Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Failing to Pick Up on the Need to Defund Consumption

I was shocked to hear on the radio today that the top three selling vehicle models in the US are all pickups.

Think about that. 

I lived on a farm for 40 years and there is definitely a place for pickups as part of a vehicle fleet in rural life. At Sandhill Farm (where I did the bulk of my community living) we always had a pickup. There were times when we needed to haul heavy or bulky things and that's what a pickup is good for (by extension you can make a reasonable argument that pickups are darn near essential at industrial job sites as well). That said, we only used our pickup about 10% as much as we used our regular vehicles—because even on a working farm, the overwhelming majority of the time you simply use vehicles to move one or two people, and pickups are grossly inefficient.

What do I mean by "grossly"? The gas mileage for this year's pickup models is in the 15-20 mpg range. The mileage for this year's sedans is typically 30 mpg and up. The US Dept of Transportation figures that the average American drives 13,500 miles annually. If you do that in a pickup that gets 16 mpg, you'll buy 843 gallons of gas. If you do it in sedan that gets 32 mpg, you'll need only half of that, or 421 gallons (not to mention hundreds of hours in better seats). If gas costs around $2.50/gallon that's roughly $1000 difference in what you'll pay for gas.

When you take in the sales data, it's obvious that most of those hot-selling pickups are not being bought by farmers worrying about schlepping hay bales to cows in the back 40, or by oil drillers running extra pipe to a wellhead. So what's going on? As near as I can tell, owning and driving a pickup has become a status symbol. Think about how ridiculous that is—all the more so in light of folks complaining about economic strain right now. (I know, it may not be the bottom third of the economic pyramid who is buying his and hers F-150s, but you get my point.)

We're living in a world that desperately needs to reduce its carbon footprint, and with spectacular inequalities in how resources are distributed among the nations of the world. As a developed country that uses way more than its share of the world's resources, how do we sleep at night buying all those pickups? With the brick wall of limited resources right in front of us, in what reality does it make sense to increase consumption to make a fashion statement? This is developing conspicuous consumption into an art form—on the order of sport killing buffalos from moving train and letting the meat rot (yeah, we did that, too).

Instead of focusing on car pooling, we're focused on car fooling—as in fooling ourselves that we're taking the consequences of over population into account. Instead of car sharing, we're indulging in car foreswearing—in favor of gas-guzzling trucks. 

Surely we can do better.

1 comment:

Harvey Baker said...

I initially assumed that the three top selling vehicles/pickup trucks, might include a mid-sized truck like a Tacoma or Frontier. Nope, they are all full sized trucks -- Ford f150, Dodge Ram, or Chevy. They sell about twice as many vehicles as the next three, which are all SUVs or Cross-overs (Mid-size SUVs.) The full size SUVs get about the mileage of the full size pickups. Not till you get to #7-#10 do you see sedans.

About 5 years ago, I sold my aging (368k miles) Mercury Sable station wagon and rusted out old GMC 3/4 ton pickup, and bought a used 2011 Toyota Tacoma. I had to look long and hard for what I wanted, as it was not a common purchase in 2011. It was the access cab model (with a minimal back seat area), 2WD, and the gas-sipping 4 cylinder engine. It gets better mileage than the station wagon, about 24 in local driving, up to 28 on the highway. As soon as you change to the V-6 and 4Wd (a much more common configuration), mileage drops to about 18.

The large pickups and full size SUVs have been heavily pushed by the 3 major manufacturers, as the profits per vehicle are so much higher. They have pushed both to urban markets, which have very limited use for utility vehicles of either type. But people seem to be uncontrollably attracted to them.