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It is the market economy, stupid

Uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan, fresh back from his holidays, rages against Americans who drive big SUVs on the grounds that by doing so, they help swell the coffers of terror sponsoring states in the Middle East. Patriotic Americans, says the ahem, British Mr Sullivan, should drive smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. He does not like the habit of “soccer moms” driving their kids around in such vast vehicles, full of clobber he thinks is a waste of space and money.

Well Andrew, maybe. I would have thought that with the price of crude oil hitting the region of around $66 per barrel, that even the dimmest motorist is going to see the impact on a bank statement eventually and wonder about trading in the Hummer for something a tad smaller. I know it is crazy ideological talk but people do actually take account of prices.

If oil prices stay on their current trajectory, it won’t need a scold like Sullivan to remind Americans, or indeed anyone else, to adjust their consumption. All it takes is the operation of prices. Some Scottish geezer called Adam Smith once wrote about this about 230 years ago, I think. It is such a shame that even bright folk like Andrew Sullivan take all this time to catch on.

62 comments to It is the market economy, stupid

  • “he thinks is a waste of space and money”

    It’s the first and last rule of political economy: no one ever advocates central planning without envisioning themselves as the central planner.

    And this guy’s supposedly a conservative?

  • Susan

    Agreed. But Sullivan’s now a US citizen, I think.

  • scarshapedstar

    So he’s saying the right thing for the wrong reasons. Oh noes.

  • Verity

    Andrew Sullivan has gone from being a brilliant journalist with great lucidity of thought and a striking turn of phrase to, as Jonathan says, a scold – and a shrill one at that. He began to come apart over the gay marriage issue and now, as Jonathan says, he has become a central planner.

    Interesting that Christopher Hitchens, by contrast, made the journey in the other direction and without losing one scintilla of his wit and sparkle. In fact, I think he’s even more robust now that he’s seen the libertarian light.

    I’m not saying that Sullivan has become a real leftie, but he’s become a nanny, which is just as bad. I never bother tuning in any more.

  • John East

    Couldn’t agree more Johnathan. I choose to drive gas guzzlers, and make consumption sacrifices elsewhere in my budget to cover the cost. In fact I think the power of the free market is the obvious and probably only effective way to reduce congestion and clear the roads for petrol heads like me to get around.
    I’m quite happy for the socialists to go from A to B on their push bikes or filthy inefficient public transport if they wish to, so why don’t they leave me alone to decide for myself what I do with the money I’ve earned.

  • I’ve been thinking lately that all this talk of MPG is rather ridiculous.

    If that soccer mom tele-commuted, and used the SUV only on weekends, she is better than the hybrid-driving distance commuter.

    Rather than MPG, it should be GPM (gallons per month) or better yet GPHI (gallons per household income).

    Also, I wonder if Sullivan realized they are called “soccer moms” because they often drive around a bunch of kids in those spacious SUVs. Would he prefer 7 hybrids to 1 SUV?

  • Sigivald

    Sullivan’s wrong anyway.

    If Americans cut consumption, that will lower prices a bit globally, and then other countries will buy that oil.

    Every drop of oil that is pumped and can be refined is consumed (or stored for later consumption, like in the US strategic reserve, but that counts as consumption for these purposes), these days. Marginal demand exists for any plausible production in excess of current levels. Cutting US consumption by a miniscule percentage by replacing shiny new SUVs with shiny new compact cars (though, er, who drives an SUV but can get along fine with such a car? Very few people actually buy a large SUV for status alone. Rap stars and movie stars are not statistically important. People with SUVs tend to buy them instead of a truck or station wagon.)

    The Saudis and Iranians are going to get money for their oil from someone no matter what the US does in terms of driving gutless little euro-roadbumps instead of proper cars. (Heh.)

    The real solution to Saudi Wahhabism is to fix Saudi Arabia, not to drive a Prius (or even a Jetta TDI).

  • Verity

    Sigivald – Agreed, with bells on! The short term solution is to straighten out Saudi Arabia. Long-term, it’s new energy sources, of course, but for now, we need to address the problem of Saudi Arabia.

  • Sullivan’s a dip. He makes a huge self-congratulatory splash about how he doesn’t even own a car, not mentioning that he lives in Manhattan, where such ownership is more of a hindrance than a necessity.

    I’d like to see any of these “drive smaller” twerps try to fit our three giant teenagers, plus luggage for a long trip, into anything smaller than our Chevy Suburban with its V8 engine.

    When we travel in Europe, we almost have to rent a mini-bus to hold us all.

    Of course, given Sullivan’s errr proclivities, his chances of having teenage kids are non-existent anyway, so he can rant about gas-guzzlers in perfect safety.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    And what would that achieve, when two billion Indians and Chinese are about to join the ranks of the global automobile middle class ?

    Never mind the implied assumption that SUVs would be responsible for a significant share of America’s oil consumption, when motor gasoline is in fact less than half of the total; and that includes commercial transportation.

    Maybe Sullivan could show the way by living in a european-size apartment that will cost much less to heat.

    Another one of his periodic self-important moralistic rants. Pundit PMS, maybe.

  • Julian Morrison

    Hairshirters might like to think high oil will scare people away from big cars. More likely, the result will be big efficient cars.

  • Millie Woods

    Andrew S. should tune in to the 21st century. The ME is no longer a major source of oil imports for the US. Canada and Venezuela are. Actually, it’s about time journos stopped living in the 1920’s and faced the fact that the world is full of oil and the Saudis should be stomped on instead of being catered to like the prima donnas they became when they really were an important source of oil.

  • Millie Woods is absolutely right about Canada and Venezuela as sources…don’t forget Mexico in that list.

    Of course, would feel so much better about Venezuela’s membership in that last if Wacko Chavez wasn’t bucking to replace Castro as hemispheric bad boy.

  • Keith

    You mean to tell me there are cars with engines of less than 5 litres?
    When I want a lawn mower I’ll buy a goat.

  • Andrew Sullivan is simply sucking uo to his new constituency,having crossed over because his stance on gay marrige,he now finds himself in the position of buying into all the liberal left all standpoints.
    It is the devil and long spoons again.

  • Verity

    Peter – I totally agree. Sullivan was very sound, readable and usually wrote well-argued and interesting pieces. But once the “gay marrige” issue ramped up, he simply went over the top. For one thing, he couldn’t stop writing about it – despite, surely, knowing that at least 90% of his audience was straight.

    Then when it got turned down in whichever states, he flew into fit of indignation that still doesn’t seem to have peaked. I stopped reading him around six months ago. And you’re right; he has softened his stance towards the liberal agenda.

  • Monkey

    In fairness to Sullivan he does mention:”In general, I favor the market figuring these things out. With any luck, as gas heads toward $3 a gallon, hybrids will see more growth in sales.” and he lives in the Washington DC area not Manhattan. He sure is boring his readers with the whole gay marriage rant though.

  • Sullivan is a loon who went off the rails a rather long time ago. The fact he is still read by anyone is merely a fact that lots of people enjoy watching a train-wreck.

  • He’s so narcissistic I think a lot of his politics is just based around his own whims and desires. If he were straight, he’d probably be a down the line conservative about the institution of marriage. If he could drive, he’d scoff at the liberal weenies who’d tell him to get into something smaller. But because his own lifestyle doesn’t match these two descriptions, to him people who drive standard utility vehicles are traitors and voters who want marriage laws to reflect the fact that kids need a mum and a dad are the equivalent of racist segregationists.

  • Julian Taylor

    Would have thought that Mr Sullivan could direct that soccer-mom-SUV jibe better against the dreadful tractor driving classes in the UK than the USA. Anyone who has ever seen the hordes of X5’s, ML320’s, Landcruisers and Discoverys haphazardly parked outside schools with no consideration for anyone else will understand this.

    As for the ridiculous notion that Mexico, Venezuela and CANADA (???) can take over from Saudi Arabia as a principle exporter of crude into the USA, for Christ’s sake get real will you? As or if the colossal South and Equatorial Atlantic reserves ever come online then Saudi just might have reason to panic, until then I doubt it very much.

  • Verity

    Julian – Don’t have the figures, but those three countries, plus Texas and Oklahoma constitute a huge oil production. Then add Alaska, and if the Conservationists ever shut up, there is much, much more of Alaska that could be opened for drilling. Agreed, it doesn’t equal Saudi Arabia. But add Russia and Kazakstan and you’re edging up.

    Not enough, I realise, but with new extraction techniques that open up new drilling vistas, the brilliance of the West will prevail, and eventually the 5,000 Saudi princes and their 15,000 “wives” (or “princesses”) may have to go out and work for a living if they can find anyone in the West who can hold his nose long enough to hire them.

    But meantime, as other posters have said, we do need to get up the massed will to sort Saudi Arabia out not in the future, but now.

  • Robert Alderson

    In the long term Saudia Arabia’s oil production is not all that significant. If Saudi Arabia stopped producing oil then new reserves could be found in Alaska or even Antartica. But, Saudi Arabia is hugely important in the short term. They control about 15% of world output and have the lowest production costs. By make small changes to their production they can go a long way to setting world prices. If Saudi Arabia stopped producing tomorrow due to e.g. a terrorist attack then there would be a truly massive surge in prices.

    The oil business requires long term investment but prices are determined on a spot basis form day to day. There are huge reserves of oil in the Alberta tar sands but extraction costs are very high. I’m not sure whether it would be currently profitable to extract that oil but the problem is that there is no price stability so an oil company would not start to make the necessary large investment to get at this or other new reserves unless the oil price was well above the minimum level for profitability.

    One way to ensure longer term price stability might be delivery contracts based on fixed prices over a month, a quarter or a year. Western governments might also want to build up reserves of oil to deal with the very believable threat of a temporary terrorst disruption to supply.

  • anonymous coward

    Pop over here and have a look at how government regulation brought on the SUV craze.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’d check up on what the South Atlantic holds, before venturing into speculation on shale oil extraction in Canada or even the low yield/high cost shale beds in much of the southern and central US. The estimates [PDF] (but please use this link if you don’t want all the technical bits), from a rather basic 6 well bore sample drilling conducted by BGS and Shell, put the Falklands in a category WAY beyond the dreams of even the most avaricious Saudi sheik. I’d look to seeing 2780 very, very wealthy shepherds and fishermen in the Falklands in the not-so-distant future.

  • Julian Taylor

    Oh, I forgot to mention that the well covered in that survey is only the North Falklands one, and that ‘small’ one is close to half the size of Texas. The far bigger ones are to the South and South West and those are apparently dwarfed by the really big ones close to South Georgia.

    I just bet Argentina is really kicking itself now.

  • Economics was never Andrew’s strong point.

    Here is my bit of economic wisdom:

    Higher energy prices in the short run curb consumption. In the long run they bring in new supplies.

    A steep slope in the demand curve (an inelastic demand) coupled with a long delay in bringing new product to market causes oscillations in price.

    It is too bad economists are not taught control theory which would make the above scenario obvious.

  • I’m probably one of the worst offenders. I drive a 95 Jeep Wrangler which has none of the spacious interior a regular SUV has, handles like a tank with a stuck tread, and is as comfortable as a Disney ride. And I work 45 miles from where I live.

    But I keep her tuned properly, had the engine rebuilt and balanced to racing specs, new computer, and most importantly, I keep the tires properly inflated. More people burn gas like crazy simply because they don’t keep their tire pressure correct. Yeah, 18mpg with a 20 gallon gas tank eats into ones wallet, but she’s paid off. If you add in the cost of the car payment with the gas I’d still have to buy, it won’t make economic sense until gas is $5.25 a gallon.

  • Ben Jarrell

    I have an SUV. (96 Isuzu Rodeo)

    I ride a bicycle to school.

    My wife drives a Honda scooter that gets 100mpg.

    I dare say that I use less gas than most people, including the self righteous Prius drivers.

    People *are* waking up to alternative methods of transportation, they are getting more interested in alternative fuel sources, and at least price-conscious consumers are using less gas.

    I don’t like higher gas prices either, but if demand dictates $3 a gallon, so be it. People will pay the dfiference, or adjust their habits accordingly.

  • Verity

    Julian Taylor says: I just bet Argentina is really kicking itself now.

    Thank God Maggie kicked them first.

  • In control speak – high gain coupled with long lags cause a system to oscillate.

  • inmypajamas

    We are an evil, gas-guzzling SUV family. We drive a Suburban and used to have a Camry as our second car but replaced it with a Durango when the waiting list for the Prius got too long and the tacked-on premiums got too high ($10,000 for the privilege of saying, “Look at me. I own a Prius!” ????).

    The Suburban actually replaced a Ford Explorer that we outgrew. We only have two kids but put them in the car with us and one friend each to go to the movies and you’re driving two cars without a bigger SUV (no space challenged minivans in this house, thanks). Not to mention Girl Scout field trips, camping with gear and the dog and trips to Home Depot and the local landscaper. The Durango replaced the Camry because of the Prius fiasco and the fact that the hubby and I kept “competing” for the bigger car – “I need it to pick up the sod at the landscaper”, “Well, I need it to take the scouts to Houston”, etc. Sometimes I wonder now how we got along with the Camry as long as we did.

    Our SUVs serve a definite purpose and we just budget around them. We would much rather drive one car than two or make a single trip to Home Depot. I sometimes wonder if all those nags who lecture about SUVs have kids and/or real lives.

  • Verity

    I sometimes wonder if all those nags who lecture about SUVs have kids and/or real lives.

    … or any sense of when to click DEL.

  • Ric Locke

    As for market forces getting people to conserve, my advice is: don’t hold your breath.

    Here is a guy who’s kept a record of what he paid for gas at every fillup since 1979 (!) and kindly offers it as a graph.

    With correction for inflation.



  • If he could drive, he’d scoff at the liberal weenies who’d tell him to get into something smaller. But because his own lifestyle doesn’t match these two descriptions, to him people who drive standard utility vehicles are traitors and voters who want marriage laws to reflect the fact that kids need a mum and a dad are the equivalent of racist segregationists.

  • llamas

    Living proof that waffling about ‘gas guzzling’ is actually not about gas consumption at all, but about lifestyles.

    mrs llamas drives a BMW Z4, with the 3.0 motor and the sports goodies. She drives it like a crazed madwoman, I drive it like I drive everything – that is to say, like an old fart. I drive this thing maybe once a week.

    I had occasion to drive this thing to work the other day – she needed my pickup to haul something, fancy that!

    And one of the resident whale-huggers at my place of employment had the nerve to upbraid me for driving ‘that gas-guzzling (male extender)’. She’s no idea it’s my wife’s car. I tell her it’s my wife’s car, bought with my wife’s money, that she chose herself regardless of what I thought, and what is she trying to say? She goes all huffy on me, but keeps on with the gas-guzzling shtick. So I say to her

    ‘let’s go down there right now, and I’ll fire up the car, and let you look at the average miles-per-gallon display that BMW so thoughtfully built into the dash. You wanna put money on what it says? I’ll wager it gets better mileage than what you’re driving! (I know she drives an older Subaru station wagon).’

    She did not take me up on the wager – just as well, because the Z4 gets 32 mpg, and I know her 10-year-old Subaru isn’t making that. She just keeps on about ‘gas-guzzling monsters’.

    It’s not about the cars, or about how much gas they use. It’s about lifestyles. Andrew Sullivan doesn’t give a rip about how much gas SUV’s use – he cares that they impact his twee wanderings through the shopping district of historic Providence, RI.



  • Verity

    llamas – Yes, he has become rather precious. Musings about Martha’s Vineyard in the winter, musings about “the boyfriend”, musings about George Bush and “gay marriage” and anyone who opposes it … He doesn’t seem to do pithy any more.

  • David Beatty

    Andrew who?

    Seriously, I’m tired of the ranting about high gas prices and low gas mileage. There’s far more value to an automobile that just it’s gas mileage.

    If the U.S. were really serious about lowering gas prices, the following would likely happen:

    1. Allow exploration and drilling where the domestic
    oil is (ANWR, Florida coast, Caolifornia coast). Sea
    drilling is much better and cleaner than it used
    to be.

    2. Eliminate most of the summer environmental
    blends, one each for 87, 89, and 93 octane is
    more than enough.

    3. Allow new refineries to be built in the U.S., I don’t
    think a new one has been built in 25-30 years.

    4. Allow refineries to be built that can refine heavy
    crude. All U.S. refineries are built to refine light,
    sweet crude.

    In other words, let the free market correct the issue and get the hell out of the way.

  • wf

    Peopel always think they have to drive a small car to save fuel. Not necessarily. Modern diesel engines are both fun to drive and extremely efficient. My Audi A4 1.9 (not a lightweight) will never use more than 6,2 litres/km. In the US, that would be about 39 miles per gallon. That is a very agile 130 hp engine that takes the vehicle beyond 210 km/h (they did not pay me for writing this).

  • ReactorMan

    America just needs to forget all that Three Mile Island jazz (which didn’t kill anyone anyhow) and get building nuclear power stations again. Then all the cheap energy the nation needs will be on tap at home and the Middle East can go to hell in a hanging basket. We’ve wasted enough time, money and blood trying to keep various kinds of Muslim, Arab and semite apart. Screw the lot of them.

  • llamas

    wf wrote:

    ‘Peopel always think they have to drive a small car to save fuel. Not necessarily. Modern diesel engines are both fun to drive and extremely efficient. My Audi A4 1.9 (not a lightweight) will never use more than 6,2 litres/km. In the US, that would be about 39 miles per gallon. That is a very agile 130 hp engine that takes the vehicle beyond 210 km/h (they did not pay me for writing this).’

    All very true – but three things have to be borne in mind in the US market.

    The first is that General Motors burned the lot and sowed it with salt regarding diesel passenger car engines in the late 1970’s. They tried a quick-and-dirty conversion of their stalwart gasoline 350 cid V8 to a diesel, and man, but it was a dog. They sold the living hell out of this dog, with the result that everyone has a brother-in-law that once took a bath with one of these wretched things. These mistakes die hard.

    Secondly, US emission regulations for passenger cars are harder on diesels than what’s required in Europe. Large and lucrative market areas (eg California) are even more exacting. Not that it can’t be done, it’s just harder than it appears from a strightforward comparison.

    Thirdly, the North American climate is more challenging for passenger-car diesels.

    That being said – I’d love it! I wish especially that they would build US pickup trucks and SUV’s with the sorts of smaller, high-compression, high-pressure diesel motors that are so common in Europe. They have no trouble putting big diesels into working vehicles, like the Cummins Turbo Diesel in the big Dodge pickups – that gets excellent gas mileage considering what it is. I don’t know what the holdup is, but I suspect that it’s mostly consumer preference. Diesel fuel is not sold at every gas station, and where it is sold, it’s often not under the most salubrious of conditions – being aimed at the commercial vehicle market. Ford put diesel engine acceptance back 10 years with their Powerstroke motors which (while they are a fine motor) have a peculiarly obnoxious and loud exhaust note. They’re much better than they were, but the damage is done. Americans, by and large, consider diesel engines to be loud, noisy, smelly, hard to find fuel for and generally low-rent.



  • Verity

    Reactor Man – remember the bumper sticker at the time? More people died in Ted Kennedy’s car than at Three Mile Island.

    Agreed. Nuclear power is the way to go for heating and cooling, if we can wipe the images of Homer Simpson at work from our minds …

  • Leaving poor Andrew aside – something that seems to be done more and more – the US consumers are looking a bit more rational than they are given credit for. As noted here (scroll to the bottom), SUV sales were headed south before the most recent round of price cuts. In previous years, promotions of this kind almost always excluded SUVs, as the dealers had no trouble selling them at full sticker price. Now that they have reduced their prices by 10%, buyers calculate that it will take a lot of poor mileage to offset the $3,000 or so price reduction. At $3 per gallon, the difference between a vehicle getting 20 mpg vs. 30 mpg amounts to only $1,500 over the first 30,000 miles.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    Reactor Man- It’s been calculated that the committed cost to date of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars would cover establishing enough solar panels to serve all 70m US homes with electricity, leaving only industrial and transport requirements to be sourced from other means such as nuclear.

    Why has the USA wasted all this money fighting futile campaigns 3,000 miles from home? Because Big Oil would rather go on extracting the brown stuff than researching sustainable alternatives? Surely not!

    Libertarians ought to be keenly interested in alternative fuels, since among them are potentially cheap technologies which would allow many homes to generate all their own needs, ceasing to rely on corporations which work hand in glove with politicians to keep us dependent on pork-barrelling statism for warmth and light. Let the brownouts in southern CA be your warning– government is no better at keeping you out of the dark than protecting you from terrorists. But how much forward thinking can we expect from Big Oil GWB and his cronies, who are spending more of our money and running up bigger deficits than any previous so-called ‘right wing’ government, to sustain a neo-imperial foreign policy which is the opposite of everything the Founding Fathers stood for?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “more people died in Ted Kennedy’s car than in Three Mile Island”, writes Verity.

    That is brilliant. I am going to remember that one.

  • llamas

    Matt O’Halloran wrote:

    ‘running up bigger deficits than any previous so-called ‘right wing’ government, . . . ‘

    Actually, not. The deficits of the Bush administration, while larger in dollar numbers than those of previous Republican administrations, are actually considerably smaller in terms of proportion of GDP – which is a more accurate measure of the size and risks of such deficits.

    It should also be noted that, as the economy continues to grow very nicely during the second Bush administration, even though we are fighting costly foreign wars, the deficit continue to decrease, not increase.

    I would be fascinated to see the math behind the contention that the costs of the Iraq/Afghan wars would be enough to equip every US home with adequate solar energy collectors. It’s actually a very disingenuous comparison, since home energy applications are a rather small part of our imported oil use. Even transport fuels account for less than half of our imported oil use. I don’t think, perhaps, that you’ve considered all of the impacts of the idea that we should simply quit using ‘the brown stuff’.



  • K.M.

    Hopefully everyone noticed where Sullivan admits he doesn’t have a car.

    He’s an East coast elitist with the myopia that goes along with it.

    Isn’t the appropriate term for people who want to regulate (and demonize in the process) people’s lifestyle choices “facist”? I mean, I’m sure Sullivan’s all for us telling him being gay is horrible and all….

    David Beatty, I agree with your comments, but IMO you missed one, cut the damn gas taxes!

  • My family:

    An 1988 F-350 pickup truck, 7 litre, 12 mpg.
    A 2005 Explorer, 4 litre, V6, 18 mpg.
    A 2005 Expedition, 5.8 liter, V8, 16 mpg.
    A 1995 Jeep Wrangler, 2.5 litre, 14 mpg.
    A 1998 Contour, 2 litre, 23 mpg.
    A 7 litre speedboat, about 8 mpg.
    4 quads, 2-cycle.
    4 jetskis, 2-cycle.

    We’re consuming a good bit of fossil fuel each year, I’d say, particularly when much of it is personal choice and not necessity. And when you add several airline trips each year….. we’re getting up there. Fact: the only people who have a problem with that are those who see the world through collectivist goggles and believe we are using others’ share of natural resources.

    But we bought every damn penny’s worth of those resources. And the same free market that allowed us to do so will also provide a long-term solution for shortage. As another contributor said, GET OUT OF THE WAY and let it happen.

  • Umm, Matt, what good would solar panels do against an incoming 747 or a dirty bomb? Rather an apples and oranges mixed sum here, don’t you think? If you argue that it would deprive Our Friends the Saudis of the wherewithal to fund madrassas in Pakistan, I would have to admit that this might have some long-term, marginal effect, assuming they had nowhere else to sell their oil. The best way to deal with someone who wants you to kill you, though, is not to stop his allowance but rather his heartbeat.

  • rosignol

    Agreed. But Sullivan’s now a US citizen, I think.

    He may be an American in the legal sense. That does not mean he understands America, or Americans.

  • Johnathan

    rosginol, agreed. I liked much of what Sully says but there is no overcoming the fact that at times he appears vexed by his chosen homeland. I don’t begrude him the right to use a bike, not drive a car nor indeed to I begrude him the right to prattle on about gay marriage. My problem is that on this subject of car use, oil and the war, he has become precisely the sort of scolding blowhard that one associates with the left. And I recall that Sully often used to berate that sort of puritanical attitude.

  • A_t

    I think you’re right on the “let the market sort it out” front. I have a personal objection to SUV’s as big, poorly designed uglyboxes, but see that as no reason not to allow other people to indulge in them if that’s what they want, any more than I would wish to prevent people buying terrible t-shirts or naff suits.

    Also, reading through the comments above, I’m struck by the same point I made in a comment a while ago, I’m still astounded by how inefficient American engines are… How do US car manufacturers manage to make 5 or 6 litre engines which are out-performed by a 2 or 3 litre European engine? Is it deliberate? Is it incompetence? Or is there some factor I’m overlooking here?

  • llamas

    A-t – there are, in fact, several factors which may not be clear to you.

    Firstly, US pump gas is of considerably lower octane rating that what’s found in Europe. Regular unleaded is 87 octane in the US, appears to be about 94 octane in the UK, for example. Now, there are differences in the way that octane is expressed at the retail level, so the difference may not be quite as great as the numbers suggest, but still, this infrastructure difference means that engines cannot be designed with compression ratios as high as they can in Europe.

    Secondly, US pump gas is generally tailored to lower vapour pressures than what’s found in Europe – to reduce smog. This makes the gas (in simpler terms) harder to light off, especially in cold weather – and the US has lots of cold weather. Again, this leads to compromises in engine designs which reduce power vs capacity.

    Thirdly, many of the rides into which large-capacity V8’s are built are designed to haul, and the owners expect them to haul. My Chevrolet pickup truck, for example, has a 4.6 liter V8 and is rated to tow 8000 pounds – 4 tons – right off the showroom floor. And this is the low end of the consumer demand. Owners expect to be able to tow large trailers, boats, horse trailers and so forth. For that reason, these engines are often designed, not so much for bhp, as for lower-end torque. What really counts is fuel consumption – that Chevrolet pickup gets 26 miles per (Imperial) gallon of 87-octane gas in mixed driving, which is not too shabby considering that the ride alone weighs almost 2 tons.

    ‘Outperformed’ is the operative word. Sure, many European sedans with engines in the 2-3 liter range will blow the doors off US sedans with engines in the 3-4 liter range. But the US rides will be larger and heavier, and yet, even with all that, will return fuel economies not so very far different than their smaller-engined European counterparts. But there’s very few European makers producing the kinds of vehicles into which the larger, slower-turning, lower-compression V8’s are being built. It’s a different kind of performance that’s required, which the European makers have not tried to address. Efficiency- and fuel-consumption-wise, they’re very much the same – they’re just different-looking solutions to the same problem.



  • What some folks here don’t recognize is that the US driver hasn’t been paying for all the costs of defending the Middle East from itself, and us against it.  If those expenses were paid at the pump instead of in the income tax, we would already have those bigger, more-efficient cars… if they were feasible to make.

    Instead, we have what amounts to a large subsidy of pump prices via income taxes (and don’t get me started on ethanol).  This is exactly the thing China has done, and it has produced exactly the same results:  greater consumption than the true cost of the good justifies, and inadequate pursuit of both the opportunities for conservation and possible alternatives.

    It’s almost beyond question that we only have the SUV phenomenon because government biased the market toward smaller cars and cheaper fuel simultaneously.  The foolishness of this is now coming back to us with interest; it’s time to stop.

    Let’s finance Iraq with a $1.00/gallon petroleum tax (including “off-road” fuel) and rebate it as a deductible on everyone’s Social Security withholding.  That’ll start the process of straightening out this mess.

  • A_t

    Thanks llamas, most instructive.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    Llamas: “The deficits of the Bush administration, while larger in dollar numbers than those of previous Republican administrations, are actually considerably smaller in terms of proportion of GDP – which is a more accurate measure of the size and risks of such deficits.”

    And what about the actuarial deficits piling up for Medicare and Social Security? Basically the Federal government is bust (as is California, BTW). The forex market knows best what credit to give to governments, and what currencies are worth. I can remember when the USD was nearly at par with sterling. Recently you could get almost two to the pound.

    America’s growth includes a mess of waste and pollution, and its structural economic and social problems are horrendous and getting worse all the time as the Ponzi scheme of low-quality mass immigration is tolerated by El Busho. As for its overseas crusade, Mitch, I agree it would have been great if America had targeted its terrorist enemies after 9/11. Instead it launched a quagmire war against an irrelevant and harmless enemy which is going to lead to its worst foreign policy humiliation since Vietnam… all in the sacred name of the soccer mom’s right to cheap brown stuff for her SUV.

  • llamas

    Matt O’Halloran – I do not disagree with you about the funding issues for Medicare and SS – but that’s not what you said. You said ‘deficit’, and you meant by that what everyone means by that, namely, the on-budget deficits. About which you – mis-spoke.

    You can remember when the U$ was about at par with sterling? Well, guess what, I can remember when you could get more like U$4 to the pound sterling, and noone said that the US was on the brink of collapse then. Your single-minded faith in the foreign exchange market as the sole arbiter of a nation’s health seems – narrowly-focussed.

    If the U$ is such a rickety currency, then I guess I don’t understand why, in so many parts of the world, it is the only currency which will pass good – especially among criminals and in the black economy. They don’t give a toss for your Euros, or your sterling – unless in the form of gold sovereigns. But greenback passes good everywhere.

    Yoiur comments about America’s growth and the mess of waste and pollution are similarly misinformed. America’s economy is growing at a rate which Europe would kill for, and yet the air and water just keep getting cleaner, the environment hasn’t been this good since the days when the continent supported maybe a tenth of the people it does now and the economy was worth maybe a thousandth of what it is now.

    I’m not sure what ‘structural economic and social problems’ you are referring to, but I’d love to know what they are. You’ve been wrong about most other things to this point and I dare say you are wrong about those too.



  • Some people here in the U.S. have come up with what I’d call a “lifeboat” alternative to the SUV, or any larger car for that matter. It’s called the Vespa. Vespas and other scooters have been reintroduced int the American market, and are really taking off in some urban/suburban markets. What folks are doing is keeping the full-size vehicle, but using it much less, and running smaller errands — including just transporting oneself to Starbuck’s or whatever — on their motor scooter.

  • Umm….. Engineer-Poet: How’s about people just ENJOY driving SUVs and you should butt out of their damned business? It angers me to no end when people describe the rational, autonomous choices of other human beings as a “MESS”. It is only a mess when viewed from the perspective of a statist.

  • Midwesterner

    llamas or others,

    Whatever happened to one of my all time favorites? My VW diesel pick-up truck had outstanding winter driving performance, quick and nimble handling, very comfortable “big car” ride, 50 mpg and 750 miles per tank full! Oh, did I mention a cargo box big enough to haul 95% of my (small business related) errands.

    How could this vehicle NOT still be available? I don’t understand the vehicle market.

  • Sporklift Driver

    I’d like to add that road and traffic conditions contribute to many peoples decisions regarding what kind of car to drive. Here in L.A. the roads are very hard on the suspensions of non off-road capable vehicles. If you’re going to be spending an hour to commute to work and two to get home a living room on wheels becomes very attractive. Both these problems have been created or at least made worse by government policies intended to get people out of their cars and into mass transit. The results have been very good for suv sales.

  • David Beatty

    Agreed, K.M., I forgot about the gasoline tax.

  • llamas

    Midwesterner wrote:

    ‘llamas or others,

    Whatever happened to one of my all time favorites? My VW diesel pick-up truck had outstanding winter driving performance, quick and nimble handling, very comfortable “big car” ride, 50 mpg and 750 miles per tank full! Oh, did I mention a cargo box big enough to haul 95% of my (small business related) errands.

    How could this vehicle NOT still be available? I don’t understand the vehicle market.’

    It beats the living fire out of me. But I’m guessing the answer is simple, vz. – sales.

    The diesel Rabbit was a big hit around here – ran like a train, great fuel consumption. You still see them today, it must be 15 years since they quit making them. Ford used to build their Ranger mini-pickup with a fine little 4-banger diesel that was very popular as a light delivery ride. Couldn’t get out of its own way, but great fuel consumption in a ride that could haul 2 people plus 500# and up of anything you wanted. Our local engine-rebuilder used to run a whole fleet of these – you could get 2 full-sized V8 shortblocks in the back and haul them for cheaper than anything else you could buy.

    And so forth. But the Big Three aren’t going to get rich selling those kinds of rides. The Ford F150 pickup isn’t the biggest-selling single model in the US for 15 years staright because Ford is so good at advertising – it’s because that’s what the buyers want.