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Mitsubishi i-MiEV

New fuel economy targets mean higher car prices

By Jim Bray
August 31, 2012

Is Obama, aided by his little socialist control freak friends, trying to kill off the car as we've known and loved it for over 100 years?

I wouldn't put it past them. After all, these are the people who want to toss billions of dollars into high speed rail boondoggles, as well as already having tossed uncounted millions, if not billions, into green energy programs that have not only failed to create practical, affordable green energy, they didn't even create the jobs they were supposed to.  They did manage to enrich Obama regime campaign donors, though.

Yeah, yeah, I know: they're just trying to help, to wean us off a non renewable resource and save the earth from human-caused climate change. Never mind the facts that they're finding huge new reserves of oil all the time and that climate change used to be called global warming until it was noticed by we proles that the world hasn't been warming for years.

Anyway, the Obama regime announced fuel economy standards this week that would require car manufacturers to nearly double the average gas mileage for passenger vehicles by 2024, to about 55 miles per gallon. Now, to be fair, that's supposedly an average, so some cars won't get that while others will get spectacular mileage. But how will it be done?

Other than my aversion to government regulation of free people and markets, I don't see increasing cars' gas mileage as a problem. Heck, no one – except perhaps an oil company shareholder or OPEC member – objects to getting  great gas mileage. It saves us money, right?

Maybe. But at what cost? We already have hybrids and a few electric cars that are supposed to save us gas but in both of those cases you pay for the privilege up front, through higher sticker prices. So you have to hope your decreased gasoline bills will more than make up for the sticker premium, and I'm not sure anyone has firm data on that yet.

Look at electric cars. I drove Mitsubishi's i-MiEV a while back, a car that listed for about $35,000 at the time. That's a pile of dough for a car that, while it'll save you from ever having to buy gas at all, is basically an economy car with a ridiculous sticker price. I wouldn't pay more than about $18,000 for the i-MiEV as a car, because (other than its electric power plant) it basically competes with the Yaris, or the Fit, or the Versa, etc..

And of course the electricity isn't free; your power bill is sure to go up to pay for the juice.

Perhaps it's early but, judging by their sales, it seems as if no one wants electric cars – or purported electric cars such as the Chevy Volt and Fisker Karma, neither of whose sales have caught fire (as opposed to the cars themselves!).

And upping the gas mileage ante won't be free, either. Just ask Bill Underriner, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association in the U.S.. On the news of the new mileage standards, he said "NADA remains concerned that model year 2017-2025 mandates, coupled with previous Obama administration fuel economy regulations, will hike the average price of a new vehicle by nearly $3,000 when fully implemented. This increase shuts almost seven million people out of the new car market entirely and prevents many millions more from being able to afford new vehicles that meet their needs. If this rule suppresses new vehicle sales, achieving the nation's greenhouse gas and energy security goals will be needlessly delayed."

In other words, it doesn't matter what the fuel standards are if people can't afford to buy the cars anyway. Duh!

So much for helping the little guy, many of whom will be forced to hold onto their cars longer because they can't afford the more expensive new models. So not only will they not be getting the increased gas mileage, car dealers won't be selling as many new vehicles and will have to lay off employees. And government won't be pulling in the sales tax from such sales, either.

Even if all turns out to be sweetness and light and gas sipping cars fly out of dealerships, how are governments going to recoup the lost gasoline taxes if people don't buy as much gas? Do I smell a gas tax increase? Or perhaps a new gas guzzler tax?

Safe new world…

Then there's the law of unintended consequences.

Here's an example. Years ago, the Canadian government deemed that daytime running lights would be mandatory to help make vehicles more visible during the day. And, hopefully, to save lives. So manufacturers dutifully – at the point of the governmental gun – added this feature, adding some cost and complexity to their vehicles.

So now we get oblivious oafs driving at night with no taillights on because, I assume, their daytime running lights are illuminating the road and it never occurs to them that their vehicle's rear end isn't lit up. How many rear end collisions has this caused? I don't know and I don't even know if there are stats, but the point is valid: be careful what you wish for because you don't know how it might play out.

Smart Fortwo

Sure, they could have mandated daytime lights all around, but the point is they didn't think it through.

Speaking of road safety, weight is the enemy of fuel economy so regardless of technological innovations that may come to help fuel economy to "necessarily skyrocket," cars will undoubtedly also have to become lighter as well. Lighter cars may not be as strong – unless you're talking about using more aluminum, carbon fiber or whatever (in which case, there goes the sticker price again!) – so how many lives will be lost from collisions as manufacturers are forced to "lighten up" to reach the fuel standards?

Safety features will save us! Like airbags, anti-lock brakes and traction control! And most cars already have these, so what's the big deal?

Well, speaking personally, I'd rather have a car that handles well so I can avoid an accident; I always figure that if the traction control or ABS come on, then I'm not doing my job as a driver.

As for airbags, you'll use them once, if you're unlucky.

If you want to talk about safety features, how about automatic headlights (which also illuminate the tail lights) and Bluetooth for your hands free phone? Those are things you'll use every day. And fortunately, both these features are becoming common – due to competitive pressures rather than government's iron fist.

Of course, the best safety feature is a competent and responsible driver. But I digress.

So however they slice it, prepare to pay even more for your car over the next few years. Or prepare to take public transportation and be limited as to where you can go and when.

Could that be the whole idea behind this, to get us out of our cars and onto their buses and trains? I wouldn't put it past them. It seems that each year our so-called public servants want to gain more control over our lives, whether via car pool lanes, bicycle paths that eliminate vehicle lanes even though there may be few bikes there, playground zones where there are no playgrounds (but which are, undoubtedly coincidentally, perfect places for radar traps), or whatever. You probably have your own list of such nanny state follies.

Heck, on the news this morning was a story of a kid in my city who killed himself on a skateboard. He had on his government-mandated helmet, but blew out his throat hitting a fence. Are throat protectors the next thing to be mandated? Or will skateboards be banned? After all, if only one life is saved…

It seems as if each time government enacts a new law or regulation they not only screw it up, but we lose a bit more of our freedom at the same time. And society gets a little more sheep-like. And that's "bahhhd."

When will we say "enough is enough?"

Copyright 2012 Jim Bray

Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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