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Can Washington Really Push Alternative Cars?

AP

Are we finally at the tipping point? You know, the point where people are so fed up with spending $40, $60, or $80 to fill up their car, truck or SUV that they clamor for something to be done? If word of mouth is worth anything, I say we've hit that point.

In the last week, I have heard more and more friends, neighbors and co-workers complain that we need to finally get serious about pushing alternative-fueled vehicles.

I can already heard some of you saying, "Well it's about time, Toyota Phil! Glad you finally realized that we are spending too much on oil and gas." But this is not just about all of us complaining about the cost of gas. This is about whether or not we need a real push in Washington to help private companies develop alternative-fueled vehicles.

The automakers and suppliers are all working on developing electric/gas engines, fuel cells, and vehicles that run on ethanol made from sources other than corn. There's no shortage of R&D going on. But it will take time and money to develop vehicles that truly can meet our needs.

Yes, there are electric vehicles out on the market. But we're not yet to the point where we have mass-quantity models ready to roll into showrooms. And for the conspiracy theorists who think Detroit is purposely dragging it's feet, talk with foreign automakers and researchers. They are doing the same kind of research, and are not much closer to giving us a wider array of green vehicles.

So, why should Washington get more involved?

Generally speaking, I am not a fan of the government getting involved in private industry. But in this case, I might take a different approach. Maybe we're at a point where Washington has to do more to spur development of newer technologies. And while we're at it, why not expand the tax breaks people get for buying hybrid vehicles?

Let me know what you think. I'll be curious if the broader public is to a point where the pain at the pump means something dramatic needs to be done.

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

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