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From Time to Time, Kicking Asphalt Will Publish the Opinions of Our Members.
This Month: Joseph McKinney, President of Oregon Roads, on Clean Air Policy

What do the CEO of the largest car dealer in the nation, and the CEO of Oregon's largest leasing company have in common? They both value clean air and find it acceptable that our government take action for the benefit of us all.

I'm the CEO of Oregon Roads, Inc., Oregon's largest vehicle leasing and finance company, and a car dealer in Eugene, Oregon. I was recently polled by our dealer association, asking my opinion on our governor's efforts to adopt California's cleaner emissions standards.

I could tell by the phrasing of the question that the dealer association was trying to drum up opposition. When asked if I were prepared to fight this particular political battle, I responded with one sentence, "I prefer clean air".

Less than a week later, I was delighted to hear that Michael Jackson, the CEO of Auto Nation, a Fortune 500 company that owns and operates 352 franchises from coast to coast, was on our side.

I've watched Mr. Jackson's career growth since he was a competitor of mine in Bethesda, Maryland. I was not surprised by his common sense message, but the media simply couldn't believe it. Headlines read: "Automotive executive proposes controversial and immediate 50 cent gas tax, with incremental increases till gas exceeds $6 per gallon".

Jackson said an increase is necessary "to influence consumer behavior, create a significant demand for greater fuel efficiency and justify the costs of the technology that will deliver it. ... The goal of this is not to raise taxes but to change the consumer mind-set."

Mike Jackson understands markets better than most people. He knows that factories will not build something unless there's considerable demand for the product. Think of the price tag of automotive production facilities, design, research, marketing . . . and you can imagine the scope of this project.

We pay for dirty air and water in our hospitals. Our children pay with the record numbers of asthmatics. Our forests and waterways, the very air we breathe suffer directly as a result of our driving patterns. Even industry executives who profit enormously by exploiting these patterns have come to realize that it's just not sustainable.

How do we change our unsustainable patterns? We can do the common sense thing, tax the gas and use the proceeds to mitigate the negative effects of our vehicle use. The tax revenues can be used to pay for the damage caused to society by the internal combustion engine.

Oh yeah, and this is Michael Jackson's point, super efficient vehicles will finally be developed because of the demand for them, due to the high price of fuel.

I think that's a fine idea, and about time, but it's not enough. The concept is not complete. I think we need to take it one step further.

Super efficient vehicles will be light and small. But when it comes to safety, size really does matter. We need to make it safe to drive small cars.

In Eugene Oregon, NEVCO has been selling a super efficient neighborhood electric vehicle for over a decade. It would meet the needs of the average commuter, it makes a great second car for a family and it's one fifth the price of the average new car. But sales are few and far between. Why? A collision with an SUV or truck would most certainly result in tragic consequences.

As long as Americans favor big trucks, vans and SUV's, the drivers of fuel efficient vehicles are at a safety disadvantage. It's a "double whammy". Large vehicles not only burn excessive quantities of fuel, they prevent the rest of us from moving into smaller, more efficient vehicles.

Taxing large vehicles, which I would characterize as a vehicle built on a truck platform (so as not to include small SUV's, wagons and mini-vans), is one way to effect consumer behavior, but not my preference. I would change the laws to restrict these large vehicles from the left lane of all Federal, State, County and City roads.

Trucks make the roads less safe, and not only in an accident. They limit visibility, damage road surfaces and are truly an inappropriate and inefficient method of transport. They are designed and intended to move materials, not people. The privileges built into our highway systems for moving people in cars need not be extended to the people who cost the rest of us considerably by their choice of trucks.

The left lane is reserved for the efficient flow of traffic and for left turns. Yes, trucks and the large SUV's may still make left turns. If their drivers want to enjoy the benefits of efficiency on the streets, they can choose efficient vehicles like the rest of us.

I believe this one change will make more difference than the institution of a "truck tax". Americans will dump their trucks and SUV's if they can't drive them in the fast lane. It will give small vehicles and their drivers the advantage for a change. Perhaps this behavior shift will stimulate the automotive engineers and designers and create a renaissance for the American automotive industry. Wouldn't that be something?

Perhaps subsequent changes will stimulate a renaissance for mass transit too. Then we'd finally be on the road to energy self-reliance and clean air.

Joseph McKinney is the president of Oregon Roads, Inc, Oregon Roads, a vehicle and equipment leasing and finance company. Contact Mr. McKinney directly regarding this article at