Smart cars ….

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Would Americans buy smart cars if they were allowed to?

I don’t mean the Smart car – which is actually pretty short bus ($13k for a two-seater with no trunk that’s literally dangerous to use on the highway because it’s so underpowered and top heavy and which doesn’t get standout gas mileage either is many things… but high IQ it ain’t).

No, I mean smart cars, or said another way – cars that make sense.

There are very few such available and even those are heavily compromised by the rules and rigmarole that politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers (the true Axis of Evil) have imposed on their manufacture.

Let’s dissect one, the 2011 Ford Fiesta.

I have selected this car because it’s among the highest mileage (41 MPG highway) non-hybrid, almost -affordable new cars on the road. But its mileage could be so much higher – and its price tag so much lower – if Ford could build it the way I suspect many customers would very much like to buy it.

The base price of the ’11 Fiesta is $13,320. That includes dual front air bags, front seat side-impact air bags, head curtain air bags – even a knee air bag. Anti-lock brakes and traction/stability control are also standard features.

Now, all these air bags certainly make the Fiesta more crashworthy than it would be without them . But they also add probably $2,000 to the car’s sticker price. Figure another few hundred for the electronic traction control and ABS systems.

If these things were optional and you had the freedom to decide for yourself whether to buy them, it would be likely be possible to buy the new Fiesta for closer to $10,000. The money you saved up front could be used to ease the pain of ever-rising gas prices as well as those monthly car payments. As the cost of ordinary daily living – everything from food to fuel to utilities – rises seemingly with the sun, spending less where possible would seem to make a lot of sense.

But of course we don’t get to choose. Uncle – politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers – choose for us. In loco parentis. We are not smart enough to make the right decision (safety, always safety – whether we can afford it or not) so they will make the right decision for us – just like Mon n’ Dad! Even if it ultimately means that new cars eventually become so expensive that fewer and fewer people can afford to buy them.

The axis of evil is also partly to blame for the bloat – the ever-rising curb weight of new cars relative to the cars of the past. Each decade that has gone under the bridge has seen a ratcheting up of bumper-impact requirements, which in turn have required more metal, more bracing – more weight.

Consider: The ’11 Fiesta weighs about 2,600 lbs. – fairly light compared to the typical 3,800 pounder. But consider this: The 1984 Fiesta weighed almost 900 pounds less! If the new Fiesta could be lightened up by that amount, its fuel economy would likely be well into the 50s, without touching any of the mechanicals. And if the mechanicals were adjusted to reflect the lower curb weight – which would let the car deliver the same performance/accleration as current but with fewer CCs and thus burn less fuel – my bet is the car could be pushing 60 MPG.

True, a lightened-up and airbag-free Fiesta would not be as crash survivable as the current car. But it would make more economic (and thus, common) sense given the times we live in. Taxes at all levels are rising – to pay for politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers. Our money is worth less – that is, it has less purchasing power – from one month to the next – thanks to politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers. These same politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers continue to demand that new cars be ever safer – at our expense and even if it means they don’t get anywhere near the mileage they’d otherwise be able to deliver.

Perhaps because these politicians, bureaucrats and lawyers can comfortably afford the Latest and Greatest – enjoying the perks of taxpayer-financed six-figure positions from which it is nigh-impossible to detach them.

But for the rest of us, less might be more.

And smart, too.

Throw it in the Woods?

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Eric,

    I read with much interest your recent article on Lew Rockwell about “Smart Cars”. I have to agree with you and I would like to point out, the cost of cars in general is now to the point where I will NEVER buy another new car simply due to the cost involved. My vehicle of choice is a full sized pick up truck, the Ford F250 Super Duty in particular. My current truck, a 1997 Ford F150, has served me well, but it is time to consider a replacement. This was the last vehicle I purchased new from a dealer. I paid 26,000.00 for this truck brand new in October of 1996. I am now looking at another Ford; however, the replacement cost of this truck has pretty much DOUBLED in 14 years! I simply cannot afford to buy a new truck from Ford as much as I would love to go into the dealership and order one. I absolutely will not sign up for $600.00 – $900.00 per month payments for the next 5 – 6 years under any circumstances, let alone the current economic conditions we are now experiencing. Something is going to have to be done by the private sector to fight this government intrusion or the auto makers will all go out of business in the near future.

  2. Totally agree, that’s why I bought a 1992 Ford Festiva last year to drive to work, no frills, but 45mpg makes it a smart car for me.
    thanks,
    Joe

  3. Clover, many years ago I read an article in Car & Driver about the Bob Bondurant Driving School. They used BMW 3-series with ABS, and they disabled the ABS. Why? Because “The fastest way to stop a car is to lock up all four wheels. If you need to steer, let up on the brake and steer, then lock them up again.”

    Of course, they were teaching people to [i]drive[/i], which is a concept foreign to you and your kinfolk.

    • That’s it! The Cloverite “mind” doesn’t – can’t – grasp that not only don’t these passive Band Aids make drivers safer, they actually make them worse – by encouraging more passive driving. Learn to panic stop and steer? Why, my car has ABS and stability control, so I don’t need to worry about such things…. which breeds more Clovers, who then demand more “safety” equipment because they’ve become even less skilled than the previous crop of Clovers.. which results in the need for more “safety” equipment… and viola, here we are: The typical new car now has six air bags, traction control, stability control, ABS, possibly “active” braking and cruise control, Lane Departure Warning, Park Assist, etc. etc. but the Clovers will still demand more.

      Why? Because they’re Clovers!

      • The ABS traction control system on my wife’s 4Runner drives me crazy. I find myself continually disabling it during the winter and in the limited off road driving I do (gravel/dirt driveways).

        • I’ve had only one accident in the last 25 years and it was a very minor fender-scratcher but it was caused by… ABS! It was in a company car (Olds Intrigue). Right when I got to the point of needing to lock the wheels for six inches or so to avoid hitting the car in front of me the nanny said, “No, that would be unsafe!” “Hit that car!” and then kept me moving an inch too far. I hate ABS. I think I’ll have my 2002 Taco for a long, long time.

          • It’s possible my poor short-bus brother is projecting… he feels “unsafe” without air bags and all the rest so he thinks we all must feel unsafe, too. He’s just trying to protect us, you see!

    • Air bags, yes – under “passive safety” mandates. ABS and traction control aren’t legally required (yet) but might as well be since they’ve become standard equipment on almost every new car – largely (my opinion) as a result of the Cloverite saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety brainwashing that has dulled the senses (and skills) of the population.

      • I am willing to pay extra for ABS. You say you do not need it but I do. About 10 years ago I was driving on a normal route to work and about a quarter mile from a stop sight the road begins a steep downgrade. I did not know it at the time but it was pure ice half way down. I was not following closely at all but when I lightly applied the brakes the car went into a 360 and stopped within 5 feet of the car in front that was stopped. I do not care how good of a driver you are, ABS will work better than you ever could drive in such conditions.

        • Ah, Clover…. Clover, Clover… Once again, for the umpeenth time, I will try: I don’t begrudge you ABS – or air bags or whatever – and think you should be free to buy equipment like that, if that’s what you want. What I and everyone (literally, everyone) here have been trying to get through your mantle-thick noggin is that no one should be compelled to buy things like air bags just because you or someone like you thinks they’re a good thing – or even if they are demonstrably a “good” thing in terms of “safety” – because it is none of your %$^#!!!! business! It’s not your risk (or life) that’s at issue when it comes to something like air bags – anymore than it’s my business how much (or little) you exercise, what you eat, how much you eat – etc.

          But I know it’s useless to attempt to explain it to you – in particular, to get you to see that once the premise of “for your own good” lawmaking is established, then, literally, anything goes. You no longer have a private life – in principle – and eventually, in fact. Any privacy or freedom that you still have is only because no has (yet) decided to pass another Cloverite law to take that privacy/freedom away from you in the name of “for your own good.”

          People like you have no respect for the privacy or freedom of others. You are busybodies – and you are thugs – because you favor using force to make other people do what you think they ought to. Think about that. You think I am hateful and mean; but I have no desire to interfere in your life or bother you in any way at all. I just wish you’d extend the same courtesy to me and countless others.

          Why – why? – can’t you just be content to live your life as you see fit and leave other people the fuck alone?

          Answer: Because you’re a Clover!

          • Eric wearing a seat belt is up to you. You can always walk or ride a bike. When was the last time your vehicle was searched? When was the last time your home was searched? None for me! I would be willing to say the chances are 99.999% that no one here has unless they are into illegal activity. You say we are being taken over. I am not made to do anything I do not want to do. If you are stupid enough to drive 20 mph over the limit just because it is your right to do it is stupid. Since when have you ever got the EPA rated mpg on a vehicle? I would say never unless you only calculated while driving down the mountain. I am never late anywhere and I do not have to drive 20 mph over any limits. What is your problem?

          • Ah, Clover… yes, it is up to me – and none of your (or the government’s) business whether I buckle up (or eat my peas). You Clovers think it’s your place to impose your notions of “safety” and right conduct on the private, personal lifestyle choices of others, which is why you are Clovers.

            Next up: The fact that most people haven’t been searched isn’t the issue; the issue is that in principle they could be – and that is what I and others object to.

            But, being a Clover, you don’t object to this. The law is always just – because it’s the law! The cops always right. Because they are cops! They are just there to protect us. Submit. Obey.

        • Sorry, Clover, but you are wrong. A SKILLED driver will always stop a car without ABS more quickly than an unskillled driver will stop a car equipped with ABS. What we need is better driver training not a mindless reliance on electronic fripperies that merely eliminate the need for skill, overide a good driver’s natural abilities, add weight and vastly increase cost. All good for the manufacturer, maybe, but to me, the elimination of skill is never a good thing.

          Ken.

  4. Eric’s comment is a valid one. The first major textbook example of big business (in this case railroads) literally writing legislation to protect market share and profits is the Interstate Commerce Act in the late nineteenth century. During the post Civil War era the federal government created an oversupply of track by providing generous cash subsidies and land to railroad companies. Many were created simply to grab the (taxpayer) subsidies. Predictably, the largest players soon sought favorable regulation to end “cutthroat competition” (created by government induced oversupply). Regulation is always sold to the public as a noble and necessary thing but the real purpose is to protect and/or subsidize the largest players. Cash contributors may be substituted for players. Today, big pharmaceutical is a classic example. No doubt about it, we have always had the best government that money can buy and taxpayers and consumers have always taken it on the chin. Cash for clunkers may be the most transparently wasteful and thoroughly idiotic example of government intervention to date. Not only is the middle class forced to subsidize upper middle class auto purchases but together with the poor is further impoverished when the supply of perfectly good used autos is turned into scrap metal by government edict.

  5. Good article. I drive a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria . Big, roomy and safe! When I first got the car my city mpg was 26 my highway mpg 28-30. This as I talked to other owners of the car is typical of what they had as mpg. Then came ethanol! Now I can only get 22 city mpg and 24 highway mpg. The biggest heart breaker is that I cannot get a new Crown Victoria as it is limited to police and government use.

    So they can make cars that get great gas mileage, be safe and roomy. The main problems is as you said-the government with their stupid CAFÉ standards!

  6. I have a 2004 Ford Crown Victoria. It is big, roomy, and safe. When I first got my car the city mpg was 26 and on the highway 28-30 mpg. This was, as I talked to other owners of the car, typical of what their cars performance was. Then came ethanol! Now I can only get 22 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. It cost more for fuel and gets less mpg!

    The biggest heart breaker is that I can’t get a new Crown Victoria as they are restricted to police and governmnet use. And now the end of the Lincoln Town Car-sad day!

    So they can make cars that are big, room and safe, and still get great gas mileage. The main problem is, as you said, government interference. They should get rid of the stupid CAFE standards and let businesses and people decide what they want to buy.

    The Ford Fiesta and such vehicles are nice but try to make a long trip on the Interstae and back roads with plenty of luggage and see how you feel about them. I took a 1000 mile round trip vacation with 4 adults and luggage in my Crown Victoria with no loss of mileage, great excelleration and extreme comfort. Plus all the extra room meant we could buy gifts to bring home.

    And I have a real tire for a spare!

  7. Great write up Eric!

    Just a quick note, I had a 87′ Honda CRX “HF” model, which stood for “high fuel mileage” if memory serves me correctly.

    No air bags, super light weight(no side impact beams, etc), and a SOHC high compression engine mated to a wide ratio 5 speed manual….I saw 52mpg doing 80mph everywhere on the freeway in So. Cal at the time…..

    We’ve definitely gone “backwards” in many way all due to regulation. After that I had an 87 Acura Integra LS, which had the CRX 1.6 “Si” engine….about the same performance as a stock 5.0 Mustang at the time…but 35 mpg!

    My last car was a 2000 Jetta TDI….which got about 50 mpg @ 80mph on the freeeway too…they had to stop importing them for a while because of emissions laws and came back around 06 or 07…but they are god awful expensive and now you have to pay more for diesel to have “low sulphur” which makes the high MPG versus increased cost of fuel debatable….

    All due to gov’t regulations……

    Good job on the write up! I look forward to more.

    Best Regards,

    Nick

  8. Eric,

    I love your articles, but I have to respectfully disagree with a key aspect of this one. I don’t think the car companies oppose regulations (despite what they may claim publicly). I think they lobby for them. Requiring, say, airbags adds to the fixed costs of making a car, so it keeps small competitors away. All the numerous laws of the past century relating to safety, environment, fuel-efficiency, etc. were, in my estimate, probably supported by auto makers. Generally speaking, a law isn’t made in Washington unless someone pays for it. I can’t imagine anyone paying to make sure people are safe, but I can imagine incumbents raising fixed costs to keep out new competitors. And it has worked well. For nearly a century, there have been few new competitors to the big 3. And any time there was a new competitor, its scale was not enough to overcome the large fixed costs (partly laid out by the incumbents’ lobbying efforts) and was bought by one of the big 3 to help achieve that scale.

    While I agree that liberty is optimal, I don’t see the big car makers as the proponents of capitalism. Like most other industrial corporations, they are led by interventionists.

    Keep up the good work.

    Steve Wilder

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