In last night’s State of the Union address, President Bush cooked-up a cute little saying: “20 by 10.” That’s a 20% reduction in American gas consumption over the next 10 years. In case you thought the Prez has decided to whack automakers with a 2 X 4, the fine print centers on renewable and alternative fuels: corn ethanol (E85), biodiesel, hydrogen and dilithium crystals. Bush also promised to change car fuel economy regs from current fleet averages to attribute-based (size) requirements. There’s a link to the plan below, and plenty of analysis online. So let’s talk about towing.
Before the State of the Union speech, the SUV Owners of America (SUVOA) sent out a press release blaring “99% of Car Towing Capacity Lost Since 1970s.” My first reaction: naw, c’mon, really? Other than bell bottoms, my 800 meter sprint time and the original Windows operating system, I can’t think of anything that’s declined so precipitously in the last thirty years. And yet it’s true: 70% of American cars could tow 2100 pounds then, just 1% now.
My second thought: who cares? It’s not as if a car’s ability to tow a bass boat is vital to our national security. Besides, today’s tow oriented buyers can buy any number of SUV’s (or decacab pickups) with enough towing capacity to haul most of Montana, and pay chump change for the privilege. Hell, they’re giving them away! Ah, the SUVOA asks, but for how long?
The SUVOA warns that federal regs threaten to emasculate America’s SUV’s towing capacity, just as they did for the automobile.
"Federal auto policy doesn't always consider the tradeoffs that exist among national goals,” claimed SUVOA President Barry W. McCahill. “One day the focus is on new safety requirements. The next, it's on tougher emissions controls. Today, it's on both those and improving fuel economy and they are often at odds with each other… The loss of car towing capacity and reductions in safety because of vehicle downsizing are unfortunate historical evidence of what can happen."
Call Mr. McCahill a reactionary Luddite whose Ostrich-like head posture is warming the planet to oblivion, but he has supporters. The SUVOA press release summons Derrick Crandall, President and CEO of the American Recreation Coalition.
"The only vehicles left that enable people to enjoy the great outdoors- SUVs and pickups- are under attack and could also lose towing capacity. Nobody intended to kill off the station wagon that was the mainstay for family transportation and recreation. But it happened."
Well, the minivan happened. But Crandall’s point is clear: Uncle Sam’s politically correct pursuit of high mileage vehicles ignores the bigger picture.
The U.S. is home to more than 11 million trailer boats and five million trailer RVs– and that doesn’t include trailers for motorcycles, ATV’s, snowmobiles, U-Hauled goods, farm equipment, etc. Mess with that and you’re messing with Americans’ ability to enjoy the great outdoors, move stuff around, grow crops and, um, fight obesity (Crandall’s idea).
While none of this is bound to impress people fully committed to an immediate and dramatic improvement in America’s vehicular efficiency– many of whom will claim it’s entirely possible to reconcile environmental goals with the recreational industry’s “needs”– it’s certainly true that lawmakers working in this area are unlikely to consider the unintended consequences of their legislative actions.
The UK offers us a glimpse of what can happen when government’s heavy hands wrap around the neck of the automotive free market in the name of environmentalism. Our British cousins now tax cars based on their CO2 emissions and location (“congestion charging” and coming soon “road pricing”). Despite being an oil-producing nation, they also sport some of the world’s highest gas prices (three times US prices). Oh, and everything car related is taxed at 17.5% (VAT or “Value Added Tax”). The result: the vast majority of Britain’s so-called working class can’t afford a car.
This lack of car ownership restricts their citizen’s mobility, which restricts economic migration, which exacerbates the country’s vast North – South, urban – rural economic divide. Even if lower income UK consumers CAN buy a car, the vehicle sucks-up a large percentage of their income, which prevents them from spending it on other things (obviously). In other words, the government’s anti-car policies– which depend on the same oil addiction and anti-pollution rhetoric we know and love– depress UK inhabitants’ living standards.
Could it happen here? The State of the Union speech doesn’t provide much indication where the U.S. federal government will draw the line. Depending on your point-of-view, the fact that the proposed automotive efficiency standards offer a new set of loopholes (e.g. automakers can now buy and sell CAFE credits) is either a blessing or a conspiracy in disguise. Meanwhile, the free market is speaking, as consumers decide how much mileage they need. The question is, is their government listening?
RF interviews the SUVOA's Ron Defore below.
[Click here for the president's proposals.]