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Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


December 25, 2006

Call an SUV an SUV, and Mean It

Category: Economics,Editorial,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 11:07 pm

The “Clear Skies” Initiative and the “Healthy Forests” Act are some of the more glaring euphemisms of the Bush administration. They also worked their magic with “cut and run” and “climate change” (sometimes known as global warming). One message of the 2006 elections was that we see through some of these words (yes, just as we saw through Clinton’s lie about “that woman”).

We should stand up and call something what it is. We need not come up with over-statements, or under-statements, or mis-statements to describe something: we seem to have said that, as a nation, we are able to discern what a thing is, on its face.

Let’s call an SUV an SUV.

Over the spring and summer last year, a new pejorative was born: SUV. It’s kind of reminiscent of SOB, thus has a nice built-in calibration. A “clear skies initiative” is neither of the former, but is indeed an initiative, neither is a “Sport Utility Vehicle” either of the former, and only the latter. And so, I think we should never refer to SUVs as “car”, but simply “SUV”. And mean it. As in, “I see you’re driving an SUV”, which perhaps will come to mean “I see you’re driving a vehicle that is one of a few significant causes of my childrens’ uncertain futures.”

“Did you drive your car?”

“No, I brought my SUV.”

Which may lead to excuses such as “Of course we have tried to sell the SUV, but they are now worth so little, what with the cost of fuel, I can’t even afford to buy a car anymore”.

Ah, but I am a dreamer, for Friday’s news brought this report from NPR:

The increase in the core rate of inflation was led by a record 13.7 percent jump in the price of light trucks, a category that includes sport utility vehicles. The price of new passenger cars rose by 2.2 percent.

Huh? SUV prices up? Well, yes. But before you despair recognize that that’s good news. Why is this good? Well, in August, Ford reduced production by closing 10 plants that make light trucks, as a number of other auto makers did (ironically, about the point at which oil prices had stopped climbing).

So whether Ford was prescient, or more likely just slow to react, in either case the market is the market. We’re no longer worth building so many “light trucks”. So now three months or so later they sold their excess inventory and the pendulum has swung the other way: now there are not enough SUVs (because fewer are being made), so people that want SUVs have to wait and pay more. Kinda like I did when I bought my Prius.

So even if SUVs are more in demand now, auto manufacturers finally realized that they needed to supply fewer of them back then. Let’s not miss the good news here: as of August, manufacturers started producing far fewer SUVs, and they still are producing fewer. So, demand exceeds supply and prices rise, just like econ 101 said. Well, kinda…

One might argue that market forces are slow to act, as in this case perhaps 12 to 18 months. No argument here — many basic economic theories are based on a fanciful notion of “perfect information” which implies immediate and seamless response. So for example, in a perfect world, as gasoline prices or other factors reducing demand increase, Ford would reduce the number of vehicles made — indeed, their ability to predict such factors would be so great that supply and demand would never be out of balance.

Ah, a lovely theory. The moniker “dismal science” is often used to describe economics, and largely because of such far-fetched assumptions as “perfect information”. Reality is dismal and so many factors prevent perfect information, and subsequent perfect responses that only companies that either have great leaders and stockholders willing to follow would succeed. Or companies that take absurd risks. Or companies that start businesses on far-fetched ideas ever manage to come out on top of this curve.

It will be interesting to understand what differences in corporate attributes have led Ford and GM over a 30 year path downhill, while Toyota is now poised to take over the title of largest auto producer, with Honda not far behind. Were they visionaries at Toyota? Were Toyota stockholders more docile and understanding? Or was it just they they were not the ones who would lose if they took a risk (but would certainly lose if they did not)?

Or perhaps Tesla Motors with their electric car or some future absurd risk taker was the winner, just not yet announced.

In any case, markets react slowly, and so do people (of course markets are made by people). And some people still demand those SUVs. And so we must make sure the name SUV is said with the same punch as “SOB”. We don’t have to work so hard to keep high fuel prices in people’s minds. Global warming is so abstract. But a good ol’ epithet like “your goddamed SUV” should help bridge the gap between reality and perfect information.

(And in case the “clear skies” folks decide that a Honda Pilot isn’t really an SUV but is a SFV (you know, “Safe Family Vehicle”) or some such nonsense, let’s use the same BS detectors that helped us clean up the House and Senate and erode the efficacy Bush’s war on meaning as a reminder that it’s easy to convince people of what they want to hear.)

Let’s make sure to call an SUV an SUV. And mean it!

1 Comment

  1. […] while back, I was dismayed by the incredibly lame increases in light “truck” corporate average fuel econom… put forward by the Bush administration’s Environmental Plundering Agency (EPA). Later, […]

    Pingback by No More Free Ride for SUVs - CAFE Standards Must Be Stonger | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — November 16, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

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