American Cars Can’t Shake Their “Not Good Enough” Image

For many years it has been widely believed that if you wanted to buy a quality car that would be reliable for years to come, you should avoid the big three American car manufacturers and buy something foreign.

While the American car makers did little to help themselves by mostly producing inferior products, over the past couple years it seems as if they have done a good job of got their act together and have started making better quality and better value vehicles.

In fact, just this past year, it was Ford, not Honda or Toyota, that scored the highest for quality and reliability.

While this is certainly good news for the American automotive industry, the bad news is all of the shoddy work of prior years makes it hard to shake the “just not good enough” image.

Here’s how nearly 500 people responded when asked: Do you believe American cars are the same quality as foreign cars?

  • 60% said “No, I think they are worse quality.”
  • 25% said “Yes, they are on par.”
  • 13% said “No, I think they are better quality.”
  • 2% said they had no opinion

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Hybrid Sales Fall Nearly 10% in 2008

It seems even popular and trendy hybrid vehicles were unable to buck the downward trend experienced in 2008 by the automotive industry.

Despite record high gasoline and diesel fuel prices, sales of hybrid vehicles fell nearly 10% during 2008, according to numbers released by the Automotive News Data Center.  However, in spite of the over-arching bad news, there was some good news for one of the Big 3: General Motors increased their hybrid sales by almost 200 percent.

The “headline news” regarding a 10% decrease in hybrid sales seems pretty bad.  After all, in the first half of 2008 we had both the release of several new hybrid models and saw the U.S. national average gas price climb above $4 per gallon for the first time ever.

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Will President Obama Get Alternative Energy on Track?

As part of Barack Obama’s message during his Presidential campaign, he promised to help modernize and green America’s energy and transportation systems.  (Click here and here to see what Obama promised on the trail.)

Now, after the election, President-elect Obama is pushing alternative energy as part of his expected to be many hundreds of billions of dollars stimulus package.  According to the Obama camp, not only will the push towards alternative energy and more fuel efficient vehicles help protect America from unstable oil producing countries, but it will also help to create and save millions of non-exportable jobs within our borders.

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I Bet You’re Excited About Plug-in Hybrids

One of the most promising “save the world” vehicles is the plug-in hybrid.  Much of the allure of these cars comes from the fact they’re not borne of some super technology or some untested alternative fuel, but from the fact that at their very core, all they are is essentially a combination of the best features of both electric and gasoline powered cars.

After charging, plug-in hybrids have the ability to run for long periods of time exclusively on batteries, which obviously reduces gasoline consumption and harmful emissions.  They are also able to drive as “regular” fuel efficient gas powered cars, so you don’t have to stop every 200 miles to recharge the car’s batteries.

For as cool as these cars are, will people actually buy them once they hit the market?  After all, there have been a countless number of products that consumers thought were neat, but weren’t really interested in purchasing.

So, is it worth it for the reeling auto industry to invest in infrastructure necessary to mass produce these cars?  According to a recent poll, not only is it worth it for car makers to do so, but it would probably stupid for them not to do so.

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Are Hybrids a Waste of Money?

About three years ago, as the price of gasoline began creeping up, hybrid cars started becoming more and more popular. While this makes perfect sense, I always kind of felt that people were buying these hybrids – in particular, the Toyota Prius – in an attempt to own the “in” car.

My theory shifted dramatically when things really hit the fan earlier this year, and many of us were paying in excess of $4 per gallon to fill up our cars. At that point, owning a hybrid went from simply being the cool thing to do to the financially and environmentally smart way to get around town. After all, reducing your gasoline consumption can save both money and the environment.

So, owning a hybrid should be a win/win situation, right? Not necessarily.

While there’s no doubt that hybrid cars get great gas mileage, it’s not as if this increase fuel efficiency comes for free; you’re going to pay a premium to own that hybrid.

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Do The New Fuel Economy Standards Go Far Enough?

On December 19, the United States Congress passed a new energy bill which, among other things, put the 100 watt incandescent light bulb on death row (they’ll be outlawed by 2012) and increased fuel economy standards for the first time in over two decades. That same day, President Bush signed the bill in to law after having it delivered to him in a Toyota Prius hybrid car.

While many have hailed the bill as a long over due reform, others have argued that the changes – specifically increasing the fuel economy standard for new cars and trucks to 35 mpg by 2020 – do not go far enough and should have been much more stringent.

Not surprisingly, many Daily Fuel Economy Tip visitors fall into the “left wanting more” group. Here’s how readers responded when asked, “Do you feel the Government’s new fuel economy standards are tough enough?”:

  • 42% said, “No, they are inadequate.”
  • 33% said, “They are a good start, but could have been tougher.”
  • 18% said, “Yes, they are more than adequate.”
  • 7% said, “Unsure.”

I felt that the fuel economy standards probably should have been a little bit tougher simply because I feel that “American ingenuity” should be more than enough to get the average gas mileage for cars sold in this country above 35 mpg 13 years from now.

That being said, I think that if consumers put their collective money where their collective mouths are and purchase the most fuel efficient vehicles they can, the GMs and Fords of the world would produce more fuel efficient vehicles much more quickly than if forced to by some Government standard. After all, they’re in business to make money. If people continue to buy inefficient vehicles, that’s what car manufacturers are going to continue to make.

In the end, this is a big step in the right direction and hopefully will help lead to many environmentally friendly and energy efficient breakthroughs.

What Stops People From Buying Hybrids?

Despite the fact that hybrid sales have shot through the roof (relatively speaking) as gas prices have increased, and that there are more hybrid makes and models to choose from, there are still plenty of reasons why hybrid cars might not be for everyone.

In order to try and find out why there’s not a hybrid car in ever driveway, I recently put up a poll on Daily Fuel Economy Tip which asked, “What’s stopping you from buying a hybrid car?” While it wasn’t unexpected, the responses were pretty varied:

  • 49% of respondents stated that hybrid cars are too expensive
  • 29% of respondents stated that they were waiting for plug-in hybrid vehicles
  • 11% of respondents stated that they just are not interested in buying a hybrid vehicle
  • 9% of respondents stated that hybrid cars are too small
  • 2% of respondents stated that they already owned a hybrid car

While I wasn’t all that surprised that the number one reason for not buying a hybrid was their price, I was pleasantly surprised that the number two reason was that people are waiting for plug-in hybrids to come out.

For those of you who don’t know what a plug-in hybrid is, it essentially combines the benefits of an electric car with the benefits of a hybrid car. Thanks to the larger battery capacity and the ability to charge while not moving, plug-in hybrids can average as high as 100 mph for the first one hundred to two hundred miles traveled between charges.

Thankfully, as stated in a previous article, you don’t necessarily have to own a hybrid or shell out a bunch of money to own a car that gets great gas mileage.

Celebrities Show Up to Pre-Oscar Parties in “Green Cars”

So, you think The Green Movement is in full effect?  Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio announce that the Oscars have gone green, An Inconvenient Truth wins the Academy Award for best documentary and plenty of stars show up to Oscar parties in hybrid and electric vehicles.

One of these Oscar parties was Global Green Pre-Oscar party, where several of the stars in attendance showed up in either hybrid or electric cars.  Of note, there was at least one sighting of a Tesla Roadster and a sighting of a Toyota Plug-in Prius, which gets over 125 miles per gallon over the first hundred miles after being charged.

Because many of these technologies are relatively new, they also tend to be relatively expensive for us common folk, which is probably why it always seems that high profile celebrities are the first to get to try these cool new cars out.  For example, Tom Hanks getting a new electric Scion. 

Eh, on second thought, he can keep that one.

But, I guess aside from the monetary reasons, it makes sense that celebrities get these high end hybrid or electric cars first because we do live in a very celebrity crazed society and we’re always looking to high profile people to show us little guys what the next cool thing will be.  If that brings more awareness to helping to reduce pollution, specifically by driving more fuel efficient vehicles, then I’m all for it.

Hopefully as technologies advance and prices start to come down, we’ll all get to join in on the fun.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Well, I guess I’m on a bit of an environmental kick the last couple of days.  Last night I watched An Inconvenient Truth which I followed up tonight by watching Who Killed the Electric Car?, a look at what happened to the electric cars produced in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Essentially, the documentary centered around the origins and demise of General Motor’s EV1, an electric car that was seemingly on the verge of becoming an American phenomenon, only to have the rug pulled out from under it.  Obviously, this film wasn’t a true documentary as it was very slanted (i.e. very pro electric cars), but it still brought up a lot of interesting points.

Essentially, electric cars were around before internal combustion cars, and were actually the favored automobile in the early 20th century due to being quiet and exhaust free.  However, with the rise of Big Oil, along with the mass production practices and efficiencies of internal combustion cars, electric cars sort of fell by the wayside until California enacted radical “Zero Emission” legislation in the early 1990s.

It’s no secret that California has some of the world’s worst air quality and in order to combat the smog and health problems that were developing due to the poor air quality, the California State Legislature passed the “Zero Emission” law, which required a certain percentage of cars sold in California be zero emission.  This meant that the big car manufacturers needed to come up with an electric car – and quickly.

So, General Motors, Toyota, Ford, essentially all the big car manufacturers, began to roll out these electric cars, all while fighting California’s new “Zero Emission” law.  In the process of unveiling these vehicles, there seemed to be plenty of demand building, however, one thing would eventually lead to the other and by early 2004 the electric car had been officially killed.

The movie spends most of its time spreading the blame among several groups: the American Consumers, the American Federal Government, the car manufacturers, the California Air Resource Board and Big Oil were pointed out as the main culprits.

Anyway, I’ve probably already given away too much, so I’m not going to sit here and list the reasons why each of the aforementioned groups were to blame, but there are two statistics from the film that absolutely floored me and I think are important to share.

The first statistic shows the rise in combined annual profits of three of the world’s largest oil companies – ExxonMobil, Chevron-Texaco and ConocoPhillips:

2003 – $33 billion

2004 – $47 billion

2005 – $64 billion

2006 – $72 billion

Keep in mind all of this is happening as oil prices are rising.  When I saw this exponential increase in profits (up 115% in a four year span) all I could do was shake my head.

The other statistic that left me speechless was the tax breaks available to owners of hybrids and/or electric vehicles vs. owners of 6,000 pound SUVs.  In 2004, the tax break available to a person who drove a hybrid or electric vehicle was $4,000.  Not too bad, I mean, I’d take it.  That is until I saw that an owner of a 6,000 pound SUV could be entitled to a $100,000 tax break.  Yes, a six figure tax break for owning a gas guzzling highway tank.  Unbelievable.

Anyway, because I’m assuming you’ve visited this site because you have an interest in either getting better gas mileage or the environment in general, I would highly recommend that you rent or buy Who Killed the Electric Car?

40% Jump in Demand for Hybrids in 2007?

There’s no denying that 2006 was a great year for hybrid car sales. Thanks to a huge jump in popularity thanks to a steep increase in the price of gasoline as well as more and more people becoming environmentally conscious, hybrid car sales were up nearly 33% in 2006 from 2005’s sales figures.

From the looks of it, 2007 is going to be even better.

According to a Reuters article from January 24, Toyota says it is aiming to sell over 430,000 hybrid vehicles in 2007, nearly a 40% jump from its 312,500 hybrids sold during 2006.

Currently, Toyota has the world’s best selling hybrid vehicle in the Toyota Prius.  In addition to the Prius, Toyota also has the following hybrid vehicles: Camry Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid, as well as the Lexus GS 450 Hybrid and the Lexus RS 400 Hybrid.  When it’s all said and done, Toyota might have the best hybrid vehicle sales simply because it has the most hybrid models available!

With the instability of gas prices (many analysts are predicting $5 gas by the end of the decade), President Bush’s remarks during the State of the Union regarding Americans reducing gas consumption 20% by 2017 and more and more people becoming environmentally aware, it certainly looks like hybrid car sales will continue to grow by leaps and bounds for the foreseeable future.

And considering hybrid technologies are going to continue to advance, it might not be long before the best selling car in America is a hybrid that gets 80 or 90 miles per gallon.  While the idea may be a bit premature, I certainly don’t think it’s out of the question.

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