The Motorized World is Jammed in Neutral.

December 21, 2009

The last year has said volumes about the relationship between cars/trucks, customers, the governments involved, and the scribes that are paid to weigh in on the lot of them: namely, everyone’s screwed and it’s time for something akin to reason to break out.  Sadly, I don’t see reason being too likely in the near future.

Firstly, I’d like to give a rousing half-clap to the “Cash for Clunkers” program.  While seen as a success in getting vehicles turned in in favor of others with higher MPG numbers, I think the whole point was lost on most people: this wasn’t about recent emissions-compliant SUVs/trucks, it was about the hoary old vehicles that will never be classics and individually pollute at levels beyond that of 20 current Suburbans.  When I saw the list of vehicles turned in-and doomed to be parted out, then destroyed-all I could do was gape at fine vehicles like an Aston Martin or recent BMW that were not really part of the problem to begin with.  Hey, Uncle Sam!  Next time, specifically target vehicles made prior to recent advances in ignition and emission controls rather than just hold a dumb cattle-call in the name of better mileage numbers.  It takes several 10-year-old SUVs to create the smog mess of one tired, mid-80’s family sedan dragging itself along in a cloud of hydrocarbons…so let’s improve our aim, shall we?  It’s not all about MPGs.

I also have to weigh in on the double-whammy caused by the need to be green and the massive economic crisis that’s smacked the world: it’s time to slow WAY the hell down in terms of making laws from unproven assumptions and partisan “science”.  While the various EU governments and that of the US as well are trying to force carmakers into unrealistic emission/mileage averages, there’s less people buying and less money to pay for the R&D needed to make the changes happen.  This kind of stupidity has happened before; I can remember when seemingly every mainstream ad for cars was all about saving some pennies on gas.  The result, history showed, was that people tried smaller vehicles and traded them in droves.  Even if the various “powers’ what is” insist that the average car gets 50 MPG, that doesn’t mean people will want to buy it.  There is something about feeling safe and uncramped in one’s vehicle; hence trucks, family-sized cars, and SUVs stay high on sales charts even when gas was chugging toward 5 bucks per gallon.

Finally, let there be some real clarity to the whole “hybrid” thing: THE LOT OF THEM ARE BAND-AIDS.  Yes, it’s great to get 40+ mpg and have room for 4, but there are several non-hybrid vehicles that are within a few mpgs of that number and encumbered with far less weight and expense.  I can appreciate one wanting to stretch their fuel budget as far as it can go, but it takes years to actually see savings when you are also spending thousands extra for the hybrid equipment on the vehicle in person.  If you’re considering any hybrid that is based on an existing vehicle (as opposed to specialty cars like the Prius/Element), look into the other engine options and weigh the price differences.  The tax credits are largely used up, people, and those systems add heavy numbers to the price tag.  If you’ll pay for the feeling of “being green”, bully for you.  If you just want to save some money, the base model Camry/Fusion/Escape/Highlander/etc. are pretty frugal in their own rights.  Take a look before taking the plunge.

All righty, then, here endeth the lesson.  Thanks for any attention paid, and I’ll throw out more unsolicited opinions shortly!

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