Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Sad Truth about Current Autos

I was browsing through the Sunday Times and came across what used to be one of my favorite sections, the Automobiles section. This was the part of the paper that would usually bring joy to my heart by presenting the various offerings of the auto industry in all its glory and splendor. Growing up in an era when bigger, faster, sleeker or fancier was part of the thrill of checking out the new autos, the auto manufacturers usually didn’t disappoint my adolescent expectations. But with gasoline prices approaching the unheard of mark of five dollars a gallon and with diesel fuel, a once cheaper alternative, already over that benchmark, I for one am looking at the automobile section with completely new expectations.

Cheap gasoline has gone the way of the Edsel and its demise should have long ago rung the bell for smarter more fuel efficient alternatives for the motoring public. Truly we have ourselves to blame since we seem intent on traveling with all the amenities of our living rooms only on wheels, as is the case with so many oversized vehicles (names will be withheld to protect the guilty) that seem to have been the sales leaders over the past few years. Our suburban penchant for four wheel drive and its inherent fuel inefficiencies has become almost an imperative and for what? Few of us use the off road features so common on most SUV’s. Ninety-five percent of our driving time is snow free yet we pay for the extra cost in fuel one hundred percent of the time in the event we need transportation in an crippling snow storm (when we are most likely not to be on the road anyway) how does this make any sense? In all fairness we have been lulled by the automakers into believing we need all this extra fuel burning weight because, as most people know, it’s the extras that make money for both the automakers and the dealers.

Well people we certainly fell for it all hook line and sinker and that is shame on us, but now I like most people are looking for a vehicle that will be both utilitarian and fuel efficient. If Thomas Friedman is correct in his recent editorial about the effect all this excessive use of fuel is having on growing the wealth of our most dangerous enemies, enough wealth to buy General Motors in three days worth of oil revenues, then as patriotic Americans we can longer turn a blind eye to our shamefully negligent use of fuel in our pitifully inefficient vehicles.

What is a conscientious person to do? Browsing through the automobile section, I am struck by what I find. It seems as if I am in time warp where a gallon of gasoline was still under a buck and where choices were limited to Hemi or not to Hemi. On the front page of the automobile section is an article about a NY Times writer, Fred Heiler, and the project he built with his son as an incentive to achieve good grades. What was this project? Building a replica of Carroll Shelby’s famous 427 Cobra. This is a car that was built for speed with no concern for fuel efficiency and a similar disregard for speed limits. Way to keep it real Fred. The other column features a story on the 3 series BMW not really a car known for pushing the fuel efficiency envelope (17 city 25 hwy as listed). In fact if you went through the entire section you would be hard pressed to see any advertisements that lured the customer in with claims of high fuel efficiency. Doesn’t it seem a bit strange that marketing along these lines would be more prevalent? It was almost as if fuel efficiency was a hidden topic not to be discussed on these pages. It seems we have caught the automotive industry by surprise. Our requirements have been sorely neglected in favor of what used to be and now we have a plethora of vehicles that no longer cut it! If truth be told we should create disincentives for these vehicles for the hidden toll they take on all of us. On brilliant marketing idea to unload this junk is to subsidize gasoline for a period of time at below market prices. That may help the purchaser’s individual pocketbook but it does nothing to quell the filling of the coffers of our sworn enemies. My favorite section of the paper is now relegated to lining for the birdcages for all its worth now. If you have tried to go shopping lately for a practical vehicle that meets your needs and gets good fuel efficiency you will be amazed at how few choices you actually have and that is the sad shame of it all.