Thursday, May 27, 2004

Fuel-Efficient Cars

despite my belly-aching about how far behind we are with respect to europe, there is a promising market for fuel-stingy cars here in our own gasaholic culture. the toyota prius, an electric hybrid, has been enormously popular. there are long waiting lists of eager buyers around the country. given the recent troubling spike in gas prices, interest in this car will intensify greatly. it gets an impressive 50 miles per gallon in the city and 60 on the highway. better yet, it is a four-door, four-seater, and a new one costs just $20,450. there is an even more miserly hybrid on the market, the honda insight. it gets 66 miles per gallon on the highway, and 60 in the city. it's a two-seater, however, making it a very niche market car. it also sells for a price similar to that of a prius.

i did some web-searching on SUVs after discovering the lupo and becoming obsessed with cars. the top ten list of most popular SUVs at yahoo autos is an eye-opener. first, the SUV market is a high-end auto market. five of the autos on yahoo's list cost $35,000 or more. them's yuppie prices. of course, the used market puts these cars within the reach of people who can not afford them new. however, a number of SUV owners, in response to the spike in gas prices, are trading those vehicles in for less gas greedy cars. i imagine this represents no small portion of people in the can't-afford-them-new category. the popularity of the prius and the insight indicates that the middle class market for new cars is very concerned with fuel efficiency. they are more sensitive to gas prices after all. the upper middle class market for new SUVs will likely remain that way -- those are the people who can afford to waste gasoline.

the worst guzzler of all, the hummer, costs $50,000. that makes it a luxury vehicle. it's number six on yahoo's list. this is balanced somewhat with the fact that the most popular SUV at yahoo autos, el numero uno, is the scion, a 5 door wagon that gets 31 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway. it costs less than $15,000. i conclude that in the lower end of the SUV market, fuel efficiency is a top consideration for the buyer. in this story, one car salesman said that people trading in their SUVs were looking for cars that get 30 or more miles per gallon. i remember when a car that got more than 35 miles per gallon was exceptional. the geo metro was a fuel efficiency breakthrough because it could squeeze out 50 miles per gallon on the highway ten years ago.

in car-choked california, some people actually want to ban SUVs, but this is a misguided effort that is doomed to failure. fuel efficient standards don't actually doesn't have to spell the end of SUVs. apparently, some forward-looking auto makers are taking the backlash against their popular gas guzzlers seriously. ford is planning to offer a compact, electric hybrid SUV, which will get up to 38 miles per gallon. considering that my little 1991 geo storm clocks in at around 33 miles per gallon, that's no small feat. it's also really good news. the SUV market is a bit more diverse than i thought. if american auto makers made use of volkswagon's super fuel-efficient diesel technology, it would be possible to have SUVs that get 70 or more miles per gallon. this would triple the average highway efficiency of the most popular SUV models. focus on the fuel efficiency, not the size. if these monsterfucks could get 70-80 miles per gallon and produce next to no emissions, i'd be happy as a pig in shit.

super efficient diesel cars can easily and inexpensively be converted to burn biodiesel -- essentially grease. if a company or companies began producing biodiesel via changing world technologies' process, or simply by filtering and refining used oil from restaurants, there were be a ready market for the fuel already. the fact that such cars will be miserly in the use of fossil fuels in the meantime is no small mark in their favor.

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