For most humans, I believe, it is in our DNA to resist change. We often find change troublesome and upsetting to our natural order. At best change is only bothersome, an unnecessary sequence of events that adds zero functional improvement to our lives; but at worst it’s an ominous obstacle in the making.I also believe that it is our nature to become accustomed to a status quo, which is why we lean toward the conservative — while at the same time most recognize the rut we often get into because we don’t shake things up often enough. And sometimes we embrace change in ways that create whole new industries out of thin air. For example, in the 70s we laughed at people carrying boom boxes on their shoulders to listen to their music; but, when Sony introduced the Walkman, most quickly adapted to mobile music in our ears. Apple’s iPod was smaller, more versatile and even more popular, even though an mp3 file’s music reproduction quality is far, far inferior to that of the early Walkman’s analog tapes. What we cannot accept is that the totally free market does not work in many cases. It has to be organized, policed and made to function in favor of those with the best ideas or ways of doing business. Limits must curb the inherent tendency to extreme excess that the ultimate libertarian free market would exhibit. But an externally organized and legislated marketplace always infuriates those who already do their business honorably, providing value and solid products for the money. Maybe that’s because, even though the legislation was written to rid the marketplace of the less honorable, it’s mostly the ethical who wind up having to make costly changes in their own businesses — along with all the inconvenience.Howling, “Interference!”The automobile industry has always been one of the most vocal in claiming its rights under our alleged free market to move with the public in improving their vehicles’ safety or mileage. Moreover, when new mandates come out, the auto industry and its lobbyists scream the loudest about the sheer cost of whatever new is being required of them. They always claim it will destroy new car sales and be a severe financial burden on their customers — but it never works out that way. After all, in the lifetimes of the Baby Boomers alone, we once had cars that featured unpadded, unyielding metal dashes, and lacked basic safety features we’ve long taken for granted: headrests to prevent whiplash from causing serious damage, side-impact protection in doors, and seatbelts. These were all no-technology items, meaning that any car company at any time could have added these features to their vehicles. They didn’t have to be invented, just installed.Other technologies did have to wait for the march of science to catch up to the marketplace: Anti-lock brakes, emission controls, airbags and front crumple zones fall into the latter category. Still, in the late 1960s, as the government demanded seat belts, padded dashes and headrests, the auto industry screamed bloody murder. After all, Ford had offered just that safety package as an option in the mid-50s, and claimed customers had rejected it in droves. But here’s the real story: While relatively inexpensive, that Ford safety package was still a dealer-ordered option. Because of the free market and customers’ being so price sensitive, few dealers would order it; on a tight deal against one of their competitors, they might lose the sale over the cost of that safety option.Even as late as 1989, a major insurance company in Dallas, replacing hundreds of company cars, ordered half Ford Tauruses and half Chevy Luminas, because the Lumina, which didn’t have a driver’s-side airbag, consequently cost $800 less than the Ford. That’s right, an insurance company bought Chevys without an airbag because they were cheaper.When the original Ford Mustang was introduced it came with seatbelts, but dealers could delete that feature for a $14 factory credit and many, if not most, did just that. Of course, the dealers’ point was this; their customers didn’t want these safety features, therefore they were simply providing the market with the products that were selling. The great irony of the marketplace is that, after the government mandated these safety improvements be made to every car, then suddenly the public started demanding even more “safer vehicles.” Here’s the real scorecard on lives saved because federal mandates made this generation of new cars the safest ever. In 2011, traffic accidents killed 32,310 people, or 1.1 deaths for every 100 million miles driven. If traffic fatalities had happened at the same rate as they did 80 years earlier, 775,440 people would have died on American highways that year. To be fair, manufacturers made many improvements to vehicles’ safety without government mandates or legislation. But that incredible fatality rate truly was once the norm in America, and our grandparents certainly did not demand safer vehicles.Crying, “Wolf!”The same situation is true about fuel efficiency. The car companies scream and tell the public the cost will run into the thousands, the dealers worry that government mandates will make cars so expensive that their overall volumes will fall, and so on. But that never seems to happen, either.Just a couple of years ago this became a public debate again, when the Obama Administration put out the new standard: 54.5 mpg across the U.S. car fleet by 2025. This week the EPA told the Automotive News that already 90 models of cars being sold today beat the 2016 fleet efficiency standard, while the all-new 2014 Mazda6 beats the 2019 fuel efficiency standard for its size class. The new 2014 Honda Accord hybrid electric, which may well rewrite the technology for all hybrid vehicles, is rated 50 mpg city. That’s exactly double the fuel efficiency of the failed 2005 Honda Accord hybrid electric, yet the price of the new Accord hybrid is almost identical to the price of the 2005 model.While the 2014 Ram 1500 is rated 25 mpg highway, up from 17 mpg highway in 1995 — but the Ram Crew Cab model sells for less today than an extended-cab version did 18 years ago. And still saves you money on gas.Keep in mind that just two years ago the auto manufacturers said it couldn’t be done, couldn’t be done without costing consumers untold thousands of dollars more, and even if it could be accomplished would strain their engineering capability to the max. All of this shows our natural resistance to change and how sometimes the free market mindset of business doesn’t work. For a generation the entire auto industry, not just Detroit, fought tooth and nail to make sure that they got to handle their own vehicles’ fuel efficiency. They insisted that they would make sure that the max mileage possible would always be forthcoming. The only problem is that for an entire generation, the fuel efficiency of vehicles barely budged and sometimes went down. So, while we all resist change because it’s our nature and we certainly hate being told what to do by the government — because that’s our nature, too — sometimes these mandates improve everyone’s life and financial position. Just five years ago automobile advertising banner-headlined any vehicle that got over 30 mpg. Today 40 mpg gives you bragging rights; and, if Honda is right, next year it might be 50 miles to the gallon. That’s an incredible savings in fuel, even if the price never goes up again.I hate to say it this way, but that’s change you can believe in. © Ed Wallace 2013 Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism. He hosts Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: email@example.com, and read all of Ed’s work at www.insideautomotive.com.