# 466  

June 2003




The Car They Want You to Drive

 

by Amy Ridenour and Eric Peters

 

When you order a pizza, it's up to you what the toppings will be. No government busybody or special interest "advocate" has yet figured out a way to deprive you of your double pepperoni - if that's what you're hankering after.

Why should it be any different when it comes to cars?

The auto industry builds vehicles according to market demand. Right now, gas is fairly inexpensive and a lot of people really like SUVs and large cars, so the automakers are building them. There's no conspiracy; no evil plot to gull people into driving "wasteful" vehicles. Indeed, there are literally dozens of highly fuel-efficient compact and subcompact vehicles also available for those who want them - and people can freely buy whatever type of car or truck works best for them.

It's called the free market.

Unfortunately, and unlike your last take-out pizza, there are multiple federal and state regulatory bodies devoted to thwarting your personal choice when it comes to vehicles - supported by an army of self-appointed "public interest advocates" who brazenly claim to represent you, even though they don't represent anyone other than themselves and their own narrow special interests. These public interest groups can't abide that most people don't share their almost obsessive belief that fuel efficiency should be the number-one criteria for the automakers - even if it means smaller, less capable cars and trucks.

And so they wheedle and push for new laws and regulations designed to do an end-run around the blunt-skulls. If the market won't "work" they way they want it to, they'll jimmy it - and then the blunt skulls will have no choice but to buy "more appropriate" vehicles. Those appalling SUVs will be gone!

The latest legislative end-run is forming in California, always a trendsetter when it comes to bad ideas.

A bill pushed hard by Governor Gray Davis and passed by the state assembly is the first in the nation to categorize the carbon dioxide produced by motor vehicle engines an "emission" subject to anti-pollution regulation. Beginning with the 2009 model year, the automakers will be compelled to meet strict new standards limiting the amount of C02 a motor vehicle can lawfully produce.

The pretext is global warming theory - the idea that human activity, such as driving an SUV, is causing the planet to warm.

The catch here is that unlike the genuinely noxious (and smog-forming) byproducts of internal combustion such as oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide, which can be almost completely eliminated by chemical exhaust scrubbers such as catalytic converters, there is no way to reduce the amount of C02 created by internal combustion - other than by burning less fuel.

In other words, California's new regulations are a clever way to force-feed fuel efficiency uber alles on an unwilling public - and kill off larger vehicles, especially SUVs.

Since California is the country's largest vehicle market - and other states frequently emulate what California does when it comes to emissions and anti-pollution regulations - it is very likely that similar laws will be adopted elsewhere.

Presto! The bead-and-sandal set in California have done an end-run not merely around the mean-old auto industry and the dullard car-buying public, but also around Congress - which by law is supposed to be in charge of setting fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

It has been immensely aggravating to the gaggle of regulocrats pushing for higher federal fuel efficiency requirements that Congress, deferring to the will of the people, has left the 27.5-mpg standard for cars - and especially the lower the 20.5-mpg standard for "light trucks," SUVs and minivans - pretty much alone for almost 20 years now.

Intolerable!

But carbon dioxide "emissions" is the unanswerable trump card. There is no "advanced technology" that will allow us to drive the vehicles we want that also meet the proposed C02 reductions they insist upon. The automakers will have to use smaller, more efficient and less powerful engines. And they will be installed in smaller, lighter cars. V-8 SUVs and large cars with engines bigger than small V-6s will become totems of the very rich - like a Zil limousine in the old Soviet Union. The blunt skull masses will have to make do with an Americanized version of the Trabant - but hey, it'll get great gas mileage.

In Europe, this state of affairs already exists; only the elite get to drive anything larger than what we would consider a compact. SUVs are almost unknown. Over there, it's because of punitive taxes on motor fuels that have pushed the average cost of a gallon of gas to about $4.

But that approach won't sell over here; Americans would revolt if Congress tried to add $2-$3 in taxes to each gallon of gas. So instead, we get the environmental shuck-and-jive about "global warming" - which appeals to our good intentions, but also depends upon the general scientific illiteracy of the public, which knows about as much about the validity of the "humans cause global warming" theory as it does about cold fusion.

Will it sell? Time will tell.

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Amy Ridenour is president and Eric Peters a senior fellow of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to [email protected].


 

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