In all the hysteria about the price of oil and gas (and I’m one of those hysterical ones — Big Oil just sucked $75.00 out of my wallet via Mongo’s gas tank), there’s an abject lesson in the power of economics — and the powerlessness of politicians.
A few years ago, I seem to recall there was a big push in Congress to get Americans to conserve gas and wean us off of foreign oil. The most prominent plans, to me at least, were the ones being pushed by the Democrats. The main points, as I recall, were:
1) Increase the federal tax on gasoline to induce people to use less.
B) Give tax subsidies to companies that worked on alternative energy sources.
III) Increase the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards on auto makers.
Not a hell of a lot came of it all. The CAFE standards were raised, to reach 35 miles per gallon by 2020, but that was about it.
Well, pretty much everything Congress wanted to do has come to pass, but without their consent — and I don’t see anyone happy about it.
The price of gas has shot through the roof, but most of the increase is not going into the government’s coffers. Instead, it’s going to the oil producers (mainly) and refiners (“Big Oil”), giving them record profits. This has Congress in a tizzy, and they’re demanding that Big Oil not only cut the price of gas, but they are also threatening to repeal the very tax breaks they championed — the ones that encourage Big Oil to explore forms of alternate energy.
And the American people are saying “screw 2020, we want better gas mileage NOW” and automakers who’ve grown fat and lazy selling multi-ton SUVs that get seven gallons to the mile are killing themselves unloading those monstrosities and are trying to push out the door vehicles that get better gas mileage.
I’ve always said that CAFE was a dumb idea. It requires the auto makers to sell a certain mix of vehicles, and they really don’t have that much control over what they sell. They can control what they make, but they can’t make people buy vehicles that get good mileage. If a buyer has other things they value besides fuel economy, then they’ll buy a gas guzzler in exchange for the safety, versatility, or performance that they value more — and if Ford won’t sell it to them, then they’ll buy it somewhere else.
And this just helps me prove my point. Now that gas prices are north of $4.00 a gallon (I paid $4.07 a gallon yesterday), fuel economy has suddenly become very, very important to drivers. And that is pushing the CAFE number higher all on its own, without the government telling carmakers to do it. And those makers that don’t listen to what their customers want will be punished far more thoroughly — and quickly — than Congress threatens.
This is how it works. This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.
And there are those people who will look at the general trends and see how working against that trend will be to their benefit.
For example, me.
Mongo, my loyal SUV, is an elderly beast. He’s an SUV from the early 90’s. He’s got high miles, numerous mechanical problems (a minor — but expensive — exhaust leak by the engine, his four-wheel-drive crapped out last summer, the AC hasn’t worked in years, and a fwe others), and I have doubts that he’ll pass another inspection. So I’m kicking around ideas (and, occasionally, salting away a few pennies here and there) for his replacement.
And I’m thinking of another SUV.
My reasoning is simple. Yes, SUVs get bad mileage. But I don’t drive that much. With a little careful planning, I can probably cut my driving to about 50 or 60 miles a week on average. Even if I get 15 miles a gallon, that means one Mongo-tankful will last me almost a month.
Winters in New Hampshire can be rough. There were several times last winter when I was very, very glad that Mongo had four-wheel-drive (while he did). I don’t expect this winter to be considerably better.
Finally, as I said above, SUVs are growing more and more unpopular. That means when I start looking for a used one, it’ll be largely a buyer’s market. I’ll be able to get “more vehicle” for my very limited funds.
In my mind, I’ve already got my next vehicle picked out — a late-model Oldsmobile Bravada. It’s almost a leper of a vehicle — an SUV, a discontinued model, from a now-dead brand.
On the flip side, they were pretty reliable vehicles, from what I’ve read. Further, they were largely re-badged Chevrolet Trailblazers, so parts and service shouldn’t be that big an issue.
Their mileage, of course, will be bad. I’d be lucky to see 18 MPG in one. But that’s all right with me. I’m confident I can more than make up the cost of gas in what I’d pay for a smaller, more fuel-efficient car.
That math works for me. And I came to that conclusion without Congress telling me what I should do, what choices I can and can not make, what I can and can not buy.
Funny how that works out, isn’t it?