Column Date 2008-11-19

A free hybrid car in every garage! It might just save the economy.

It's called the Gillette gambit, and here's how it works:

Gillette sells razors at the lowest possible price. (It really wouldn't surprise me if they actually lose money on each razor.)

But once you've bought a Gillette razor, you're hooked – you have to buy blades from Gillette to fit their unique razors. And, of course, the blades are so expensive it's almost exorbitant.

They give away razors, dominate the market, and make obscene profits on the blades.

That's the beauty of unfettered free enterprise. (Before film became obsolete, Kodak did the same thing – practically gave away cameras and made huge profits on the film.)

Like it or not, that's the way the world works today.

So why don't we encourage oil companies, flush with hundreds of billions of dollars in unexpected profits, to use the same marketing strategy?

Let's urge Exxon, Shell and BP to buy General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. The automakers' stock prices are in the basement right now, and they could snap up the car companies with no trouble at all.

After that, it's simple: they fire the management (who have had their heads in the sand for years), and sweep away all those dumb ideas that have run those previously great car companies into the ground.

Then, they get Detroit's talented designers and engineers (yes, they're still alive and well) to build us some great hybrid cars. We've always claimed we have the best workers in the world. Well, set them loose!

Now comes the Gillette gambit: they give away the cars for free.

You read it right -- every driver in America gets a free hybrid car. No strings attached.

In one fell swoop, our whole country is averaging 44 miles per gallon!

And here's the part fiscal conservatives will love: it's nothing but a proven, free-enterprise marketing strategy. There's absolutely no need for government involvement, and not one dollar of taxpayer money is at risk.

Better yet, with everybody in America now getting 44 mpg, we won't have to import a single drop of oil from the Middle East!

So we can finally kiss our "friends" in Saudi Arabia goodbye. And bid adeiu to irritating Mr. Chavez down in Venezuela, and arrogant, oil-rich Mr. Putin in Moscow.

The oil companies will be heroes in America, which should make them happy. After all, it's awfully hard to hate somebody who's just given you a free new car.

Not only that, but designing and building millions of new hybrid cars a year would soon give Detroit a significant edge over their worldwide competition, leading to huge exports to overseas markets. (And, as the head of one oil company admitted, they can make a terrific profit even with gas at $2 a gallon.)

But here's the best thing of all – none of us will ever have to deal with another car salesman as long as we live.

That, alone, makes it a plan to love.

©2008 Peter Tannen