What are we going to be driving a few years from now? GM is in bankruptcy, Chrysler is now run by Fiat and the future hardly seems rosy for Ford. Who’ll be the next king of America’s roads—Toyota, Honda … or maybe Geely?
Who? Geely Automobile. It’s one of China’s largest auto manufacturers. Along with Chinese automotive giants BYD and Chery Automobile, Geely has big designs on the American market. Never heard of ’em? Get ready to be introduced.
China is projected to displace Japan this year as the world’s largest car producer. China already tops U.S. carmakers in sales.
The chairman of Daimler, Germany’s top auto company, bluntly acknowledges that “the center of gravity is moving eastward.” But the East is also moving westward. Chinese cars are expected to arrive in U.S. showrooms in just over a year, and rumors abound that the Chinese are kicking the tires of Detroit’s auto companies, with an eye toward buying a piece of one or, at today’s bargain prices, a whole company.
One reason for the Chinese surge is that China’s industrial and political leaders have been planning for and investing in the future, while American car honchos were hunkered down in their SUV strategy. China’s fuel-efficiency standards already exceed the 35 m.p.g. average that President Barack Obama recently said U.S. cars must meet by 2016. A week after Obama set that goal, Chinese officials upped the ante, saying their vehicles will soon average 42 m.p.g.
Meanwhile, China’s BYD company has gotten the jump on the next level of fuel economy. It is now producing a mass-market, plug-in electric car—well ahead of the Chevy Volt that GM has been promising. Assuming GM will still be around to deliver it.
The Battle of Coal River
“You’ve got to stand for something,” John Mellencamp sings, “or you’re gonna fall for anything.”
Folks in West Virginia’s Coal River Valley are no longer falling for the litany of lies they’ve gotten from coal company executives and bought-off politicians. The state’s corporate elites have destroyed mountains, forests, streams, wildlife, livelihoods, human health and whole communities in Appalachia by using a contemptible form of coal mining called “mountaintop removal.”
For years, people there have tried the usual political and legal channels to block the corporate assault, yet it continues. So people are now putting themselves on the line. “Somebody has to do something about it,” one activist says, “so we do the little things we can.”
One of those “little things” is going to jail. On May 23, at three mountaintop removal sites, protesters engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, and 17 were jailed. Two women donned hazmat suits and respirators and boated onto the Brushy Fork impoundment — an 8-billion-gallon lake of poisonous coal slurry waste. After unfurling a floating, 60-foot banner reading “No More Toxic Sludge,” they were arrested for—get this—”littering!” How can you litter a toxic waste dump?
Though the charges against the protesters are misdemeanors, state judges demanded that each one post a punitive bail of $2,000 cash, rather than the much lower bonds that are more typical. Contrast these bail rates with the $1,800 fine one of the coal giants paid when its slurry lake broke, poisoning 14 miles of river.
King Coal may think it owns West Virginia, but the people are in revolt. To connect with this growing movement, go to www.ohvec.org.
For more information on Jim Hightower’s work—and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown—visit www.jimhightower.com.