30 June, 2009

Did you know there are a lot of really cool cars out there?

Unfortunately, in the United States, you just can't buy them. There are entire manufacturers that are basically absent from the US: Renault, Fiat, Skoda, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Opel, Peugeot, Seat. And then, among the car companies that do sell in the US, there are additional models from Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Mercedes, Audi, VW that are not available in the US. And, by and large, all of these cars are fuel efficient, smaller vehicles. Some of them are tiny cars, in the realm of the Yaris or Scion xD for size. But many of them are in the realm of the 3-dr Civic Hatchback that was so popular in the US (yet, oddly discontinued a few years ago). Almost every manufacturer makes a 3-dr hatchback available in Europe. Many of these are diesel. Some are not.

Why can you not buy these cars in the US? That's my first question. Another question is: Why are so many of the European manufacturers completely absent from the US? I don't know the answer to these questions, though I am sure I could do a simple Google (I mean Bing) search and find a ton of information.

I found this Popular Mechanics article on 10 small cars that can't be found in the US. That's good if you want to see some examples of the vehicles I am talking about. And then, this Forbes Magazine story talks about some reasons why these types of cars are not available. They state it has to do with a few main points: 1) Diesel engines (which some of these cars have) have not really caught on in the US (I would assert that is hogwash, and on contrary, the diesel engine has been dissuaded, rather than not catching on), 2) Emissions standards are tough for European manufacturers to meet, and 3) Americans prefer roomier cars over the small economical hatchbacks.

I want to focus on #3 because I do really believe that this comes down to supply and demand. And that there is not a demand for these cars. And I believe there's not a demand for them because we are being "trained" through marketing and advertising, to believe that we should want bigger, roomier, more powerful, "safer" cars. It's almost synonymous with America. Everything we do and are is of the guise of being bigger, safer, and more powerful. But do we need any of those things? And do they really make us safer? In Europe, I observed that maybe only 10-20% at most, of vehicles, were SUV or minivans. And it's not that Europeans don't have children. It's that they are making different choices, and those choices are available to them.

I could come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories as to why we are having big vehicles pushed on us. My top conspiracy theory is that the US oil industry wants cars to stay less efficient, because every gallon of gas you don't buy, is $2, or $3, or maybe someday (again) $4 of income that the oil industry doesn't earn. If fuel efficiency went from 22mpg average (for example) to 44mpg average (to keep the numbers round), then oil companies would get half as much income from the biggest gas-guzzling country on the planet. So, it kind of seems like there might be some collusion there, either directly between oil industry and auto industry, or via the dirty middleman that is the lobbying process around trade and importation.

These cars that I saw over there were great looking cars, too. Fuel efficient, and great looking. And that's the last thing that the US wants people to have available. They want you to feel like you've got a limp member, if you drive an economical car. The Honda Civic 3-dr hatchback was a perfectly economical, cool car, that was around for decades. So cool, in fact, that it became a popular target for being souped up by young people. So then, why did Honda eliminate that model and replace it with the shamefully gonad-poor Honda Fit? You do the math.

The other reason why all manufacturers (not just US ones, but of course Japanese and German as well) are pushing bigger vehicles here is because they can get a bigger profit margin on a bigger vehicle. It doesn't take twice as much metal to build an SUV. In fact, some SUVs are built on a similar chassis as a sedan in the same manufacturing line. But you can charge considerably more for the perceived, or potential utility of the vehicles. So if it was clear that this caught on with America, and there were no forces in place that prevented the success of bigger cars (which, in my opinion, is truly an example of industrial devolution), then of course these companies are going to sell those vehicles here. Deterrents could include things such as: 1) mandatory efficiency limits that are respectable, not a joke like they are today, 2) higher fuel taxes, or luxury penalties on gas-guzzling vehicles, to discourage people from being wasteful. In the US, on the contrary, there were ridiculous loopholes that allowed people to write off part of the price of their HUM-V, because it met the qualifications for "farming equipment" based on it's size and weight.

If you really want to be sick, look at this excerpt from Wikipedia. The US plans to have a mandatory 35mpg by the year TWO THOUSAND TWENTY. In contrast, the EU plans on mandating a 47mpg requirement by the year TWO THOUSAND TWELVE. That is sick and shameful. Basically, it's saying that within 10 years, the cars that the US makes need to be as efficient as the ones Japan was making 30 years ago.

And if you're not completely vomiting then go to this Wikipedia link that shows you the actual mpg for many of these European cars I was discussing. There are a huge number of them that average over 50mpg combined city+highway. They're all diesel.

There are a lot of ways the Europeans have got things right, and we don't. And this is one of them.

Stay tuned for more examples.

1 comment:

  1. I loved that little Alpha Romeo and I had forgotten all about the Scirocco! Loved those cars!