Opinion: Here we go again

Now that petrol prices are heading skywards, it is only a matter of time before Mr. and Mrs. America take a look at that monstrous SUV in the driveway and realize that the right to buy cheap petrol is written nowhere in the Constitution.

Each year vehicles get bigger and bigger – the latest evolution of the Ford Explorer is substantially bigger than the same vehicle ten years ago. Cars are still marketed on size and horsepower – economy is barely given lip-service by the automobile marketing juggernaut (how many TV spots have boasted about good fuel economy?)

In Europe, where petrol is still more expensive ($8/gallon in Britain, which is a net exporter of oil) and roads are smaller, vehicles are comparatively tiny… but also frugal. I have mentioned the smart car in the past. Even though the company that makes them is owned by Daimler Chrysler, the vehicles are still not approved here in the States. I wonder why not?

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that America has not yet ended her long-running affair with the SUV. People like the feeling of safety and security of big vehicles (particularly small women who like BIG trucks – we all know at least one). As a result, small vehicles are viewed with derision.

In the mid-70s, everyone laughed at those little Japanese econoboxes, while tooling around in their two-ton “Yank-Tanks” (as us Brits called them at the time). Then the price of petrol tripled from 25c/gal to 75c/gal. There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but those little cheap cars started looking like a good idea. The rest, as they say, was history.

Since then, there has been a lot of progress in engine design. Fuel-injection, multi-valve technology, lean-burn engines and emissions controls have come a long way… but it seems like every advance in technology has simply allowed smaller and smaller engines to be used in bigger and bigger vehicles. So here we are, thirty years later, once again tooling around in our two-ton-tanks (or, if you can afford a Hummer, FOUR!)… and the price of petrol goes up again.

So what will we do now? While the Europeans are busy designing cars with names like Smart and Clever, too many of us will cry and kick and scream and march and protest and write to their representatives before we buy a smaller car,
We never learn, do we?

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