Giant F-150 Ford truck (and there are bigger variants) is top-selling single model in the US

Giant F-150 Ford truck (and there are bigger variants) is top-selling single model in the US

Obama is new to it admittedly. And he put on a decent show. He stood at his lectern solemnly and lengthily and said that Libya was just another example of how vulnerable the US is to imported oil. 

His conclusion is that the US must mine more oil of its own. “We cannot bet on a resource that will run out and which will get more and more expensive to get out of the ground. We must cut imports by a third. We must look at Canada and Mexico and Brazil for reserves. Our best opportunity is in our own back yard. We boast one critical resource that the rest of the world cannot match…American ingenuity.

“If we continue to work on what we have begun, we will not just spark new jobs, we will make the country safer, healthier and more prosperous.”

Last year, the oil the US imported was half of all the liquid fuels it used. “We must make more oil at home, more alternative fuels and more efficient cars.” His plan is to cut fuel imports by a third in 10 years.

More oil at home will be an interesting proposal to push through, given that the BP oil spill was “oil at home”. The only reason it could be described as desecration was because BP was a foreigner – not a national enterprise.

Bob Lutz, the maverick thinker on the GM board who is now retired, spent a long time promoting ethanol. He had the right ends but the wrong means. The real answer is in two parts: smaller cars and higher tax on big cars.

America never dared to tax motor spirit at the rate that others do because the States has no transport infrastructure other that the car. But tax – be it fuel tax or car tax or both - was always the only tool available to get America to switch to small cars. And now it is the only tool to assist and promote the change from oil to electric.

Smaller cars will come – in a small way. The global build of Focus will be the start of it. But it takes a long time to persuade people who eat the world’s largest beef burgers and drink coke from the world’s largest carry-out paper cups that a Ford Focus is a real car. The good people of Texas believe that four people carrying four carry-outs won’t be able to mount up and close all the doors of a Focus tight shut.

Tax is the tool Mr Obama, sir. Tax cars by weight or by fuel consumption or by both and you will get the 30% oil saving you want in a jiffy. You won’t have to find any oil at home. The national preference for pick-ups  only exists because they ranked as trucks and therefore had a low, truck-rate of tax. Had that not happened, America would be building transport in the same way as the rest of the world. It would not have such a large import and transplant business. It would be making reasonable cars like everyone else and building them in such huge programmes that the price would be low, and the export potential would be high.

Go and look for your own oil by all means Mr Obama, sir. But tax the life out of the gas guzzlers. That formula will earn money for your spending plans and make a better climate for the rest of us.