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Published: Sunday, 6/12/2011

GM: Raise gas tax

Once, the idea of a Detroit auto executive coming out in favor of raising the federal gasoline tax would have been about as unthinkable as, well, an Italian company owning Chrysler.

But Fiat is taking a majority interest in Jeep’s parent firm. And Dan Akerson, General Motors’ new chief executive, proposes boosting the gas tax by as much as a dollar a gallon, to nudge consumers towards more fuel-efficient cars.

Traditionally, the Detroit 3 have made their biggest profits from big, overloaded, less fuel-efficient vehicles. But Mr. Akerson, who came to GM after a successful career in telecommunications, is used to keeping an eye on the future. He knows the government is considering much higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks.

Many cash-pinched consumers surely would regard any further increase in gas prices with dismay. But there remains much to be said for a higher gas tax. For one thing, it would help reduce — or at least slow — Americans’ ever-growing dependence on foreign oil.

Twenty years ago, independent presidential candidate and former GM board member Ross Perot proposed a gas tax of 50 cents a gallon as a way of bringing down the federal deficit, which is now bigger than he ever imagined. Gas-tax revenue also could be used to fix battered roads and bridges, and possibly to improve rail and mass-transit service.

Perhaps because Mr. Akerson comes from outside the sometimes insular Detroit auto culture, he can see more clearly that the domestic industry’s old ways won’t work any longer. One of the cardinal principles of both business and evolution is: Adapt or die.

Two years ago, the nation saved GM. The suggestion the company’s new head is making might help return the favor.



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