During his first inaugural speech, given at the height of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Once again, Americans find themselves living through days of economic infamy. Uncertain times and erratic energy costs have cured fearing suburbanites of their predilection for gargantuan SUVs. It’s time for practical pragmatism; inexpensive family haulers that dine lightly on 85 octane and stay firmly bolted together for years to come. To fully understand this segment, I tested and compared a quartet of economy sedans. First up: the Toyota Camry.
Posts By: William C Montgomery
Most car salesmen that I have encountered are miserable wretches, predators that stalk car buyers in between cigarette breaks. Despite their [well-earned] scum-sucking reputation, they don’t deserve to be killed. Do they? Apparently one man in Texas thought so. During a test drive yesterday, Dodge salesman Jack Phinney was ejected from a black 2006 Ram pickup on Dallas’ Central Expressway. Whether by force or recklessness, police don’t know. The Dallas Morning News reports that one James Thorp, fled the scene and did not return the truck to the dealership. Police later arrested him at Thorp’s former place of employment. He’s being held on $3m bond. Asked about Thorp, his former boss made an asinine statement, as people are wont to do in such situations, “I know James and James is a good guy.” Yeah, a good guy who harbors homicidal hatred of car salesmen.
Halleluiah! Oil prices are falling. Despite Nigerian revolutionaries attacking Royal Dutch Shell facilities. Despite hurricanes Gustav and Ike disrupting gulf production. And despite all of the hysteria of the last six months trumpeting the end of the era of cheap oil, oil prices have fallen as much as $55 per barrel after being pushed to a peak of $147.27 in July. Once the residual shock to gasoline refining by Ike dissipates over the next couple of weeks, consumers will begin to see a substantial difference at the pump. So is it safe for Americans to recommission their mothballed SUVs and muscle cars? A close look at financial events in recent days indicates otherwise.
“Oil at $80 a barrel?” asks BusinessWeek.com. Surely that’s not possible. After all, the world’s running out of oil, isn’t it? China and India have pushed global demand to untenable levels. Wells in Russia, Mexico and Saudi Arabia are running dry. High fuel prices are here to stay! We must have alternative energy… Bring on the EVs stat… Need more hybrids… Must have wind energy now… Ahhhhh!!! Yet Joel Fingerman, a Chicago-based energy consultant, has the nerve to forecast, “This is start of a fall to $80 crude by the end of the year, maybe as early as September.” And Oppenheimer senior energy analyst Fadel Gheit explains, “Oil prices are dropping because they are inflated. You cannot sustain an artificial price forever.” Hrumph! So did ya trade in your favorite SUV for an itsy bitsy gas miser? That’s too bad. Stephen Schork, editor of a daily energy newsletter, says, “A lot of the strength [in oil’s price] was hype and hot air.” Gee, where have I heard that before?
First impressions last. Wrong. Psychologists say humans develop their strongest positive feelings to someone or something if they hated it at first. For instance, I once detested Hondas. After spending some time driving various Hondas, the brand earned my no-longer-grudging respect. The converse is also true: we reserve our most negative assessments for someone or something that we loved at first. The human psyche doesn't like to be disappointed. Sadly, the 2003 Ford Thunderbird falls into this latter category.
“Hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum!” I don’t know exactly what that means, but it was that hot in North Texas the afternoon I picked up my 2008 Scion xB. How appropriate that the old Flying Circus reference should flash through my mind; the xB looks like something out of a twisted Terry Gilliam animation. Now that Graham Chapman resides in an urn, all of the Pythons could fit in the xB, although 6’4” tall John Cleese would be uncomfortable in any seat. But the newly redesigned boxy Scion is more than a surreal comic sketch. Or is it? And now for something completely different…
Growing up, I thought the Porsche 911 was hideous. Its bug eyes and lumpy lines made me wonder if the designer had accidentally knocked modeling clay off his drafting table and submitted the splatter. This notion persisted until I drove one. Some 130 mph later, I considered the 911 the most beautiful automotive form on earth. Driving the all-new 2009 Honda Pilot EX-L kinda sorta triggered the same type of perceptual realignment. Call it Zen and the art of "challenging" design.
Few things in this world are as dramatic as the start of a NASCAR race. War, for instance. Or the launch of a Saturn V rocket. The crowd rises from their seats in anticipation. The starter stands in his box with flag in hand as the bestickered phalanx of cars rounds turn four. After the pace car scurries from view into pit lane the violence of dozens of highly tuned V8 engines is unleashed in unison. You can sense the invisible force of the sound approaching. Like others, I reverently remove my radio headphones so that I can fully ingest the aural assault. I feel the high frequency vibration in the aluminum stadium seats beneath my feet. And then it hits – a sound so big I hear it with my entire body. You don’t get that on TV.
Commerzbank (Frankfurt, Germany) senior commodity analyst Eugen Weinberg joins the growing chorus of finance gurus predicting the popping of over-inflated oil prices. Weinberg sees oil dropping below $100 per barrel in 2009. His crystal ball also tells him that crude prices haven't yet quite hit their peak in this rally. He expects the price of oil futures contracts to collapse only after soaring to $150 and $170 in the next three months. Who's to blame? Weinberg say, "The trigger for this extremely fast-growing bubble is above all the poor performance of other investment classes, like stocks, bonds and property." (I swear, Herr Weinberg must read TTAC!) I guess this means that I'll keep my Jeep parked and drive the Honda until next spring. Over to you, Stein…
In response to my manifesto on The Truth About High Gas Prices, a couple of people close to me confidentially told me that they thought I was nuts for predicting sub-$80 per barrel oil “in the not too distant future.” According to an economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, I should have gone lower with my prognostication. Stephen Brown observes that cheap Saudi Arabian oil costs just $4 a barrel to produce. The most expensive oil on the market today, and the oil that set’s the world price, known as the “final barrel” or equilibrium price, is just $50 per barrel. Shawn Tully, CNNMoney editor, concludes, “It's even possible that, a few years hence, we could see a sustained period of plentiful oil supplies and low prices, meaning $50 or below.” But that doesn’t mean that it won’t get worse before it gets better. Today, the oil futures bubble inflated to a new record high above $135 a barrel, before settling back down to $134.35.