Did you ever hear the story of the frog and the scorpion?
For those of you who never saw "The Crying Game":
A scorpion wished to cross a stream, and so he asked a frog to let him ride on his back across the stream. When the frog asked the scorpion how he could be sure that the scorpion would not sting him, the scorpion replied that if he did sting the frog, it would mean death by drowning for both of them. The frog complied, carrying the scorpion on its back across the stream. Before they reached the other side, however, the frog felt a horrible pain and realized that the scorpion had stung him. He protested, "Why did you sting me, Mr. Scorpion? For now we both will drown!"
The scorpion replied, "I can't help it, it's in my nature."
Ever since the days when automobiles were a rare luxury and oil could be scooped up out of shallow wells in southern California, the American oil industry and the American car industry have been the best of allies. This only makes logical sense. Gasoline, the primary product produced from crude oil, is not practical for use in electricity except in the case of small generators, and it is only useful for heating in areas which experience deep, prolonged cold where the use of electricity or gas heating is impractical. But those shortcomings weren't all that important anyway, because gasoline is a really great energy source for vehicles. It packs a lot of punch in a small package, and it's perfectly at home in the internal combustion engine, which is ideal for producing the large amounts of horsepower and torque necessary to move an automobile.
To ensure that this match worked out, both the automakers and the oil companies worked together to ensure that benefits arrived on both sides. Car makers avoided making smaller, slower, more fuel efficient vehicles and ignored any alternate energy sources to gasoline. Oil companies ensured that gasoline prices stayed incredibly low, and that various fuel additives were developed to permit cars to run better and faster (such as tetra-ethyl lead). And both industries worked hard to ensure that America became a nation of highways, interstates and freeways, so that cars and trucks became indispensable to the American way of life. They made a future for themselves by ensuring that there was no way to get around in America other than purchasing a car, and then worked to cook up low oil prices and fancy financing to ensure everyone had a car and drove it.
This worked fine right up until the 1970s, when the first hiccup hit. OPEC decided that it didn't like America, since over the course of the Cold War the USA had invaded a lot of countries or backed a lot of dictators or otherwise made themselves stand contrary to the needs of the nations selling oil. Or at least, contrary to the needs of the rulers of those nations. In any event, an embargo by OPEC suddenly reminded America that we had grown incredibly dependent on foreign oil, as almost 80 years of heavily subsidized gasoline prices and very fuel-guzzling vehicles had eliminated almost all domestic supply. Unable to count on the oil companies for cheap petrol, the car makers rushed to produce smaller, cheaper, less sporty cars in a desperate bid to keep America driving, and keep it's citizens from demanding things like public transpiortation.
But lucky for the oil/auto team, Ronald Reagan came to power in the 80s and ensured that OPEC understood that America needed oil and that we were willing to invade countries, prop up dictators, or turn a blind eye to horrible human rights violations in order to get it. The oil companies went back to making a killing, the auto industry went back to making gignatic cars, and dictators the world over found themselves flush with the American dollars necessary to fund their suppression of freedom.
Then the 90s came, and in a particularly clever move to jump around attempts at forcing cars to be more fuel efficient, the American automakers invented the SUV. It was the perfect automobile for the Big Oil/Auto team. It was large, expensive, required huge quantities of gas, and was impractical for just about everyone. The fact that most of them were unsafe or fell apart quickly just made them better, since it meant that there would be a constant need to replace them with even bigger, less fuel efficient vehicles. Both the oil industry and the American auto makers felt very smart, convincing the American public that these gigantic road-monsters were the thing to own.
Then something happened. Cheap gasoline dried up, and it dried up very quick. A mix of factors, from weather to war to speculators, made the price of gas double within a few years. Suddenly, those big, expensive SUVs didn't seem like that great of a thing to own. Small, cheap, foreign cars from nations not interested in subsidizing gas or forcing it's citizens onto the roads became all the rage. The fact that these cars required less money to buy and were thus easier to finance in a nation suffering from high inflation and poor dredit didn't help either.
The auto industry looked to the oil industry for help. Where was the cheap gas? Why were so many American refineries sitting unused or in ill-repair? Why were so many oil executives pressuring for new territory to be opened up to drilling, while known reserves went untapped? The oil industry had basically promised the American car makers that cheap gasoline would exist indefinitely. The OPEC thing was just an accident, right?
Just as the scorpion stung the frog, so did the oil companies sting the car companies. The oil makers realized that auto manufacturers were dependent on them, but that they were no longer dependent on the auto makers. So what if everyone switched from driving American SUVs to driving small sedans made in Japan? If they made the price of oil high enough, they'd make record profits no matter how hard American consumers tried to buy cars that sipped gas. Americans were, by now, so dependent on the product the oil companies provided that big oil didn't need to care about any of it's former "friends" or "allies," it could just make as much money as it wanted by artificially inflating the price of oil, or just letting speculators and wars drive it up. Who cared that American auto makers were being forced to lay off everyone and were overloaded with lousy cars that they couldn't move of the lots? They were making as much money as they wanted, as fast as they wanted.
Of course, we all know that the oil indsutry has doomed itself just as it's doomed the American auto industry. In the face of high prices, Americans are clamoring for alternative energy and transportation solutions, and they are going to great lengths to burn less gas, or even break their dependency on gasoline. Americans have also turned against "big oil" and are demanding that subsidies be cut, persons be held respionsible, and profits be savaged and given back to the now impoverished consumer. But the effects of this won't be felt for years or even decades, and in the meantime Exxon-Mobil couldn't give a damn about what happens to GM and those big SUVs that drove up record profits for all those years.
Just a reminder to everyone who thinks that they can trust the oil companies not to sting them when the going gets rough, just because it wouldn't be in their own best interest. It's in their nature.