The good news, and the bad

Leslie Carlson

First, the good: It appears Americans have finally gotten over their love affair with large SUVs and trucks. With gas at over $3.50 a gallon and no relief in sight, Americans appear to be choosing smaller (in some cases, really small) cars over Detroit's former cash cows.

I guess this is bad news for most American automakers (except for Ford), since they have been slow (big surprise) to tool up to produce smaller, more efficient vehicles, the profits from SUVs and trucks being pretty good while they lasted.

Some good and really interesting news from the Sightline Institute: Pacific Northwest gasoline consumption is off by about 10 percent, down to--get this--1966 levels. I expect gas consumption will continue to drop off, especially after 2009, when some kind of cap-and-trade system/carbon tax may be adopted either nationally or regionally.

On an entirely different subject: last week brought the bad news that Portland sportswear company Nau is ceasing operations, having run into the credit crunch at precisely the same time it was trying to open new stores and expand into new geographic locations.

I will miss Nau terribly for so many reasons. First, no one else sold the activewear-meets-fashion clothing that they did. It was essentially a new category, tailormade for bike commuters like me who need to jump off our bike and run directly to our next meeting.

They were also among the most sustainable companies ever founded, with an authenticity of purpose and a transparency about the environmental impacts of their products that no one else has yet matched. In the future, I think we'll look back on Nau as a company that was way ahead of their time--the grandparent, as it were, of the sustainable companies to come.

Comments

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Yep. I garaged my SUV, which I still need to haul around the dog, kids, and travel gear, and now drive a new Mini Cooper (not the S). I'm getting 31 mpg in town and close to 40 mpg out on the highway. I used to fill the SUV up every 5 days; I'm on my 3rd tank of gas since getting the MINI about 2 months ago. And I haven't diminished my driving one bit. And the Mini is great fun to drive, trivially easy to park, and remarkably cheap to insure. Those 8 airbags and solid german construction must count for something. Now, if they could only get cupholders that work. <g>

  • ws (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I like the Smart, though I've never driven one. Sat in one, and it fits my 6' slim build frame just fine. At $15,000 and up, those cars aren't exactly cheap for what you get. More cars on the road aren't really needed. Over on bikeportland.org, someone said they found NAU to be expensive and not hold up to well to use. Just one person though.

    Gas will never be too expensive or unavailable for rich people. For everyone else....

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Assuming that the SUV got at best, 15mpg, and the Mini cost your break even point is well over 9,000 miles. You also are now insurig an additional vehicle.

    More bad news: Less gasoline consumption = less fuel tax money for the feds and the states.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Assuming that the SUV got at best, 15mpg, and the Mini cost your break even point is well over 9,000 miles. You also are now insurig an additional vehicle.

    More bad news: Less gasoline consumption = less fuel tax money for the feds and the states.

  • bill (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Leslie Carlson: I expect gas consumption will continue to drop off, especially after 2009, when some kind of cap-and-trade system/carbon tax may be adopted either nationally or regionally.

    JK: Why don’t you explain just how “cap-and-trade” will reduce gas consumption? Or, are you downplaying the fact that it will add a dollar or three to the cost of gas?

    Please tell us what that will do to low income people? How will they be affected if they have to choose between food and gas money.

    Use transit you say? First transit DOES NOT reduce carbon and never will compared to really small cars. Second when one switches to transit, their commute times become hours instead of minutes. That is less time for work or family - simply wasted time.

    In other words, why are you not screaming about how this will screw the poor? Instead you seem to look forward to it.

    BTW, Did you know that global warming has been postponed by 10 years? It seems they modified the computer models to include natural variations and guess what - no warming for 10 years! See : * theregister.co.uk/2008/05/02/a_tale_of_two_thermometers/ A paper published in scientific journal Nature this week has reignited the debate about Global Warming, by predicting that the earth won't be getting any warmer until 2015.

    • nytimes.com/2008/05/01/science/earth/01climate.html?_r=2&em&ex=1209787200&en=ddd0094cc411eb2f&ei=5087%0A&oref=slogin&oref=slogin One of the first attempts to look ahead a decade, using computer simulations and measurements of ocean temperatures, predicts a slight cooling of Europe and North America, probably related to shifting currents and patterns in the oceans.

    • “Natural ups and downs”, Nature, 453,43 *“Improved Surface Temperature Predictions for the Comig Decade from a Global Model”, Science 317, 796

    Of course Bob Carter told us this back in September: blip.tv/file/791876 (choose the mp4 option for quality)

    Bill

  • Eric Parker (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Now that people are going for smaller and more efficient cars, lets see if we can go further and re-introduce something that was dome long ago to conserve gasoline in a crisis -- A Cards!

  • Bob R. (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Is "Bill" JK or is Bill quoting JK or is JK channeling Bill?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
    (Show?)

    It looks like high oil prices may bring the changes we should have made through regulation and incentives starting 30 years ago. That way we might have been able to avoid the economic collapse that seems inevitable now.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Kurt Chapman writes:

    "Assuming that the SUV got at best, 15mpg, and the Mini cost your break even point is well over 9,000 miles. You also are now insurig an additional vehicle."

    Yes. That is correct. My net increase in insurance cost is about $240 per year or $20 per month. The Mini insurance is substantially lower than the SUV insurance, and couple that with a reduction in rate on the SUV for significantly reduced driving, and the preservation of the life expectancy of the SUV for at least another 4 years of occasional driving.

    I figure it will take me about 3 years to recover the cost of the Mini, but that wasn't a real consideration. It was the convenience of less frequent and less costly fillups and a lower carbon footprint. Sometimes you have to spend money to save money. Ain't it a bitch that way?

  • MarkDaMan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    mrfearless, while I totally applaud your willingness to put your money where your mouth is and purchase a more fuel efficient car, a much larger step would be to curb driving the same amount as always, as you have indicated in the first post. I don't know you, so maybe you already have cut out many 'fluff' trips, hell, you might even have bikes in your garage for you and the gang. It just seems to me, the best way to improve our environment is to cut back driving as much as possible.

    To curb global change effects, it's gonna take a lot more than a bunch of 40 mpg vehicles.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)
    (Show?)

    American automakers have been slow to build small cars, here's a reality for them, they give up about $1500 per unit in health care costs to the foreign/US built cars. That's easier to cover on $30K than $12K. Math says, build more expensive models.

  • Miles (unverified)
    (Show?)

    To curb global change effects, it's gonna take a lot more than a bunch of 40 mpg vehicles.

    My personal favorite is the 30-something Portlanders all smug as they drive their Priuses around town, then return home to their 2,500 square foot, energy-sucking 1920s bungalows. Personally I don't care what kind of house they live in -- we each make our own decisions every day about our carbon footprints -- but please spare me the disdain when I pass in my (small) SUV, because I'm driving home to a much smaller house with a much smaller carbon footprint.

  • mrfearless47 (unverified)
    (Show?)

    To markdaman:

    I wish I could drive less. I do everything I can to consolidate as many trips as possible. We even moved to a location that had many more places I could walk to than drive. I ride my bike and walk to many places, but when you've got a kid who needs transporting to get to her activities and no public transportation available, the only alternative is to drive. I drive considerably less than I did 5 years ago, however. So, I suppose I shouldn't be writing that I drive the same as before. I drive the same as before getting the Mini, but significantly less (about 30%) than 5 years ago. Is that better?

  • MarkDaMan (unverified)
    (Show?)

    ^Thanks for taking the time to clarify. I'm glad to see people making honest efforts to change their lifestyle and protect, hell, heal our planet.

connect with blueoregon