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Post-Election Musings

November 25th, 2012 Comments off

Now that the 2012 elections are behind us, and the pundits – of both the left and right persuasions – are backwards-analyzing everything that was said and done, and how it culminated in the slate of political “leaders” that will take us forward for the next several years, it’s also an appropriate time to take a look at things from an automotive perspective. Below are a few random thoughts, including statistics which may be completely made up.

What you drive says a lot about who you voted for. And I don’t simply mean the Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan sticker on your rear bumper. For example, in the Presidential election, more than 100% of Volvo wagon drivers voted for President Obama. Similarly, nearly every Toyota Prius driver went with the incumbent. On the other hand, Mitt Romney captured the vote of 3 out of every 4 Ford Mustang drivers. The same ratio holds true for Chevy Camaro owners – although the 25% that voted for Obama are all General Motors employees. Cadillac owners voted overwhelmingly for Romney – obviously. And Nissan Leaf owners – both of them – cast their ballot for Obama. Subaru drivers also helped keep Obama in the White House, as that brand is not only a favorite among outdoorsy hippie-types, but also lesbians. Scion drivers? Well, they didn’t vote in this election, since they’re all under the age of 18.

There is a lot of ignorance about where our energy comes from. Especially for our cars. Not long before the election, I heard conspiracy theories every time gasoline prices dipped a bit, proclaiming that the President was manipulating them in order to win the election, as if there were a knob located underneath the Resolute Desk that controls the digits you see on the sign at your local gas station. Gasoline prices are driven, for the most part, by the price of oil, which is a commodity traded in a global market, with prices dictated by supply and demand. The only way to keep gasoline prices low are to (1) increase supply (which is very short-sighted, given that petroleum is a finite resource), and/or (2) reduce demand (which we can do – with significant effort – domestically, but it will likely have little impact due to the expected exponential growth in demand from other countries like China and India, unless they follow suit). The only way the federal government can directly affect gasoline prices is via the federal gasoline tax – which hasn’t changed from the level of 18.4¢/gallon since 1993. (For an honest look at domestic oil production, check out what my smart friend Patrick Bean has to say.)

The partisan fighting extends to the automotive world. On a road trip earlier this year, I was stuck in traffic next to a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 – an impressive piece of machinery with a supercharged 5.8L V8 making 662 horsepower. And although we were doing the stop-and-roll on I-95 South out of Washington, D.C. averaging about 15 mph, that exhaust sounded so sweet. I was impressed – until I noticed the decal which featured a fat middle finger pointing upwards, with the caption, “F*ck your Prius” in his passenger-side rear quarter window. I’m still not sure what the sentiment is there, unless it’s “I paid twice as much for my muscle-car as you did for your *overpriced* hybrid, and now I’m stuck in traffic going the same speed as you.

CAFE standards will become significantly more impactful through 2025. One of the current administration’s first-term achievements was the issuance of the joint Final Rule for fuel efficiency standards, developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation, which will effectively set the fuel economy target of light-duty vehicles at 54.5mpg by 2025. As with most every other signature accomplishment of the current President, from the beginning of the primaries the field of challengers nearly all promised to change course and rid the nation of such “job killing” regulations. But now that there’s more certainty that the new standards will be around for a while, the automakers will start commercializing technologies to meet them. And that’s a good thing.

Climate change, recently pushed to the back-burner, has now fallen off the stove. Four years ago, much of the political discussion was around a price for carbon – whether in the form of a carbon tax or a system of cap and trade. Climate change was becoming a mainstream topic of debate. And while a few actions have been implemented (see CAFE standards above), the topic of global warming has all but melted and flowed down the Potomac out of D.C. Perhaps this is the success of a relatively few climate change skeptics who operate at the fringe? Which would be unfortunate, given that, of the 13,926 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that related to climate science, only 24 reject the notion of climate change. As I’ve said before, the science is proven – the only remaining question is the degree to which we’ll alter the climate system.

Maybe I should start printing bumper stickers that read, “F*ck your climate.” I expect there’ll be quite a market.


Perspective

September 2nd, 2009 Comments off

I’m a car guy, and an environmentalist.  I made that clear in my inaugural post.  I’m proof that these two perspectives aren’t mutually exclusive.

In The Road Ahead column in the October issue of Road & Track, editor-in-chief Matt DeLorenzo likens the freedom and spirit of the American cowboy to the mobility now afforded us by modern cars.  (It’s a reasonable analogy, given that the feature article is about the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger – 3 American “pony” cars that have recently been resurrected.)  He also makes the very correct point that “the automobile has a social cost – clean air, use of resources, accidents … [that] must be weighed against the benefits – mobility, freedom and independence.”  (OK, “freedom and independence” may be a bit of a stretch, but you get the point…)

Unfortunately, DeLorenzo goes further, and says “there are those who can’t abide these freedoms … [and] would rather see the American cowboy unhorsed.”  He suspects that the push for cleaning up the environment and improving fuel economy is “cover for a larger agenda” to force people to stop using automobiles.  He views this point of view as largely coming from “sophisticates (usually from big cities or across the ocean)” who view our constitutional rights as “merely incidental.”  He effectively equates reducing the environmental impact of our transportation to the demise of one of the great patriotic symbols of America.  (We won’t get into what the great American cowboy did to the Native Americans here…)

…Really?  Does DeLorenzo really belive that there are folks that want to prevent other folks from driving simply because of a desire to suppress others’ rights?  (OK, I’m sure there are one or two such people out there, but they probably also believe that the Apollo moon landings were faked.)  While the “sophisticates” who live in large metropolitan areas might be more likely to place high importance upon improving fuel economy and finding other modes of transport, it’s because the social cost (as DeLorenzo correctly described it) of millions of inefficient automobiles is much higher for them than it is for Johnny Tumbleweed piloting his Mustang across Wyoming – at least insofar as the noise, congestion, and pollution that result.  (Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, will affect Mr. Tumbleweed just as much as they will Winston Urbandweller.)

It’s valid to argue what the real social cost of our automobile use is.  But to suggest that it’s all a ploy to get people to stop driving, while hinting that the effort destroys a piece of American heritage, is ridiculous.  I’m offended – as a car-guy, and as an environmentalist.

cowboy