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An F-150 is not a commuter car, continued

By Claes Bell ·
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Posted: 5 pm ET

It's time for another edition of good news, bad news. The good news: Sales of domestic vehicles are up this month over the same time last year and are on pace to nearly match the 12.3-million-vehicle pace of October, according to Bloomberg News. That's good news for the U.S. auto industry, which continues its climb out of the 2008 gutter, and for the U.S. economy more broadly. After all, confident consumers buy new cars; scared ones don't.

Now for the bad news, at least from my point of view: Strong domestic vehicle sales were driven mostly by a surge in truck and SUV sales. Deliveries of Ford F-Series pickups were up 30 percent, Jeep Grand Cherokee sales were up 41 percent and Chevrolet Equinox SUV sales were up a whopping 75 percent.

If you're driving this alone to work every day, you're probably not making a good financial choice

If you're driving this alone to work every day, you're probably not making a good financial choice

I wrote about the potential negative effects of rising truck and SUV sales for individuals a few weeks ago, but the consequences for the U.S. economy as a whole could be even more damaging. First off, one of the big factors that nearly brought down the U.S. auto industry in 2008 was over-reliance on big, inefficient trucks and SUVs. When gas prices jumped that year, people stopped buying and fled in droves to smaller, more efficient Japanese cars. I worry that the industry will forget the lessons of 2008 and go back to milking the truck and SUV cash cow that will surely go dry the next time gas prices spike. Feel like paying for another bailout?

And aside from having to call the wahmbulance for owners when gas is over $4, the other problem with a truck and SUV boom is it decreases the overall efficiency of the U.S. fleet. Since the U.S. has the highest number of vehicles per capita in the world, the efficiency of our fleet has a major impact on demand for gasoline. A thirstier U.S. fleet could mean more and bigger gasoline price spikes in the future, and a population less able to cope with such spikes financially. Money that would normally be spent on food, education, clothing or whatever would instead be funneled en masse to oil companies.

That in turn could make high fuel prices an even bigger drag on the U.S. economy, hurting even those who chose the most fuel efficient vehicle that could meet their needs. In other words, do not ask for whom the low-fuel light dings, it dings for thee.

To be clear, I'm not saying people who actually need SUVs and trucks for their intended purposes of hauling a lot of passengers or a lot of gear are wrong to buy them. I'm just saying that when a consumer makes the decision to buy a bigger vehicle than they need just because gas prices are stable and they can afford it right now, it could hurt everyone's wallets in the long run.

So if you're doing well enough financially to afford a new car, for your own finances and those of your neighbor, please resist the temptation to buy the biggest, least efficient vehicle you can and instead seek out a higher mileage vehicle. Trust me, you'll thank me later when gas is $5 a gallon.

What do you think? Could a boom in gas-guzzlers hurt the economy?

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December 07, 2010 at 9:21 pm

It's great news that the American car industry is rebounding but I think you raise very good points, Claes that if Americans fall back into our bad auto habits (buying cars way bigger than we need) then we will find ourselves back in a recession, or worse in a few years.

December 02, 2010 at 1:04 am

Last year I traded in my 1993 4x4 S10 for a 2010 Kia Soul. My average MPG's went from 21 to 29. After a month I realized I really needed a truck for home improvement, so I bought an inexpensive 4x2 plain jane 4 cyl. 2001 S10 truck that averages 27 MPG. Several times this past summer I have had situations where I needed a full size truck, so I'm selling the Soul as soon as Ford launches the 2011 F-150 with the 3.5 L. V6 Ecoboost engine which will probably get about 4 MPG's less than the Soul. It will have to be my daily commuter, but will get much better mileage than any 2010 truck for sale right now, and will allow me to pull the heavy equipment I need to rent for landscaping. We also would like to buy a travel trailer, and no small of mid-size truck is going to confidentally handle that load.

December 01, 2010 at 11:55 am

Interesting how people judge you by what you choose to drive; do we not have personal choice any longer in this Country. My wife is a State trooper and she drives an Excursion because she has seen what happens to compacts and motorcycles that meet large full size vehicles upon impact. Smart-Cars are driven by not so smart people. I guess if you're a narcissist, you stand a better chance of survival on the busy freeways. If big brother gets their way social engineering will have all of us stacked up living in apartments without the need for vehicles at all. Oh, except for the hypocrates that preach golbal warming, but have a personal fleet of SUV's. buses and planes, Weird.

Holden Lewis
December 01, 2010 at 9:55 am

I work with someone who commutes daily in a colossal Excursion that weighs three times what my compact car weighs, and probably 20 times what my motorcycle weighs. She's a complete narcissist, which goes without saying, I guess.

The smaller the driver, the bigger the SUV. Weird.