Those damned choosy people…

Today’s Boston Globe has a column by their resident asshat, Derrick Z. Jackson. And in it he touches upon something that’s annoyed me for years.

Mr. Jackson says that he recently read several stories about new vehicles being sold by American automakers. More specifically, SUVs. Big, huge, gas-guzzling, SUVs.

Well over a decade ago, when electric cars first started becoming the fad, I remember reading that California had passed a law requiring that (as I recall) 5% of all the vehicles it sold be zero-emission vehicles. At the time, it was hailed as a great environmental success.

At the time, though, I figured I must be missing something. I simply could not wrap my head around one simple question: you can mandate that a company offer a certain product, but how the hell do you force them to sell a certain number of them? In our economic system, it is the buyers that make the choices. I had images of government bureaucrats calling up GM and telling them that they could not send any more cars into California until they sold another 20 electric cars.

The ultimate solution turned out to be not sticks, but carrots: auto makers and state officials had to collaborate on “bribing” consumers into taking the electric cars, using steep discounts (even selling at a loss) and tax incentives to take the cars.

Now, years later, I see my fundamental question remains unanswered by Mr. Jackson and others of his ilk: automakers can make and offer economic vehicles (I’ve driven and owned some), but they simply can’t MAKE people buy them. The only thing they can do is to make the vehicles that people will want to buy — or, at least, believe they will want to buy. And right now, that’s big, huge, gas-guzzling SUVs.

That’s fading fast, as I have been expecting for a couple of years, hastened by a combination of higher gas prices (slightly falling now, but still well above what they were in years past) and attacks of that rarest of commodities, common sense. But still a lot of people want their SUVs, and don’t care about the terrible mileage they get.

Here’s a little secret: if enough people want something, they’ll get it. If they can’t get their GMC Gargantua or Ford Juggernaut, they’ll buy the closest they can — and it won’t be a Ford or a GMC.

The automakers will stop making those behemoths right after they realize there aren’t buyers for them all. And in the meantime, all the scolding and hand-wringing by twits like Jackson won’t change a damned thing.

The rallying cries of the pro-choice crowd seem to fit here: “Don’t like SUVs? Don’t buy one!” and “I’m pro-choice and I drive a Hummer H2!” are natural adaptations.

But I forget. “Choice” is only for certain matters. It’s far too hefty a power to be entrusted to the people when it comes to what kinds of vehicles to drive, or whether or not to own a gun, or where their children should go to school…

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