Thursday, April 21, 2005

ANWR and the Automobile

From Francis Poretto:

The House of Representatives has voted to allow oil exploration and extraction in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR.) However, there are still some anti-energy-abundance types who refuse to confront the matter squarely:

Rep. Ed Markey (search), D-Mass., who offered the ANWR amendment, noted that the bill does nothing to improve the fuel economy of automobiles, which he said use 70 percent of the country's oil, and that it was wrong "to then turn to the wilderness areas and say we need energy."

An attempt to require automakers to increase fuel economy to a fleet average of 33 miles per gallon over the next decade was defeated 254-177.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (search), R-N.Y., a co-sponsor of the auto fuel economy proposal, said it would have reduce oil use by 2 million barrels a day — more than could be taken from ANWR — by 2020. He said it was "a bunch of nonsense" — as opponents claimed — that the increased fuel economy would cost the auto industry jobs, force consumers to buy smaller cars or reduce automobile safety.

Please note: anti-energy-abundance sentiment is not confined to Democrats. There are some mealy-mouthed Republicans, too. But apart from that, given that every study, whether conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or by private agencies, indicates strongly that raising the mandated fuel economy standards decreases the safety and utility of passenger cars, what else could opponents of oil exploration have said except that it's "a bunch of nonsense" -- ? Considering the fearsome rate at which Americans are abandoning the old standby sedan, cruelly shrunken by federal fuel economy laws, in favor of the sturdier, more capacious, more flexible sport-utility vehicle, they can have no actual arguments to offer.

Your Curmudgeon would dearly love to see one of the opponents of ANWR drilling confronted inescapably with the question: "Sir, given that every increase in oil and gas prices puts the very poorest out of work or out of heat, would you kindly tell us which Americans, by name, deserve to suffer that fate so a few hundred acres of barren tundra can remain untouched by Man?" But one should probably eschew unrealizable fantasies so early in the day.


Honestly, I'm of the opinion that we should use whatever resources we have to make us less dependent on foreign energy; even though ANWR will be a drop in the bucket, every drop helps.

I see nothing wrong with increased average fuel economy; I just have a problem with the government regulating it into being. Every auto manufacturer is trying to increase their fuel economy all the time, because its what the people want, and it looks better for them; but people wants SUV's which take down the corporate average.

The reasons people want SUVs are pretty simple: Style, and Space.

In the 50's style and space were king. They ruled over everything.

In the 60's they added POWER to the mix, and fuel economy was... well it wasnt even on the table. 7mpg wasnt a problem if you could do a burn out in fourth gear.

The 70's cars took everything that was good about 60's cars, took it out, and replaced it with "Fine Corinthian Leather". They still had space; but no style, little fuel economy, and seemingly negative power.

The absolute Nadir? The 78 eldorado weighed 6000 lbs, and had 140 HP.

The 80s cars all looked like they were designed by people who played too many video games; but they WERE getting more fuel efficient.

Basically every american car built between 1975 and 1987 was a piece of shit. There were a few exceptions (cop cars, the Grand National, and the corvette from '85 on for example), but for the most part they were ugly, unreliable, low quality, and only had middlin fuel economy to boot. But they still had SPACE, especially compared to their japanese competitiors, so we kept buying them.

The 90s cars all looked... well for the most part they looked the same.

I used to be able to tell you just about every make model and year at a glance. I could usually identify a car by their headlights in my rear view mirror. These days I can't tell the difference between a Chevy and a Nissan.

One of the reasons why Americans went so whole hog for SUV's, is because family cars didnt have any STYLE anymore. They all looked like soap bars with headlights. At least the SUV's actually looked like something.

During this same time period, American trucks jsut kept getting better and better. The Ford F150 has alsways been one of the top selling vehicles, and it jsut kept gettgin more so, until Ford was selling more F series and F series based models than all of their other vehicles combined.

The ford bronco was always a decent seller; but never a huge standout; the same for the chevy blazer, and the Suburban(which was mostly for BIG families, and contracters). The compact pickups were selling well; but the smaller SUV's were kind of ehhh.

Then came the Ford Explorer. I INSTANTLY became the best selling SUV on the market. It was bigger than the Bronco II it relaced, better looking, better driving.. hell it was generally jsut better.

Most important to MOSTof it's buyers, it was more carlike. They could get the space they wanted and it didnt have to drive (as much) like a truck.

Finally, the car companies had introduced SUV's that felt a lot more like cars, and the market jsut EXPLODED. People wanted style, and space, and SUV's had both; and they wanted vehicles that didnt really feel like trucks. The car companies figured out that basically putting decent car interiors in trucks, and messing with the suspension and steering; or just building a car with an SUV body on top of it (the toyota RAV 4 is mechanically Identical to a 1996 Celica with a beefed up suspension); would net you a best seller.

Style and Space.

The manufacturers loved it because SUV's are also by far the highest profit margin vehicles sold; even more so than high end luxury vehicles (which many SUVs are in their own right).

A fully kitted out Lincoln navigator runs in excess of 60k. I have been told by friends at Ford that to sell that truck at 0 profit the invoice would be somewhat less than 20k; primarily because it's made almost the same as a 35k Ford SUV, but with better paint and interiors.

I would attempt to make comparisons with like priced Amercian cars that offer full passenger accomodation, but there aren't any. The American manufacturers (excepting cadillac), have largely given up on the lower profit margin mid-range mid and full sized sedans.

The American manufacturers continue to make desultory swipes at the low end of the sedan market, but their offereings in this space are so poor; they need to offer multithousand dolar rebates jsut to get people to LOOK at the cars. Consequentially almost all of their sales are to fleets.

I should note, it's not jsut American cars that have this problem, japanese cars have no space or style either; but they are better in almsot every way to the American cars they are competing against.

They have no soul; which bugs me. I drive a 1990 BMW 525is because it has space, style, and soul. The door openings are a bit small; but I'm a big guy. I bought it because it was the newest E34 5 series (89-94) I could find in my area with a manual transmision. Oners love them, and either want unreasonably high prices; or they drive them til they die (since they last 20 years, not many of them have died yet). They're popular project cars, and in fact I'm planning on doing an engine swap for a 3.8 supercharged I6 to replace the 2.5 thats in there already. Should end up north of 500hp, and something in the low 5 second range high 4 second range for 0-60.

You can't do that with american cars anymore; at least not without a WAD of cash. Who would have thought that it would be the little imports that are the easiest and cheapest to work on; and have the most parts availalbe for them. Hotrodding isnt dead; it's jsut got no new American muscle to work with, so it's moved on.

Pontiac has @revived@ the GTO; or rahter theyve imported the overweight holden monaro from Australia and stuck a hopped up engine in it and CALLED it the GTO, but really it's jsut a salesmans car with a big motor.

Sure thats what started the musclecar revolution; but the thing is so bland that it's a sacrelige to call it a GTO. Even worse: though it's overweight, IT STILL has no space, and no style.

This whole issue has GM losing billions a year (for other reasons as well); and forcing it to eliminate Oldsmobile; with Pontiac most likely next on the chopping block. Pontiacs car selections are a universal disaster, and again without fleet sales (mostly to rental car companies) there would be NO pontiac at this point. The only thing GM makes money on are trucks, Corvettes, and Cadillacs.

Ford has done the same with lincoln and mercury, only selling a few models with each badge; mostly to fleets and to retirees who miss their fullsize cars of old. It's likely that ford will eliminate mercury altogether in the next few years.

Chrysler did the same with Plymouth, and Dodge pretty much just sells trucks, minivans, and the viper; with a few neons thrown in for good measure.

Chrysler seems to be the only company trying to turn things around in the mid and full sized sedan market, with the Chrysler 300, and the dodge magnum. They also do a brisk business selling Sebring convertibles; because they are the cheapest ragtop out there.

The Chrysler 300 is breaking sales records left and right; and while I personally don't care for the car, it should send a clear message to the American manufacturers:

Build better cars, with some style, and some space, and people will buy them. Keep building what you're building, and in 10 years you'll just be seeling trucks.