Sunday, February 15, 2009

periodic truck regulations rant

As far as I can tell, most fuel efficiency/hybrid tech policy is one step shy of being flat out stupid.

Maybe half a step.

Our transport energy use is so high because so many of us drive oversized vehicles from poorly thought out suburbs. We do this as individuals, of course, because it is the smart thing to do. Big trucks are safer, faster, cooler, provide better visibility, and have huge amounts of space to haul stuff all for about the same or a lower price than a similar car. For about $20k-$25k, you can get a decent ford fusion, which meets all of anyone's basic transport needs or you can get a Ford F150 crew cab that is better at everything except parking and fuel efficiency. Sure, the truck uses more fuel, but the incremental cost is insignificant over the first 3 years (which is how long most new car buyers keep their new cars).

So, if I'm avoiding the unavoidable discussion of fuel costs, then what am I going to go on about?

Perverse regulations. The Ford F150 is cheap not because of any especially clever engineering or manufacturing processes, but rather because of crazy crazy federal regulations. In the US, not all cars are created equal. Some cars are passenger cars and follow one set of regulations. Some cars are light duty trucks and follow another set. And some cars are heavy duty trucks and follow yet another set.

The perversity of the regulations is that the worse the fuel efficiency of a class of vehicles is, the less it is regulated. Cars have had fuel efficiency requirements and gas guzzler taxes since the 1970s. Light duty trucks, not so much. Heavy duty trucks (like the Ford Super Duty F-350) - they don't even have to publish fuel economy ratings.

This was somewhat revised recently by the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) law, but only somwhat. You'll still never see a gas guzzler tax on a truck that gets 12 miles per gallon, but you will for any car that gets the same. Instead, each manufacturer was basically told: whatever the fuel efficiency of the mix of vehicles you produce today, improve it by a few percent.

Whereas the oil reserves of the world (and the CO2 concentration in atmosphere) don't care whether this year's ford trucks are more efficient than last year's. They only care about how much fuel is burned. Rather than increasing the efficiency of a truck by 5%, we should be encouraging people to move from less efficient classes of vehicles into more efficient classes. If you move from a 18 mpg truck into a 28 mpg car (2009 F150 and Fusion), that is a 55% improvement.

And the idiotic regulations keep coming. The bill that Obama will sign next week contains tax credits for electric vehicles that vary based on the vehicle weight:

"A credit is also available for each qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle placed in service—qualified being a four-wheel, on-road vehicle equipped with a grid-chargeable battery pack of at least 4 kWh capacity.

The base amount of the plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit is $2,500, plus another $417 for each kWh of battery capacity in excess of four kilowatt-hours. The maximum credit for qualified vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less is $7,500.

This maximum amount increases to $10,000 for vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds but not more than 14,000 pounds, to $12,500 for vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds but not more than 26,000 pounds, and to $15,000 for vehicle weighing more than 26,000 pounds."

Effectively encouraging the continued use of excessively heavy and oversized vehicles by giving them more tax credits.

How dumb is that?

Similar provisions exist for hybrid SUVs vs hybrid cars.

If the goal is to reduce fuel consumption, the strategy of telling people that they shouldn't change their lifestyle at all is flat out worthless.

Instead, we should have a single uniform set of vehicle regulations. For safety, efficiency, emissions, everything - one set of laws. The preferential treatment that trucks get is flat out wrong-headed.

Level the playing field and see what the market really does prefer.

I think we'd find a lot more Fusions on the road.

For reference, I ocassionally do consider the idea of owning a truck. There are a few nice ones out there that make sense in their own ways. The only remotely affordable and practical Porsche, for example, is a used Cayenne. They sell in the $25-30k range these days.

And I've always had an inexplicable desire for a Ford Explorer Sport Trac with a nearly useless mini-bed in the back.

I really have no idea why I like them. Maybe they are so ugly that they have come around the corner and are cute again.

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