Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mowing Down a Marketing Bonanza

It’s such fun watching American manufacturers shoot themselves in the foot. They do it with such dedicated focus.


BriggsstrattonengineMr. Briggs and Mr. Stratton fired up their opposition to California’s lawnmower emissions control legislation instead of seeing it for what it is, the golden opportunity to market the hell out of the environment. Green machines! Nah, too much trouble. Wal-Mart wouldn't like it. Too costly, no one’ll buy ‘em.


California, which may as well be another country because of it’s opposition to dirty internal-combustion engines, is having none of it. In answer, Briggs and Stratton merely dialed up their lobbyists, whispered in a couple JshielySenatorial ears and hunkered down. John Shiely is B&S CEO, a nice, young, well-turned-out Brooks Brothers type fellow with the well-bred Milwaukee reverence for the bottom-line.


According to a NYTimes article by Felicity Barringer, Briggs and Stratton’s all-new and highly polished 2006 line of engines is almost a hundred times as polluting (gallon per gallon) as today’s calalytic-converter equipped automobiles. A golf-ball sized small-engine catalytic-converter would add about $20 to $25 to the cost of the engines and solve the problem.


Twenty-five bucks to agreeably meet standards they’ll have to knuckle under to anyway, not all that far down the road. Shiely ought to give Chrysler, GM or Ford a ring to see how well they made out trying to stiff-arm the EPA. Of course it’s not just lawnmowers. Briggs and Stratton engines are found on leaf-blowers, golf carts, generators, outboard engines, chainsaws, rototillers, small tractors, weed-eaters, snow-blowers, jet-skis and irrigation pumps, to name what immediately comes to mind.


All this great stuff, all polluting, all fixable, all a great marketing opportunity—but John Shiely claims it ain’t easy being green. Muppet mentality strikes again. When all else fails, haul out the China threat. SenchrisbondSenator Christopher Bond, B&S’s Washington shill, argues that tightening small-engine standards nationally would take 1,750 jobs from his constituents and send them to China.


As we all know, China is the world’s most efficient maker of golf-ball sized catalytic-converters. According to the Senator, moving this critical function to Asia is tantamount to destroying the PGA Tour (I made that up), killing off yet another great American industry and decimating the employment of Bond’s Missouri constituents He’s not having any, thank you very much.


Not so long as he chairs the committee that controls the budget of the EPA.


All over golf balls, or things the size of golf balls, or thingys that cost about the same as a dozen golf balls. Who would have thought that a worldwide engine provider such as Briggs and Stratton was so Jimziemerharleyhorribly vulnerable? My god, it’s Harley Davidson all over again. Or not. It’s so confusing when we get Brooks Brothered. Possibly John can slip down the road and have lunch with Jim Ziemer at Harley and ask how they were able to afford converters, still kick Yamaha’s butt and stave off those vicious Chinese motorcycle builders.


What’s at stake in California is a pending regulation that would tighten emission requirements for small engines, Briggs engines, Stratton engines. Cutting 22 tons of smog-forming chemicals from the California air daily, or the equal of  800,000 cars per day, give or take a few.


That sounds reasonable on the face of it. That sounds like something a major green-machine ad campaign could be built around. That sounds like consumers wouldn't be able to get around the law by buying a non-Briggs, non-Stratton mower or outboard motor. Shiely and Bonds think it only sounds that way, that far murkier plots against American industry are afoot.


BspoweredmowerSo, if John Shiely can just figure out how to convince all those chainsaw and jet-ski buyers out there that twenty-five bucks is a good investment and if he can de-claw Senator Bond and if he can just buy the little converters from China instead of having them ravage yet another American company . . . then, maybe we can all sigh in relief, mow our lawns and weed-eater a little around the picnic-table without destroying the world as we know it.


Whoops, small item I nearly missed from Barringer’s article:

“But four small-engine makers say that their engineers have figured out how to meet the pollution standards safely, with or without the devices.”

We can only hope those four are not Japanese makers. We’ve been there, done that, got the tee shirt some thirty years ago and lost our auto industry. Not because Detroit couldn’t make efficient, well-made cars, they've long since proven their ability to do that.


But because they wouldn’t.
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A bunch more environmental issues muddying the waters on my personal web site.