A New King of Cars
Toyota's sales were down 4% in 2008 (and probably more than that in the second half of the year), but GM's sales were down 10.8%. So the final total is 8.972 million vehicles for Toyota and 8.356 million or GM, making Toyota #1 in sales worldwide.
These numbers carry both good and bad news...Bad News First
Look at these numbers. Only between these two companies, that's over 17 million cars, most of them still using gasoline and diesel engines that pump out greenhouse gases and other smog-forming emissions.
Now, to be fair, it's only been a mainstream view (especially in the US) that we need to move to much cleaner transportation for a few years (we treehuggers have known for decades, but most other people couldn't have cared less), so the progress that has been made is not insignificant. But as with most of these big structural changes, it will probably seem very slow for a very long time until we reach some threshold that tips things over. Let's hope that this will happen very soon...
The Good News
The good news is that Toyota's success wasn't based on beating Detroit by making more decadent SUVs and more powerful V8s (though they've made some efforts at both these things), but rather by taking "green" and running with it.
Toyota is no doubt not as green as it would like to believe it is, but it nonetheless helped both its customers and its competitors realize that greener cars could be good for nature and business. You gotta start somewhere, and a big hit like the Prius has helped put hybrids on the map (remember when people were just totally puzzled by them?) and probably accelerated the introduction of plug-in hybrids and electric cars.
That's non-negligible, but much more needs to be done. When we look into our crystal ball, we see recyclable cars powered by very efficient electric motors, with the energy stored in either batteries, hypercapacitors, or hydrogen. The energy is produced cleanly (solar, wind, wave, geothermal, etc). We also hope that public transportation will become much better (high speed trains, etc) and that walkable neighborhood will become the norm.
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