanted to buy big "gas-guzzler" cars and suggested that GM had to respond to that demand.

"General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, seen here in January 2009, said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday that US consumers still wanted to buy big "gas-guzzler" cars and suggested that GM had to respond to that demand."

Lutz told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that the ailing U.S. auto giant had decided this week to ramp up production of big pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles in the United States because stocks had nearly run bare.

"It remains a fact that the American public buys big, high consumption, cars," he said.

"It is completely wrong to hope that Americans will massively rush to economical vehicles."

"The mass movement towards 'green cars' is only taking place in the media," he added, pointing to "poor" sales of hybrid vehicles, other than the one offered by Japanese rival Toyota, and their small share of market.

GM's challenge was to "meet the tougher emissions standards by 2015 and deliver the whole range of cars that the public wants," Lutz cautioned.

Much of the recovery plan for the U.S. auto industry and government support for cash-strapped GM is based on a shift towards more environmentally-friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles.

The Obama administration has set up tougher new fuel consumption targets, while a government-funded "Cash for Clunkers" program that pays consumers up to 4,500 dollars to trade in a gasoline-guzzler for a more fuel efficient vehicle has spurred sales.

But an attempt to renew the trade-in scheme has hit resistance in the senate, prompting an effort to push through the additional funding needed to keep it going before legislators break for their summer holidays on Friday.

Lutz said GM had worked closely with the Obama administration in setting up the fuel efficiency targets.

But buyers would change only if there was a durable rise in gasoline prices, he underlined.

"The government faces a dilemma. It wants on the one hand to bring pump prices closer to European levels and therefore introduce more economical cars."

"On the other hand the economy is so fragile that a renewed sudden surge in gasoline prices would have a devastating impact," Switzerland-born Lutz added.

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