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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Evil SUVs

Instapundit has a good post up about SUVs that makes a point I hadn't previously considered. Modern requirements for child safety seats, and the inability of children to sit in the front seat because of passenger side air bags have probably made SUVs dramatically more popular for many families, especially if you have more than 2 kids. I don't believe in demonizing anyone's consumption choices regardless off whether or not there is a good reason for those expenditures. The pursuit of happiness and all of that. We all spend money (which relates pretty closely to energy, and hence oil) in tons of foolish and inefficient ways. If it makes you happy, do it. Now, a seperate issue of course is making sure that any effects of one's consumption are properly translated economically, and one can make a decent arguement that gasoline consumption is not properly accounted for. However, if that is the case, it should be an increased tax on gas, rather than any specific penalties to SUVs. Using 20 gallons in a Prius is just as bad as using 20 gallons in an Explorer.


Blogger Random Gemini said...

Not when the 20 gallons in the Prius gets you a thousand miles and the 20 gallons in your standard SUV gets you a day trip to Seattle, and you have to refill the gas tank before you turn around and head back the other way. There is a big difference.

What we're talking about here is that our society is so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, that if we run out before we have an alternative fuel source, we're screwed. Vehicles that get less than 20 miles to the gallon in gas mileage should have extra duties paid on them, and I think there should be an additional gasoline tax on top of that. For families with more than two children, minivans are the obvious, fuel efficient choice because they get better gas mileage on average than SUV's.

Perhaps this position is alarmist, but society will not stand up and listen to what will give us an additional fifty years of fossil fuels. You have to back them into a corner, so that they have no choice. The only way to do that is to outlaw the manufacture of vehicles that get less than 20 mpg, or tax the holy crap out of them. Personally, I'm for the latter. If you're going to contribute to wearing out our natural resources because you're an ignorant twat.. you should pay a premium for the priveledge.

8/25/2005 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

"Not when the 20 gallons in the Prius gets you a thousand miles and the 20 gallons in your standard SUV gets you a day trip to Seattle, and you have to refill the gas tank before you turn around and head back the other way. There is a big difference."

So what? Is either trip necessary? Shouldn't both people just be walking or riding bikes to save the planet? 20 gallons of fuel usage is 20 gallons of fuel usage and the negative consequences of that fuel usage are the same regardless of how many miles are being travelled.

It makes as much sense to castigate people for making needless trips going to the mall, on vacation, just out to have some fun than it does to castigate them on their gas mileage.

To convince me that we should have a tax on higher mileage vehicles (which we have and ironically is part of the reason SUVs are so popular as their is a loophole to avoid this tax for them) you would have to show me some way that higher miliage, as opposed to higher total gas usage, as some sort of negative effect on society.

I don't think that can be done.

If I use 20 gallons a week, I have the same effect on the environment, foreign affairs or what have you as anyone else does who uses 20 gallons a week, no matter what the difference in our gas milage may be.

What is the differnce between someone who has a vehicle that gets 7mpg (I wish I still had the old Scout) but makes a concious effort to drive a minimal amount and someone who owns a Prius but drives all the time for fun? If they both use the same gas, there is no difference at all.

So, if you don't like people using gas, tax the gas.

Personally, I think that gas is already taxed sufficiently to account for the costs in imposes on society. Supply and demand will naturally take care of keeping prices in line with reduction in reserves.

8/25/2005 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

"You have to back them into a corner, so that they have no choice."

That's a pretty seriously scary attitude there.

The trouble, of course, is that what vehicle I should buy is a complex decision. To make this decision, I need to consider a whole lot of factors about the way I live and drive my car.

Quick: how many kids do I have? Do I cart their friends around? Do I haul a lot of sports equipment? What about dogs; how many do I have, and what steps have to be taken to keep my particular dogs safe in a vehicle? How much do I drive? And how is my driving partitioned between multiple vehicles? Am I a frequent designated driver? Do I tow a horse trailer, or maybe a boat? Do I haul a lot of dirt, gravel, lumber, or other dirty stuff? Do I load my vehicle with heavy cargo that requires a truck frame and suspension? Do I live on a paved or dirt road? Do I require four wheel drive or extra ground clearance? Do I use my vehicle as the base for a winch or other equipment? Can I afford to buy/insure/maintain separate commute and weekend vehicles, or do I need one vehicle that can meet all of my needs?

You don't know the answers to those questions about me, or virtually anyone else. Which is why you have no role in deciding what sort of vehicle I buy. This is as it should be.

8/25/2005 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Cubicle said...

"Vehicles that get less than 20 miles to the gallon in gas mileage should have extra duties paid on them"

What about the poor people who cannot afford a new car or their car is over 10 years old. By setting hard standard you will hurt the poor.

"For families with more than two children, minivans are the obvious, fuel efficient choice because they get better gas mileage on average than SUV's"

Though which one would you rather have a wreck in. I would take an SUV any day over a minvan as far as most wrecks go.

8/25/2005 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger Cubicle said...


"Using 20 gallons in a Prius is just as bad as using 20 gallons in an Explorer. "

I would have to agree on enviormental effects, that they would both be the same for both vechiles, but what about wear and tear on the roads which are driven on.

I can see who the wear and tear would equal out (the pirus drives much more than the SUV), but there is a chance that they SUV could cause more damage to the road, which requires more money to fix.

Though I think insty made a great point, funny huh.

8/25/2005 06:50:00 PM  
Blogger honestpartisan said...

DJ - you raise an interesting point that I hadn't really considered before: stricter CAFE standards could just enable autodependence (and more oil consumption) by making autos more attractive relative to other things. Better to have a gas tax. The one nitpick I'd have with your formulation is that it seems to me that most driving strikes me as pretty price-inelastic. People drive the same amount regardless of the cost, so incentives for better mileage could reduce overall oil consumption.

Brian - a lot of personal factors go into your decision about what car to drive, but your choices impact others around you. In addition to that, roads that enable your driving are the result of a conscious public policy promulgated by the state. So it's appropriate to consider the costs your driving may impose (fossil fuel emission, dependence on revenues to Saudi Arabia) in making public policy.

It's interesting to me that a lot of people cite safety as a reason to prefer SUVs. Cubicle makes this point. Actually, minivans have a lower center of gravity then SUVs, so the latter are in greater danger of being tipped then minivans. Data that I've seen shows me that minivans are safer, statistically.

Moreover, to the extent that SUVs may be deemed safer it's because they're bigger and may be able to withstand collisions better. The flipside of that is that they damage regular cars a lot more than regular cars. This dovetails back to my response to Brian about the costs your choices impose on others around you. If increasing numbers of autos around you are SUVs, it becomes like an SUV arms race where you have a safety incentive to get an SUV where you didn't have one when most people were driving cars.

Cubicle - to some extent you have a point; some of these things, like gas taxes, are regressive. Because of the positive impact of them, they're about the only regressive tax I can support, though. I think it's mitigated by the following:

people who rely on public transportation have lower incomes than people who rely on cars; and

a lot of consumers of the biggest gas-guzzlers aren't people who own old cars but rich people who can afford hummers and SUVs.

Not to totally deny your point, but I think it's limited somewhat.

8/25/2005 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

HP: There is a certain truth to the fact that driving remains pretty consistant regardless of how much gas costs. Partially, this is because even with the recent price increases, gas is fairly cheap.

Adjusting for inflation, it is still cheaper than in was during the 70s and most households have had income grow faster than inflation, so gas is less of a budget item than it used to be. I am not sure where the break point is, but I expect that until we see $5 a gallon driving won't change much. Of course, until it reaches that point it probably also won't change vehicle choice much either.

We make a variety of choices that effect our quality of life. Some prefer perhaps a nicer house that is further out of town even though it results in a longer commute but drives a Prius. Others may live near work reducing their commute, but enjoy a fuel guzzling vehicle. It is not immediately obvious to me which is more fuel friendly, but the one will be lauded for being 'environmentally conscious' while the other will be castigated.

It is appropriate to pass on costs that effect others. This is known as 'neighborhood effects' in economics and certainly pollution and infrastructure costs fit into this category. I have no problem with gas taxes that are used in this matter, although determining appropriate costs can be tricky. I am less convinced of the 'dependance on middle east oil' being a neighborhood effect, something I may explore in more detail in a later post.

As for safety, it is always difficult to determine this sort of thing with statistics. Certainly the roll-over effect is well known. Beyone that though, the mass of a vehicle makes it 'safer' in greater proportion than it makes it dangerous to other. Being heavy helps by itself to a certain extent of course, but being heavy also allows greater strength. So if an SUV arms race were to occur, and everyone had 10,000lb vehicles, probably everyone would end up safer.

Of course when comparing statistics of SUVs to Minivans, one has to wonder if 'safer' individuals are biased toward Minivans and more reckless people are biased toward SUVs. This seems plausible to me.

8/26/2005 07:19:00 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

HP: I think you've missed the point of my earlier comment. My life has unique charactersitcs; it is unlike your life. It is my task to evaluate the facts of my life and decide the most cost effective way to run things. Take, for example, this issue of partitioning driving between two vehicles. If I need my pickup for my weekend horse-hauling or some such, but not for my weekday commute, does it make sense for me to buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient commuter car to complement the truck?

The answer is, of course, it depends. It costs a LOT of energy for Ford or Toyota to make a car and ship it to me. Will the gas I save on my commute ever offset this energy cost? Well, that depends too. How long is my commute, and how much gas will I save? Exactly how much energy did it take to make and deliver the car? What will secondary costs, like maintenace for the car and truck, add to the picture?

Once again, I say: you don't know the answers to those questions. The only one who does know all the answers, and thus the only one qualified to opinionate on my car buying, is me. It could very well be that my choice to commute in my pickup truck is a net saver of energy compared to the other options available to me. I'd like you to consider that the next time it occurs to you to demonize your fellow citizens for the choices they make under circumstances you know nothing about.

8/26/2005 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger honestpartisan said...

For interesting safety and other SUV data, Keith Bradsher's book "High and Mighty" is a good source. Here's an interesting interview with him on Frontline: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/rollover/interviews/bradsher.html

8/26/2005 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Cubicle said...

honestpartisan ,

It is about the poor people...the poor minorities in the south cannot afford higher gass prices...the homeless will have to pay more for bus tickets...and it will make commuteing more expensive for the POOOOOOOR...

Honestly, I meant the poor remark as scarcasm.

I am all about high gases prices, because I want all the goodies technology has promised thoughout the years, and I feel high energy\gas prices will help us get their.

To your point about stats, could it be the drivers of mini-vans are safer because they feel less safe? doh dave already got to this.

8/26/2005 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous tsykoduk said...

Hybrids only get that fantastic gas mileage in town. They way the engine works - if you are at speed and keeping that same speed, you have to engage the petro-engine.

Also - didja know that a F350 running B100 is cleaner then a Prius? A Prius just cuts the gas emissions by 50% (in town, it gets twice the gas mileage of a similar car - so it cuts greenhouse and oil dependancy by 50%, no?)

I drive a friggen huge truck. I am also 6'5. I do not fit into most smaller cars. My truck gets 20+ on the freeway.

if we run out before we have an alternative fuel source

We have one RIGHT NOW. But the oil companies don't like it because they would go out of business.

Vehicles that get less than 20 miles to the gallon in gas mileage should have extra duties paid on them

So use the goverment to make people's choices for them? I thought that I was living in a free country. That kinda thinking belongs in the USSR or Red China - not the US.

Bigger vehicles cost more. So a flat tax will get more $$ out of the larger vehicles.

And what if you hate minivans? They are frigging fugly.



8/26/2005 04:31:00 PM  
Blogger Recovering Democrat said...

I wouldn't necessarily bash one's consumption choices...we often enough have other requirements that inform our buying decision. For example, anyone with three small children is going to have to go with a minivan or SUV. As you noted, you cannot put a small child in the front seat. However, I think that the auto industry is decades behind where we should be with respect to creating environmentally friendly alternatives to petroleum based internal combustion engines.

After all the internal combustion engine has been around since the turn of the last century... The hydrogen fuel cells and hybrids should have been readily available by now

8/28/2005 01:32:00 PM  

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