Green Car Mirage

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Pete Geddes, executive director of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE), has a sharp column explaining "The Inconvenient Truth About Cars."

U.S. energy policy is best described as "keep it cheap." It's ironic that our political class is berating the Big Three for building the vehicles Americans bought in response. Congress is now poised to mandate that Detroit manufacture electric and hybrid vehicles. This approach is bound to fail, for these are cars consumers (a) don't want and (b) even if they did, can't afford. The recent plunge in the price of gas at the pump has not helped. November sales of hybrid cars fell 50 percent. U.S. hybrid sales are now back where they were in 2005. (Ford's best selling product in November was the F-150 pickup.) Only when electric and hybrid vehicles really do provide more value to consumers than the alternatives will they succeed.

There is a straightforward way to transition the U.S. auto fleet to a greener future. Place a gradual tax on gasoline such that in five years it reaches a floor of $5 per gallon. Nothing else will work, certainly not the Rube Goldberg approach Congress has taken since the 1970s, best exemplified by the Corporate Average Fleet Economy (CAFÉ) standards.

In a masterstroke of special-interest politics, the UAW used CAFÉ's "two fleet" rule to forbid Detroit from importing smaller cars from its foreign operations. Forced to build small cars in domestic plants, with above market labor costs, Detroit could not make a profit. (In 2007, Toyota made 9.37 million vehicles and GM about the same. Toyota made a profit of about $1,874 per car, while GM lost $4,055.) Even Japanese and European carmakers rely on sedans with moderate fuel economy for profits. Small, super-efficient cars remain a niche product. Here's an inconvenient truth: forcing Detroit to build fuel-efficient cars in UAW factories is inconsistent with viable, sustainable manufacturing.

Critics often portray the Detroit automakers as "greedy, short-sighted profit seekers." To claim Detroit is refusing to sell cars consumers "really" want, compared with the cars they actually purchase, is a stretch. Is there a simpler explanation? Perhaps alternative cars are simply not ready for prime time?

The Financial Times reports on a French government study that analyzed the options for building cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars by 2030. After reviewing a leaked copy, the FT notes: "It [the report] concludes…there is not much future in…all electric-powered cars. Instead, …the traditional combustion engine powered by petrol, diesel, ethanol or new biofuels…offers the most realistic prospect of developing cleaner vehicles. … {T}he overall cost of an all-electric car is unviable at around double that of a conventional vehicle. Battery technology…still…severely limits performance both in terms of range and speed."

The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins' coverage of this issue nails it: "Ford and GM in Europe successfully sell cars that are small, but not cheap. Europeans are willing to pay top dollar for a refined small car that gets excellent mileage, because they face gasoline prices as high as $9. … In the U.S., except during bouts of high gas prices or in the grip of a Prius fad, the small cars that American consumers buy aren't bought for high mileage, but for low sticker prices. And the Big Three, with their high labor costs, cannot deliver as much value in a cheap car…. {Legislators] won't repeal CAFE because they fear the greens. They won't repeal CAFÉ's "two fleet" rule…because they fear the UAW. They won't hike gas prices because they fear voters."

It should be noted that most auto industry observers believe that Toyota has never made a profit on its Prius hybrid. President-elect Obama has promised to put 1 million plug-in hybrids on American roads by 2015.  How? By bribing consumers with a $7,000 tax credit for each car. Since there are about 250 million passenger vehicles in the U.S., that would mean that such hybrids would total less than one half of a percent of the cars on American roads. 

Whole Geddes column here

Disclosure: I have had the happy experience of having FREE pay my travel expenses several times to participate in the organization's superb conferences. 

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  1. Spell check kicked Geddes’s ass with CAFE there.

  2. I don’t care, I’m still buying a Prius for my birthday, and no think-tank nay-sayer can stop me!

  3. for these are cars consumers (a) don’t want and (b) even if they did, can’t afford.

    I don’t know about that. I drive a Corolla, 32mpg, and my wife drives a Yaris, 35mpg and both were very affordable. Yeah, the Prius is way too expensive but you can get comparable efficiency with a normal gas-engine. As to whether Toyota actually made any money off those cars, I can’t say but efficient cars are not too expensive by a long shot.

  4. In a masterstroke of special-interest politics, the UAW used CAF?’s “two fleet” rule to forbid Detroit from importing smaller cars from its foreign operations.

    Is it the UAW? Or the difficulty of engineering/assembling for different regulatory criteria?
    Either way it is ultimately the fault of Congress and the bureaucracy rather than industry and labor.

  5. No, thoreau, don’t do it! Hold out for the Tesla sedan.

  6. This article is, hmmm, about 95% accurate, though it could point out that Ford sells a lot of F 150s because it discounts the hell out of them. Anyway, I’m sure Ron will want to check out the 2009 F 150 Raptor, with reportedly the most bitchin’ grill ever! Go here and top off your testosterone tank in style!

    http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2008/11/the-raptor-has.html

  7. The two fleet rule is definitely a UAW thing. They were afraid that the Detroit automakers will start to import subcompacts and compacts from Europe, South Korea, or Japan and close down UAW factories. So, they pressured congress to make two seperate CAFE fleets for imported cars and domestic ones.

  8. forcing Detroit to build fuel-efficient cars in UAW factories is inconsistent with viable,
    sustainable manufacturing

    Not to mention the inconvenient fact that such a mandate would be fascistic.*
    Not that we’re not halfway there already.

    *Severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

  9. I want a prius. They’re just plain cool.

  10. although the interior front is not really pretty. still pretty cool, though.

  11. Alan, I agree, that is one bitchin’ grill.

  12. Indeed, my lord, it is a most absolute and excellent grill.

  13. That grill just made my balls drop!

  14. Detroit’s current failure is that they can’t even sell the cars that don’t make them very much money. They have a serious branding issue that it is going to take them maybe 10 years to recover from. Ford, surprisingly, is emerging from its acronym-burdened past, but only after years of not being as bad as the other guys.

    When I see the new GM commercials advertising their fuel efficiency, all I can think is “nice job, assholes.” They’re a little too late for the trade-in boom that could have saved their pocketbooks where everyone traded in their Tahoe for a Yaris.

  15. President-elect Obama has promised to put 1 million plug-in hybrids on American roads by 2015. How? By bribing consumers with a $7,000 tax credit for each car.

    Because nothing says “change” like using the tax code to subsidize social engineering.

    *sighs, bangs head on desk*

  16. My first car was a Chevy Sprint, a Suzuki made imported economy car, almost as small and economical as a kei car. Initial cost was way low, and operating costs were almost nothing. Additionally, it was probably the most reliable car I ever owned. It boggles my mind that a comparable car is not available today. The closest thing today would be something like a Fit or Yari, with larger engines, larger price tags, and poorer mileage. Or maybe those Smartcars, which seem more like a joke in comparison.

  17. Ford seems good, but the whole idea of Mercury still existing pisses me off. What’s the point?

  18. I mean either bring back the Cougar and the Marauder or just don’t bother.

  19. The point, BDB, is to piss you off.

  20. A lot of good points in the article, but: Place a gradual tax on gasoline such that in five years it reaches a floor of $5 per gallon. Say what??

    If there’s a floor price of $5, why would the oil companies leave any of it for taxes? Why wouldn’t the ‘market price’ of gasoline rise to, oh, say $5?

    Do any of you smart people actually believe this could work?

  21. {T}he overall cost of an all-electric car is unviable at around double that of a conventional vehicle. Battery technology…still…severely limits performance both in terms of range and speed.

    I’d love to see citations for the first claim, especially if lifetime cost of ownership is taken into account.

    I don’t believe the claim about battery technology limiting speed either. Range is not an issue for a lot of drivers who have commutes of less than 50 miles a day, and can be solved by swappable batteries even if it is an issue.

    Sorry, I’m getting a Shikha Dalmia “Hummers are greener than Priuses” vibe off of this report.

  22. That grille looks to me as if some design guy was sitting in the break room with his chair tipped back, idly staring at the eggcrate diffuser on the fluorescent lights in the ceiling when he became “inspired”.

    Not that, you know…

  23. Current hybrid solutions are just plain bad engineering. The emerging concepts are much better, so you should wait.

    The future of hybrids is a solution which has a purely electric drive. The “engine” that remains is merely a generator to charge the batteries when they get low. This dramatically reduces complexity which thereby reduces both production and life cycle costs.

  24. BDB –
    Mercury still exists because…. yeah I don’t know either. I’ve frequently asked myself that question, and the answer continues to escape me.
    I know ford wants to produce cars that are somewhere in luxury between the Ford and the Lincoln, but why not just make some really nice Fords, like Toyota does, or Honda does? The Mercury brand has no value (nobody goes “oooo, you have a Mercury, you fancy boy you!”) The potential gains from providing Mercury-level upgraded Fords is substantial because it ticks up the value of the entire brand, thereby allowing people to get more value from even their economy-Ford purchases.

  25. If there’s a floor price of $5, why would the oil companies leave any of it for taxes? Why wouldn’t the ‘market price’ of gasoline rise to, oh, say $5?

    Floor, Shirt Boy, not ceiling.

  26. I’m especially skeptical about price comparisons where no one has ever tried to sell one of the products being compared.

  27. Outstanding post. I’m so fucking sick of hearing how Detroit fucked themselves with their product line. It’s just bullshit that people buy foreign cars because they are made better and get better millage. People like Detroit cars. They just don’t like paying for the union labor. That’s the biggest reason to oppose the big 2.5 bailout. If GM was forced into bankruptcy, GM would continue, but it would put an end to the UAW.

  28. I still want to know what happens when your Prius swaps ends on the black ice, and ends up upside down in the ditch.

  29. It is plainly true that electric cars are more efficient than polluting planet killer cars. Electric trucks were used for deliveries in the more advanced metro areas during and after WWII, when FDR was running things and for a time after until the Corporations took back over.

  30. Reinmoose,

    I think he means, if the “true” price of gas was $3/gal, and the govt takes $2/gal in taxes to make the price $5/gal, why wouldn’t the oil companies just raise their price by $2/gal since the consumer won’t even notice?

  31. why not just make some really nice Fords

    Hahahahahahahahahah!

    Wheee! That’s a good one.

  32. People are trying to sell electric cars and they are very expensive and sell only to rich geeks in Silicon Valley. To most greenies, anyone who makes the decision not to pay an extra $10,000 for a hybrid that will save them $500 gas a year and has a useful life of 10 years, is just an ignorant redneck who won’t give up his gas guzzler.

    The market is a harsh mistress. If there really were cars that ran on cheaper fuels and saved more gas than they cost, someone would be making them and making billions. Since there isn’t, the only way to get people to take the things is to force them to or massively subsidize them. There is no way around it.

  33. P Brooks, I’ve seen enough flipped-over SUVs to know that no vehicle is safe when it’s driven by an idiot. And most people are idiots.

  34. I still want to know what happens when your Prius swaps ends on the black ice, and ends up upside down in the ditch.

    A friend of mine at work has a son who is a paramedic. The paramedic says there are serious problems with the prius in an accident. Apparently, when batteries break open and spill their contents at the same time the gas tanks spills its contents, seriously bad toxins are released into the air. If they see a Prius with fluids on the ground, they wait for hazmat to show up before treating anyone in the car.

  35. They’re a little too late for the trade-in boom that could have saved their pocketbooks where everyone traded in their Tahoe for a Yaris.

    WTF?
    Why would anybody do that? It is fucking stupid, unless you just really gotta have a slow,tiny deathtrap.The only people stupid enough to buy Yaris ’round these parts are poor people who should have bought used.

  36. If you want a really safe car, screw the SUV and get a Crown Vic. Sure, it uses a unibody platform from 1979, but they’re built like tanks and don’t flip over.

  37. Also, you can get slightly-used Crown Vics for pocket change.

  38. John, hybrids haven’t been around for 10 years. I would believe that the battery has a life expectancy of 10 years, but it’s a bit premature to talk about the life expectancy of the cars themselves.

  39. The hazmat issue is exactly what I was referring to.

  40. cunnivore,

    Floor
    Flooooooooor
    Ef – El – Oh – Oh – Are

  41. I think he means, if the “true” price of gas was $3/gal, and the govt takes $2/gal in taxes to make the price $5/gal, why wouldn’t the oil companies just raise their price by $2/gal since the consumer won’t even notice?

    Yes, i understood the question, but it’s based on an assumption of a fixed price. That’s not what a price floor is. It’s a fixed tax on a floating price, the tax only unfixes if the overall price to the consumer of gas drops below $5, and adjusts upwards until it reaches that point. The quoted gentleman in the article is talking about a 5-year increase in gas taxes to reach a minimum pump price of $5/gal. If the natural market price of gasoline by that point is less than $5, the tax is some amount between the difference in the market price of gas and $5, and some other amount above that. This does not mean that at a market rate of $5/gal that there would be no additional tax on top of that. So the reason that you wouldn’t (if you could) artificially inflate the market rate of gas to $5 is because the pump price would be in the $7.50 range, and that would be too dangerous to your entire operation’s future because it would put the pump price severely over the amount necessary to cause a sharp drop in demand.

  42. I know ford wants to produce cars that are somewhere in luxury between the Ford and the Lincoln, but why not just make some really nice Fords, like Toyota does, or Honda does?

    Maybe the same reason Toyota makes Lexus and Honda makes Accura? Of course Mercurys aren’t lux anymore just rebranded regular Fords.

  43. “A friend of mine at work has a son who is a paramedic. The paramedic says there are serious problems with the prius in an accident. Apparently, when batteries break open and spill their contents at the same time the gas tanks spills its contents, seriously bad toxins are released into the air. If they see a Prius with fluids on the ground, they wait for hazmat to show up before treating anyone in the car.”

    Wow. That is fucking great. Maybe the accompanying cloud of smugness will protect the passangers from the fumes.

  44. SIV I thought Lincoln was supposed to be their luxury brand? Really there is no point to Mercury unless they start making some unique cars again. They should either make it Ford’s performance division and have the Marauder and Cougar again or junk it.

  45. “John, hybrids haven’t been around for 10 years. I would believe that the battery has a life expectancy of 10 years, but it’s a bit premature to talk about the life expectancy of the cars themselves.”

    It doesn’t matter. Most people don’t want to keep a car for ten years. Most people will buy a new car and then trade it in or sell it when they get tired of it, which is ussualy long before 10 years.

    Regardless, a hybrid is a losing proposition unless you drive a whole lot and plan to keep it a long time.

  46. cunni,

    Most drivers, specifically new car drivers, aren’t expected to keep their car for ten years. If everyone kept their cars that long, or as long as I have (16 years, 185,000 miles) the whole dealership-manufacturer network would never have gotten so big in the first place.

    Right now, as ever, there is a lot of car out there and much less buyer. It’s gonna take a lot to convince me to plunk down some serious moolah to get rid of my ultra-reliable ’92.

  47. So, they pressured congress to make two seperate CAFE fleets for imported cars and domestic ones.

    This is another why CAFE standards are BS. They aren’t about saving fuel just a payoff to special interests that cripples our domestic industry.

  48. It is fucking stupid, unless you just really gotta have a slow,tiny deathtrap.

    Any stats on the probability of a Yaris driver dying in an accident? Probably not too high. As someone who’s driven the Yaris’ predecessor the ECHO 60 miles every day year round for 8 years in the Great Lakes snow belt, I can assure you that if you know how to drive they’re as safe as anything else.

  49. SIV –
    Lincolns are more akin to the Lexus and Acura. My point is why make a middle-brand?

  50. The hazmat issue is exactly what I was referring to.

    Oh I get it now. Never mind…

  51. As to whether Toyota actually made any money off those cars, I can’t say but efficient cars are not too expensive by a long shot.

    But people don’t buy them in huge numbers because, let’s be honest, econoboxes fuckin’ suck if you’re driving for more than 10 miles or have more than one child. As long as gas is is less than $3.00/gal Americans won’t buy Focuses, Aeros, Corollas etc. in huge numbers. And if you’ve got four kids your family car definitely isn’t going to be one even with gas at $10.00/gal. If you are concerened about your and your famillies safety, you will think twice before purchasing one.

    Americans don’t want them, won’t buy them so the way to rescue the big 2.5 is to force them to make more of them? Typical government thinking.

  52. I like how people pretend there isn’t a middle ground between “econobox” and “Death Star SUV”.

  53. Most people don’t want to keep a car for ten years. Most people will buy a new car and then trade it in or sell it when they get tired of it, which is ussualy long before 10 years.

    Right, but that’s not what “useful life” means. You were implying that a hybrid is junkyard fodder after 10 years. If the resale value is high (which for a car with low cost of ownership is likely) they can recoup some of the original purchase price by selling it when they get tired of it.

  54. BDB,

    At one time the different Marques of a Company represented scales of economy to luxury.
    Mercury’s survival,so far,is just to provide Lincoln dealers with volume sales.

    Chrysler>DeSoto>Dodge>Plymouth
    Lincoln>Edsel>Mercury>Ford
    Cadillac>Buick>Olds>Pontiac>Chevy

  55. The market is a harsh mistress. If there really were cars that ran on cheaper fuels and saved more gas than they cost, someone would be making them and making billions. Since there isn’t, the only way to get people to take the things is to force them to or massively subsidize them. There is no way around it.

    Exactly. The government could give me a plug-in hybrid car for free today, and I still wouldn’t have a place to plug the damn thing in.

  56. I agree about the family size issue…if you have three kids the family won’t even fit in a Yaris without installing a Mr Bean-style rooftop seat. The deathtrap label is overblown though–you’d think the roads are flowing with the blood of econobox drivers to hear some people talk.

  57. Americans don’t want them, won’t buy them so the way to rescue the big 2.5 is to force them to make more of them? Typical government thinking.

    JsubD nails it

    RM, see above post

  58. It’s a fixed tax on a floating price, the tax only unfixes if the overall price to the consumer of gas drops below $5, and adjusts upwards until it reaches that point.

    Since the price to the consumer will never be less than $5.00, the pre-tax “floating” price charged by the oil companies will never be less than whatever the maximum pre-tax price will be that keeps the consumer price at $5.00. Still sounds to me like an (effective) price floor on what Exxon charges, which should make Exxon happy.

  59. I think you’re making a lot of assumptions, John. Do you think that at $10 people are still going to be buying houses way out in the middle of nowhere? No. If they profess that they can’t afford to drive their 25mpg car at $4.00, what would make you think that they’d be willing to drive it the same distances for $10? Or even a 35mpg car (let’s assume that the 7-passengers get significantly more efficient over time) at $10.

    Also, when was the last time you drove a Focus, (Aero?)Aveo, Corolla, or similar car?

  60. cunnivore | January 8, 2009, 11:48am | #
    I agree about the family size issue…if you have three kids the family won’t even fit in a Yaris without installing a Mr Bean-style rooftop seat.

    Yes, but it’s not like you need the GMC Assclimber because you have three kids. You can get a minivan, or even a full size sedan and have plenty of room with better gas mileage.

  61. November sales of hybrid cars fell 50 percent. U.S. hybrid sales are now back where they were in 2005.

    So, U.S. hybrid sales doubled between November 2005 and November 2007, with you so far…

    these are cars consumers (a) don’t want

    Um, what??

  62. BDB – if you love your children, you’ll buy a 15mpg monster. Do you want them to die? Do you!?

  63. The principle problem with any form of “electric” car is the “battery”. Batteries are full of seriously toxic stuff, they’re expensive to make, finnicky about environmental conditions (they don’t like hot and they don’t like cold), they wear out long before the car does, and they require special handling to dispose of.

    It is far more effective to make better gasoline engines and strip out weight using composites instead of metal in cars.

    My personal opinion is that electric, hybrid or not, will not be viable in my lifetime.

  64. Do you think that at $10 people are still going to be buying houses way out in the middle of nowhere?

    Rural people kind of have to unless they want to become urban.

  65. The government could give me a plug-in hybrid car for free today, and I still wouldn’t have a place to plug the damn thing in.

    This actually goes against SIV’s point. Electric cars are at a disadvantage because the infrastructure necessary to support them isn’t in place. Of course gas is going to appear more convenient when you’ve already got huge tracts of land devoted to storing and delivering gasoline every couple of blocks on a major street.

  66. As someone who’s driven the Yaris’ predecessor the ECHO 60 miles every day year round for 8 years in the Great Lakes snow belt, I can assure you that if you know how to drive they’re as safe as anything else.

    C’mon. If you don’t get into an accident a model T is a damned safe car too. When the inevitable accidents occur, small cars are less safe than big cars. I’m not even going to link to a study. It has something to do with phucking fysics.

  67. BTW, Toyota builds trucks, too. In fact, for the first time today they’re third in the USA beating Dodge for the first time in history.

    Those Tundras aren’t hybrids, either.

  68. kinnath,

    I’ve heard that “gas” powered vehicles also must contain a certain toxic, flammable, non-easily-disposable liquid to run the engine. They also do need a battery, though admittedly not as powerful of one.

  69. vagitarian,

    It is a whole lot faster to fill up than to charge a battery.Automobiles are about mobility and speed.Until there is a technology break through electrics offer limited mobility regardless of the infrastructure.

  70. I’ve heard that “gas” powered vehicles also must contain a certain toxic, flammable, non-easily-disposable liquid to run the engine.

    Nice side step, but totally irrelevant.

    The auto itself is not toxic, once the battery is removed. The metal is salvaged, the rest goes into the dump. Batteries require lots more processing when they are disposed of.

  71. According to the phucking fysics, it is a momentum transfer (which is proportional to mass and velocity) that makes small cars dangerous. This means if everyone drove small cars they would be just as safe as anything because you would be colliding with other small cars.

    Hitting a concrete wall with a 6000lb vehicle is approximately as survivable as hitting a wall with a 2000lb vehicle.

    Phuck fysics, cute.

  72. Reinimoose,

    Yes, if you artificially raise the price of gas to some obscene amount of money, hybrid and the like make sense. No one denies that. But that is nothing but effectively forcing people to buy hybrids, which is what most of the greenies want. For them it is not about the environment it is about control.

  73. I like how people pretend there isn’t a middle ground between “econobox” and “Death Star SUV”.

    SWAG – ? 50% of the market.

  74. The question is, J sub D, is the tiny reduction in fatality probability worth the much higher cost of a larger vehicle? I mean, when an airplane has an “accident”, the probability of death is astronomically higher than that of even the most scaled down econobox. Yet people still fly.

  75. Since the price to the consumer will never be less than $5.00, the pre-tax “floating” price charged by the oil companies will never be less than whatever the maximum pre-tax price will be that keeps the consumer price at $5.00. Still sounds to me like an (effective) price floor on what Exxon charges, which should make Exxon happy.

    Not really. The problem is when you can charge $2.50 for a gallong of gas but consumers are responding to your price point at $5.00 levels. The government is also the one with the decision making power over what the tax is, so they could decide that for $5.00 pump prices you can only charge $1.00.

  76. “According to the phucking fysics, it is a momentum transfer (which is proportional to mass and velocity) that makes small cars dangerous. This means if everyone drove small cars they would be just as safe as anything because you would be colliding with other small cars”

    If everyone drove small cars that would be true. But somehow I doubt we are going to get rid of delivery trucks, UPS vans, and 18 wheelers anytime soon. Even if you let the echo-fascists take away everyone’s cars and force them into echo-penalty boxes, there still will be large vehicles on the roads and small cars will still be unsafe.

  77. It is a whole lot faster to fill up than to charge a battery.Automobiles are about mobility and speed.Until there is a technology break through electrics offer limited mobility regardless of the infrastructure.

    Swappable batteries could solve this. If you need to drive a longer distance than your battery can handle, you bring along a fully charged spare.

  78. Bottom line is, people don’t buy big ass military grade SUVs for safety, or for the passenger and cargo room, or for the towing capacity. You could find all three of those in a minivan (with the first two categories usually superior to an SUV.

    It’s about image. Minivans are seen as dorky, SUVs are rugged.

  79. “I like how people pretend there isn’t a middle ground between “econobox” and “Death Star SUV”.”

    Of course there is, but I take issue with even asking such a stupid question. The question assumes that you or the government or anyone else has the right to determine what car someone else should drive. Bullshit. The middle gound is people drive what they can afford and what they chose to drive. It is called freedom and it is something most people hate.

  80. “It’s about image. Minivans are seen as dorky, SUVs are rugged.”

    so what? It is a free country.

  81. I just wish people would admit, rather than making up B.S. reasons why they need that SUV. No, you really don’t. If you want to buy it for image, ok, but don’t bitch when gas is $4 when you could have gotten a minivan or wagon.

  82. John, you’re right, I am just trying to play the griefer’s game to little avail.

    I do believe all this focus on the production end will be for naught. The auto market seems uber-saturated and seems that it will remain so for years to come. New cars are very much a luxury item when affordable and reliable transportation can be had for less than two thousand dollars.

  83. John at 11:59 –
    What does that have to do with what I said?

    I’m saying with price inflation (artificial or not) of fuel, you can’t make a car-buying decision based on a static set of other financial decisions (moving, getting 2 smaller cars, taking the bus if available, carpooling, etc.). “Since we live out here in the outter suburbs of Charlotte and have 4 kids, we need to own a $45,000 8-passenger gas guzzler that costs $20,000 a year to operate” just does not compute.

  84. As a guy who has owned and driven several examples of the Ultimate Original Deathtrap Econobox- i.e., the Ur- Mini, I will freely admit that there may come a day when my superior car control might be made irrelevant by some blundering imbecile in a six thousand pound, four wheel drive monster.

    I still prefer small, nimble cars.

  85. Swappable batteries could solve this. If you need to drive a longer distance than your battery can handle, you bring along a fully charged spare.

    Do you have any knowledge of engineering at all? Cus this is just plain stupid.

  86. I thought the Original Deathtrap was the original VW Beetle?

  87. Trucks(SUVs) offer vastly superior towing capabilities than fwd minivans and greater visibility from a higher seating position.
    I think they became popular because CAFE standards demanded lower, less powerful, front wheel drive cars for so long.SUVs were the loophole.

  88. “There is a straightforward way to transition the U.S. auto fleet to a greener future. Place a gradual tax on gasoline such that in five years it reaches a floor of $5 per gallon. Nothing else will work”

    Here’s an even more straightforward approach:
    forget about gas taxes, repeal CAFE, repeal any and all automobile import restrictions, repeal any and all restrictions on oil, natural gas and coal exploration and production and repeal any and all restrictions on building gasoline refineries.

    Seeing as how no one on earth can actually prove that we need to “transition to a greener future” in the first place, just go back to a free market for every aspect of energy production and consumption tell the greenies to go hug a tree and mind their own business.

  89. kinnath,

    I assumed he was joking.

  90. I’ll give you they have better towing capacity than minivans. But for every day family needs Minivan > SUV in just about every other area.

    I can’t remember the last time I saw an SUV towing something, btw. But if you actually do have a boat it would make sense.

  91. By bribing consumers with a $7,000 tax credit for each car.

    Increased demand raises price of product.

  92. Swappable batteries could solve this. If you need to drive a longer distance than your battery can handle, you bring along a fully charged spare.

    I was going to go off on the stupidity of this statement. But it’s already been done.

    But I copied it above so I could paste it right in here, so now I’m gonna paste it dammit.

  93. I thought the Original Deathtrap was the original VW Beetle?

    You’ve evidently never been in a 1960’s Austin Mini; it makes a Beetle feel like a Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

  94. I can’t remember the last time I saw an SUV towing something, btw.

    I have an Exterra and a 5×10 trailer which I haul all sorts of stuff around on. My house sits are a rather steep lot, and my neighbors get mightly amused when I am hauling building materials across my lot.

    That being said, a very, very large segment of the SUV-owning population has no real need for getting one. They are simply owned as a status symbol, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  95. kinnath, I’m not an engineer. Why is that stupid?

  96. I don’t own an SUV, but I thought hard about a hummer after I rode in one. Because the impression it made on me, is that if I were ever to encounter a charging rhino, I’d probably be safe in that thing.

    They’re already dumping coyotes and wolves and such around the country. You never know when the environ-mental cases are going to dream up some reason to introduce the African rhino to the warmer parts of the US.

    Well if they do, b’gosh I know what kind of vehicle I’m buying.

  97. Apparently I don’t have the necessary training required for posting on an H&R thread. Silly me, I’ve replaced my car battery my own self before and I didn’t realize how stupid it was to attempt such a feat.

  98. Ebeneezer Scrooge–

    You realize a Hummer is just a Chevy Suburban with different cladding and a higher price, right?

  99. Or rather, an H2 is. I assume you didn’t mean the H1.

  100. “I’m saying with price inflation (artificial or not) of fuel, you can’t make a car-buying decision based on a static set of other financial decisions (moving, getting 2 smaller cars, taking the bus if available, carpooling, etc.). “Since we live out here in the outter suburbs of Charlotte and have 4 kids, we need to own a $45,000 8-passenger gas guzzler that costs $20,000 a year to operate” just does not compute.”

    Maybe so. I don’t know and I don’t care. If that is the calculation, then people will buy small cars and won’t need the government to tell them or force them to. The point is that if small cars really are the best way to go, that is what people will buy. The government should have nothing to do with the decision.

  101. Scrooge, if that ever happens I’m just installing double machine guns on the front of my ECHO. Let people try to pigeonhole me then…

  102. I like how people pretend there isn’t a middle ground between “econobox” and “Death Star SUV”.

    There is. It’s called the “Accord”.

  103. “Apparently I don’t have the necessary training required for posting on an H&R thread. Silly me, I’ve replaced my car battery my own self before and I didn’t realize how stupid it was to attempt such a feat.”

    Let’s see you swap out one that weighs 1,000 lbs in an electric car.

  104. kinnath, I’m not an engineer. Why is that stupid?

    Weight — hundreds of pounds — I vaguely recalled prius has 400 to 600 hundred pounds of batteries in it.

    Connectors — we’re talking massive amperage here, that’s why those damn cables are so thick — a quick release connector that can handle the amperage is no simple trick

    Expense — the two smallish (60 lb each) deep-draw batteries I use for my solar charging system when I go camping run about $200 bucks each. 60 lbs of battery will keep a low amperage device (like a CPAP) running for about 24 hours (three nights).

    Volume — enough batteries to drive a car takes up a lot of space. Space you have to double to carry a spare that weighes hundreds of pounds.

    and so on

  105. cunni,

    Weight.An electric car is mostly a battery pack with wheels and seats. Do you drive a Lesbaru?

  106. BDB — well, then maybe I need to consider an Abram. Because if I ever encounter a pissed off rhino on the way to work, I intend to win.

  107. Scrooge–

    Try this.

    I’d bet on it against the Rhino.

  108. “BDB — well, then maybe I need to consider an Abram. Because if I ever encounter a pissed off rhino on the way to work, I intend to win.”

    One of those .50 caliber sniper rifles would probably work.

  109. OK, I see how swapping batteries would be problematic. I just assumed hybrid batteries were of the same scale as the batteries I’m used to.

    I still think that’s an avenue that should be researched, rather than just trying to make a battery with 500 miles range. If you can make batteries with 50 miles range and technology to make them swappable that would be much preferable.

  110. I like BDB @ 12:07pm. He is one of the only people on this thread making any sense.

  111. Range is not an issue for a lot of drivers who have commutes of less than 50 miles a day, and can be solved by swappable batteries even if it is an issue.
    ….
    Swappable batteries could solve this. If you need to drive a longer distance than your battery can handle, you bring along a fully charged spare.

    Can’t get any more convenient then that.

    “What’s that mom? You need me to drop by some milk at you house on my way home? No problem, I’ll take an extra 30 minutes and swap out the battery. I’m sure somebody here will help me lift it”

  112. I still think that’s an avenue that should be researched, rather than just trying to make a battery with 500 miles range. If you can make batteries with 50 miles range and technology to make them swappable that would be much preferable.

    There are no batteries today that will give you 500 miles. You can get 50 today. If you want to go more than 50 you need a gasoline engine to augment the battery.

  113. cunnivore,

    Batteries in hybrids are a tad on the heavy side, and heavier still for a full electric. You probably aren’t going to be hopping out of your car and changing them out. Second battery would have to be built in.

    There’s a weight to energy density ratio issue here, which combustion engines seem to keep winning.

    And then there’s another little detail that few people seem to talk about — the overall efficiency of the proposition of using all-electric rechargable battery driven cars.

    To begin with, I assume you’ve heard about the problems southern California seems to have with providing enough electricity for people right now? Well wait until the demand peak gets spiked because everybody’s got their cars plugged in so they can get home from work.

    Then there’s the fact that if you’re charging a battery by plugging it in, then the source of that energy is a fossil fired plant somewhere. Granted, large base generation electric plants are more efficient than car engines, but then you have the losses of doing the whole energy conversion process twice (once to charge the batter, again to get the power back out of it).

    I haven’t studied this whole process in detail, but I’d say there’s a good chance the net emissions will be a wash.

    So you could say “well we need nukes”, or something else. And maybe we do, but building base electric generating capacity is a hugely expensive proposition.

    So we have the added cost of electric cars in the first place, and we’re going to compound it by adding the costs of a) bigger power distribution systems so everybody can recharge, and b) the need for more electric generating capacity.

    Somehow I think our combustion engines remain the way-cheaper solution when this story is all said and done.

  114. Can you name the truck with four wheel drive,
    smells like a steak and seats thirty-five.

    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Well, it goes real slow with the hammer down,
    It’s the country-fried truck endorsed by a clown!

    Canyonero! (Yah!) Canyonero!
    [Krusty:] Hey Hey

    The Federal Highway comission has ruled the
    Canyonero unsafe for highway or city driving.

    Canyonero!

    12 yards long, 2 lanes wide,
    65 tons of American Pride!

    Canyonero! Canyonero!

    Top of the line in utility sports,
    Unexplained fires are a matter for the courts!

    Canyonero! Canyonero! (Yah!)

    She blinds everybody with her super high beams,
    She’s a squirrel crushing, deer smacking, driving machine!

    Canyonero!-oh woah, Canyonero! (Yah!)

    Drive Canyonero!

    Woah Canyonero!

    Woah!

  115. Take note cunni . . the 500 or so pounds of battery in a prius today will not take you more than about 50 miles without the gasoline engine kicking in.

  116. kinnath, oh I’m well aware of that. But the DOE et al are funding a lot of research into extending battery range if my senior year chemistry colloquia were any indication.

  117. Granted, large base generation electric plants are more efficient than car engines, but then you have the losses of doing the whole energy conversion process twice (once to charge the batter, again to get the power back out of it).

    That may be so, but on the gas side you have to consider the energy/emissions cost associated with the entire process of delivering the gasoline to the pump (ie, extraction from the ground, refinement, shipping, etc). I’d be very surprised if it wound up being a wash.

  118. I’d bet on it against the Rhino.

    Hmmm. You think so? But you see, when it’s all done I don’t even want to be late for work. With a station wagon I’d at least have to back up and go around the carcas, after hitting the rhino. I want something I can just drive right over it and keep doing.

    So maybe I need a) a train or b) a laws rocket to take him out at some distance. And then I’d dare-dare-double-dare some cop to try and give me a ticket.

  119. But the DOE et al are funding a lot of research into extending battery range if my senior year chemistry colloquia were any indication.

    You need an order of magnitude improvement in batteries. This ain’t going to happen anytime soon. Batteries are absolutely and irrefutablly immune to Moore’s law.

  120. That may be so, but on the gas side you have to consider the energy/emissions cost associated with the entire process of delivering the gasoline to the pump (ie, extraction from the ground, refinement, shipping, etc). I’d be very surprised if it wound up being a wash.

    Well, maybe, I’ll grant you that.

    But the cost of changing over our infrastructure remains formidable, and the range of electric cars is still going to suck the big one.

    The government may be funding research on 500 mile batteries, but don’t hold your breath until they come up with one.

  121. cunnivore,

    I’d be very surprised if it wound up being a wash.

    Thought a little more about it (I am an engineer). The other thing to remember is that while base electric generating plants are reasonably efficient, they tend to meet peak demand with cheaper and far less efficient things, like gas turbines.

    It’s not clear at all to me which way the emissions would end up being lower. Interesting question, but it’s far from being a no-brainer.

  122. The other thing to keep in mind is that there are many practical ways to produce electricity, so electric production is not dependent on a single resource, unlike auto fuel production (notwithstanding relatively impractical resources such as biomass and oil shale and the like).

  123. There’s a weight to energy density ratio issue here, which combustion engines seem to keep winning.

    This is a point which a lot of people evade. Like it or not, gasoline and diesel won the fuel war (so to speak) because they are an efficient and practical store of energy. In the early days, there were steam and electric cars; where are they now?

    The VOLT will apparently have a 1.4 liter gas engine to run its generator. The same engine, if I read the news articles correctly, that the Cruze will utilize as its sole motive power. Hmmmm.

    That sounds like a real efficiency gain, to me.

  124. ps- I am absolutely in favor of research and development of alternative fuel sources, but I don’t think government-driven wishful thinking and feel-good electioneering produce economically efficient outcomes.

  125. A-men.

  126. there are many practical ways to produce electricity

    In a sense, yes. But the cost vs efficiency issue comes up again here, combined with arguably more political hurdles than we now have with cars.

  127. If they could scale down the desiel electric locomotive concept to a car, then an electric DRIVE care MIGHT be feasable.

    As for the range on an electric car, I wouldn’t care if they WERE able to extend the battery range to 500 miles.

    I want every vehicle I own to be able to go on an unlimted distance trip at any time the necessity might come up. I have no interest in buying a special “commuter” vehicle for daily commutes and then having to have another one to be able to drive nonstop on a long trip.

  128. My opinion, we should be putting far more emphasis than we are on natural gas.

    It’s cheap, uber-clean, and the supply is local and massive. The range isn’t as good as gasoline, but a heck of a lot better than pure electric will likely ever be.

    And I’m not an expert, but I suspect building the infrastructure for natural gas is probably cheaper than electricity as well.

  129. Douchebag Echo drivers will attempt to formulate future energy policies without any knowledge in any relevant field.

  130. Reinmoose | January 8, 2009, 11:24am |

    If there’s a floor price of $5, why would the oil companies leave any of it for taxes? Why wouldn’t the ‘market price’ of gasoline rise to, oh, say $5?

    Floor, Shirt Boy, not ceiling.

    I guess I’m getting my economic info from the wrong Paul Simon.

  131. I solved this problem a looooong time ago but my ideas were squelched by evil corporations.

    See the whole sorry story in the film, “Who Killed the Mr. Fusion?”

  132. Bah humbug on the “Toyota never made a profit on the Prius.”

    They wouldn’t sell them as a loss leader. There was a lot of research and development costs for the hybrid technology. But you can’t lump all that cost on the first car that uses the technology. They have other hybrids: a Lexus, a Camry, an SUV. They’ve also sold the technology to other companies.

    [full disclosure: I own a hybrid Camry. I used to own a 2002 Prius, which I drove for 120,000+ miles.)

  133. Econoboxes for some…

    DEATHTRAPS FOR ALL!!!

  134. I thought Lincoln was supposed to be their luxury brand? Really there is no point to Mercury unless they start making some unique cars again.

    The Mercury marque is supposed to be ‘aspirational’, as in Chevy to Pontiac to Buick to Olds to Cadillac used to be. IOW a stepping stone to a hot-rod Lincoln.

    Now it’s just a way to sell Fords to women. Honestly, have you ever seen a Mercury Milan driven by a man?

  135. The part about a price floor tax on gasoline is purely theoretical anyways as Obama promised not to raise taxes on anyone earning less than 250K a year.In fact some of his zealous campaign operatives in MO threatened legal action against anyone who claimed he would. The non-partisan Factcheck.org clearly stated he wouldn’t raise taxes on this group.We all had a bit of fun at the expense of “Sam the un-licensed plumber” and his unfounded fear of a tax increase. A gasoline tax would be harshly regressive and The Party of the Poor and Working Family is in power now so there won’t be any increase in Federal energy taxes.

  136. I solved this problem a looooong time ago but my ideas were squelched by evil corporations.

    See the whole sorry story in the film, “Who Killed the Mr. Fusion?”

    *Rolls eyes*

    Yes, those eeevil corporations would rather squelch a miracle technology than harness it and make uber profits. If this solution is so great, why can’t you find somebody willing to capitalize on it?

  137. I just wish people would admit, rather than making up B.S. reasons why they need that SUV. No, you really don’t. If you want to buy it for image, ok, but don’t bitch when gas is $4 when you could have gotten a minivan or wagon.

    I could follow you around for a few months and easily demonstrate how much of what you spend is for crap that you don’t need. If you’re a typical American, that would be about 75% or so.

    Are you honest, even with yourself, on the difference between wants and needs when it comes to spending your own money?

  138. I refute the believe that some of us don’t need larger vehicles. Case in point: The Libertate Clan. My wife and I are singlehandedly trying to kill Gaea through population overload and need a vehicle that can seat seven people, with one of those being a baby in a seat that can survive a nuclear war. My Accord can only fit five, and not very comfortably. We’re in minivan territory, not SUV, but still.

  139. My wife and I are singlehandedly trying to kill Gaea through population overload and need a vehicle that can seat seven people, with one of those being a baby in a seat that can survive a nuclear war.

    Heh. While I’m not going the overpopulation route, I would gladly drive a coal-powered hummer just to spite the green assholes.

  140. How about a hummer than directly burns the green assholes for power?

    Sort of killing two birds with one stone as it were.

  141. Me, too. I’ll especially like it when I get COPD at the age of 30! Take that, greenies!

  142. Oh for the days when the statement that “Its none of your fucking business what I drive, or why” would have been thought completely uncontroversial, not to mention too obvious to need saying.

  143. Jordan,

    You’re correct: I can’t blame everything on the corporations.

    In reality, the Libyans pose the greatest threat to my inventions.

  144. “Oh for the days when the statement that “Its none of your fucking business what I drive, or why” would have been thought completely uncontroversial, not to mention too obvious to need saying.”

    Indeed.

    The busybodies of the world are getting ever more intrusive in where they poke their noses.

  145. Shit, I totally missed the Back to the Future reference. I need a drink.

  146. I don’t find the ‘swappable’ battery idea entirely unworkable. (the ‘carry of spare’, is yes unfeasible)

    The engineering challenges described by kinnath @ 12:29 can all be worked around. What it would require, of course, is a complete redesign of the car. More importantly, it would require a subtle change in how you use the car and the business model for how ‘refueling’ works.

    Postulate: the typical metro area driver puts on no more than about 50 miles a day. (20 mile commute, 10 mile for other purposes). So, it is quite feasible for your ‘everyday’ car to go about 24hrs between recharging.

    So, first of all, the business model is that you own the car, but lease the batteries. More precisely, you have a battery service. So sometime during the day, when parked in your usual spot – or, when you know your going to be at a place for an hour or so, you activate the GPS locator on your car to tell the battery company where you are – they will come and replace your batteries while you wait. For a less ‘premium’ service, your downtown parking garage (and/or larger malls) include this battery swap out service.

    The advantages are two fold – 1) swapping out batteries, while obviously not a fast as gasoline refueling, can be with proper design, immensely faster than recharging and 2) the biggest current problem with hybrids is that very few are accounting for end of life disposal costs. By concentrating the problem of battery disposal onto companies whose entire purpose is to manage batteries, you get economies of scale and an easier way of managing the disposal externality.

    I agree that there will need to be some improvements in the electrical distro system that are already strained in some places. But this will need to be done eventually, anyway. Last, naturally, none of this will be feasible without some improvements in battery technology and a (very, very, very) substantial rise in the retail price of gasoline. (I am favor of raising the gas tax, but not by this much)

  147. cunnivore, another solution to the problem of electric vehicle range is to put a gas tank, engine, and generator in a trailer. 90% of the time you’re commuting and you leave it home. When you’re on a road trip, for a little extra weight, you get the range and refill rate of gasoline.

  148. Kolohe,

    They drive the half ton of batteries to you? and everyone else who needs a fresh set?
    This would be grossly inefficient.I expected someone to propose leased battery packs with “swap stations”. That would be unfeasible based on the logistics of getting the batteries where they needed to be and way from where they don’t.Electric cars might work as second commuters or “city” cars but they can’t replace refuelable cars with a supporting infrastructure.A lot of these “solutions” remind me of Popeye powering his boat by blowing into the sails.

  149. Regarding JsubD’s comment above that noone ‘wants’ to buy small cars, like the Corolla, Civic, and and Focus.

    The Corolla and Civic are perennial top 10 selling vehicles in the US. That’s vehicles, including trucks. The Focus has consistently been a top 20 vehicle, and for 2008 moved into the top 10. People DO want to buy those smaller cars. The others in the top 10 lists are Accords, Camry’s, Altimas, CR-V, and Impala, and the Big 2.5 big trucks (F-series, Silverado, and Ram).

    The Prius was 13th in 2008, but was projected to be close to the top 10 even back in 2007.

  150. The Corolla and Civic are perennial top 10 selling vehicles in the US. That’s vehicles, including trucks.

    Are you including fleet sales to rental agencies in that? I bet you are!

  151. Thank God Dad kept good control of the MG. Especially on the road with the likes of our 390 powered Galaxy wagon.

  152. They drive the half ton of batteries to you? and everyone else who needs a fresh set?

    1/4 ton seems closer to the median. Water is 8 lb/ gal -> 5 gal bottle = 40 lbs. Bottle water companies make ten to twelve bottle deliveries every day. (albeit generally not the same location, and never to an individual) So the logistics are there.

    I’ve acknowledged it’s only ‘efficient’ (i.e. cost effective) at higher gasoline prices (while assuming that electric prices don’t increase commensurately). And I also said that an alternative (and indeed the likely entry point) would be the ‘swap stations’ vice deliveries. Where the batteries are in fact where they need to be, and don’t move unless their providing the juice for motive force.

    Of course the infrastructure currently isn’t there; but gas stations weren’t in Hill Valley in 1885 either. Of course it’s not going to replace the internal combustion automobile; it’s going to supplement. And as far as the supplement serves the needs for city/commuter individual on demand transportation, it ‘replaces’ those cars.

  153. But supposing all this happened, it would still have to be shown that a significant reduction in emissions comes out of it. Which is a little more feasible with your approach, because you could recharge the batteries off peak instead of on peak for the electric companies.

    Still, getting there isn’t free. Will the emissions reductions be enough to justify the cost? Do we even have anything that defines the cost/benefit ratio?

    I don’t know, I saw something over at Cato recently but it still looks green around the edges. My problem with green assholes is that they don’t care what the cost is.

    The technology could be made to happen, though range would probably be low for a long time to come. But you have to consider what it’s going to do overall to the economy, if you sink all that capital into making electric cars happen, when from a pure economics standpoint they don’t make any sense.

  154. Jordan,

    I would gladly drive a coal-powered hummer just to spite the green assholes.

    I could arrange that for you. For a small fee, of course. And for a somewhat higher fee I might even be able to arrange this far superior approach.

    How about a hummer than directly burns the green assholes for power?

    RC,

    Oh for the days when the statement that “Its none of your fucking business what I drive, or why” would have been thought completely uncontroversial, not to mention too obvious to need saying.

    Yeah, those days seem gone for good. Sad, isn’t it.

  155. but it still looks green around the edges.

    btw, I didn’t mean any reference to environmentalists when I said it looked green, I meant that the model looks too new and unrefined.

    But even at that, it threw much doubt on the feasibility of us ever justifying anything like a carbon tax.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv19n4/v19n4-6.pdf

  156. The 2009 North American International Auto Show will be a mix of glum and green as automakers tout vehicles powered by batteries and electricity during an event shadowed by slumping sales, financial woes and questions about the long-term viability of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC.

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