By on January 12, 2018

2017 Chevy Equinox L

It sounds like a sci-fi novel, or maybe even a Fredrick Forsyth knockoff written during the Seventies heyday of Cold War action/adventure books: Six Months of the Equinox. You can imagine the plot, right? Something happens to freeze the planet’s orbit at a certain point. The seasons stop. Mayhem ensues. There’s a machine that might be able to restart the orbit, but a cabal of Russian oligarchs makes a plan to seize it. Only one man — let’s call him Chest Rockwell — can save us.

The reality behind the title is nearly as frightening: It’s the half-year that my current wife, known to all and sundry as Danger Girl even though (SPOILER ALERT) she is actually old enough to vote, traded in one of her Tahoes for a Chevrolet crossover in an attempt to balance her budget. This is the kind of thing that I typically associate with bubbleheads who can’t do math, but Danger Girl is a CPA with extensive financial training. Was she right to do it? It’s a relevant question, because — as you’ll see below — it’s one that we could all be asking ourselves three years from now.


Let’s start with a basic equation for how much we actually spend on fuel in a given month:

$COST = (Miles_driven/average_mpg) x average_fuel_price

Any third-grader could work this out, but most people are surprisingly reluctant to actually do it. I’ll show you a few real-life examples:

2012, when I drove my Town Car about 3200 miles a month:

(3200/19) x 3.45 = $581

2017, when I drove my Accord just under 12,000 miles because I had several other vehicles in the rotation:

(950/27) x 2.25 = $79.16

That’s a $502/month swing, which is real money to most of us. In fact, you could get yourself a whole new car for that kind of cash. But most of the variable isn’t actually due to the car, as we see if we plug the Town Car into my 2017 driving plan:

(950/19) x 2.25 = $112.50

All of the sudden it looks mighty stupid to swap cars just to realize that savings.

Danger Girl’s situation in 2012 was remarkably similar to mine. She was driving more than 2,500 miles a month during New Mexico’s record-high fuel costs, with a Tahoe that rarely beat 15 mpg.

(2750/15) x 3.70 = $678.33

The four-cylinder Equinox offered some immediate relief:

(2750/28) x 3.70 = $363.39

That’s $300/month, which in 60-month loan terms is about $17k, which meant that she could bury a lot of negative equity in the Tahoe while still saving money. As fate would have it, she wasn’t that upside down in her truck, so she realized some immediate rewards from switching to an Equinox that was also cheaper than the Tahoe.

As a native New Mexican who had spent much of her life on and around tribal land, Danger Girl had never in her life driven a unibody FWD vehicle before the Equinox. She did not like it. Luckily for her, the cost of fuel took a pretty sharp dive about half a year after she took delivery. That, combined with a form of fusion a career advance, put her squarely back behind the wheel of a Tahoe Z71. (Raise your hand if you get the reference — we don’t do much subtlety on the Internet anymore, so I’m putting it in bright lights.)

In the long run, the cost of swapping vehicles twice pretty much swallowed any fuel or payment savings derived from Six Months of the Equinox. But it’s worth noting that it took a deus ex machina in the form of much lower fuel prices to change the outcome of her story. Had fuel stayed at nearly four dollars a gallon, she would have been wise to stay in her CUV. It’s also worth noting that the Equinox was hugely popular during that period of American history, to the point that some dealers had waiting lists for four-cylinder models. Danger Girl wasn’t the only person doing the math — and some people weren’t really doing the math at all, but simply recoiling from the visceral horror of repeated $100 fillups.

Every time fuel prices go up in this country, there’s a flurry of trade-in activity as people attempt to balance their books with a change in vehicles. The question is: under what circumstances is it justified, and will those circumstances return?

It’s no surprise that oil is a volatile commodity. Still, you might be surprised to see that the actual price peak wasn’t during the fabled Seventies “energy crisis” but rather just a decade ago. The question is, simply: what happens next?

There’s no shortage of speculation, but there does appear to be a broad-based consensus that for the first time in a long time we have a real correlation between oil price and supply. The advancements in shale mining and other technologies now mean that there is quite a bit of oil out there. Nobody’s talking about having passed “Peak Oil” any more. But this technology is expensive to develop and even more expensive to operate. There are costs that we have yet to adequately address or even understand — insert stories of flammable drinking water here.

To all of the above, add the slightly ironic fact that the last cultures to “kick the oil habit” will suffer the least from energy costs. One forecaster thinks that electric-vehicle and alternative-power technologies will depress oil prices to less than half of what they are today. That means 99-cent gasoline, which means it’s time to buy that used S600 Benz you’ve had your eye on and turn up the boost while you’re at it. The last people to leave the petroleum party will have the best time. It’s that FOMO you had as a curfewed child, cranked up to weapons-grade intensity.

It seems reasonable to me that oil prices will eventually rise to the level where alternative extraction methods are profitable — that seems to be somewhere in the $65 range according to even this optimistic assessment. The next question is what the dollar will do. My general impression, which will be roundly criticized by the armchair economists of TTAC, is that the dollar-denominated prices of assets and commodities appear to be on the rise. I don’t think you’d be foolish to bet on fuel prices for the year 2020 that are 30 to 50 percent higher than they are now.

For most American drivers, covering between 10,000 and 15,000 miles a year, the real effects of choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle start to become apparent at the $3/gallon price level. That’s where you save $150/month or more driving a Civic or a Prius instead of a Tahoe or GLS450. It’s also where people start to see $75 fillups in trucks and SUVs, which is a critical point from an emotional standpoint. Given that fuel costs on the coasts are already there much of the time, it’s no wonder that people are still buying hybrids in California and New York.

The worst part about $3/gallon gasoline, however, is that it suggests the impending possibility of $4/gallon gasoline, which suggests that the gasoline is going to run out. Our European and Asian readers, as well as some Canadians, will point out that they’ve been at those levels for years — to which I say: yes, and that’s why your vehicle mix is so different from ours.

Like it or not, the domestic automakers have some tough questions ahead. Now that the full-sized truck is the default vehicle of American consumers, they need to get the mileage of those vehicles under control. It’s a repeat of 1975, when all of a sudden it became critical to get more than eight miles per gallon out of a full-sized sedan, which was the style at the default vehicle of the time.

Here’s the good news. The fuel crisis brought us the finest American cars in history, namely the 1977 B- and C-body General Motors sedans. If gas prices head for the ceiling again, you’ll see a drastic re-engineering of the full-sized truck. It will become more efficient. Smaller. More capable. Just plain better. That’s a good thing. And if it happens quickly enough, it might even keep the domestics from collapsing. So if I worked at a Big Two Point Five automaker right now, I’d be drawing a full-sized truck that walks back the massive growth of the past 20 years. And I’d have solid plans to put it into production on 18 months’ notice.

The alternative is to experience another catchy action-novel title, and I have just the right one for the occasion: Ten Years of the Prius.

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88 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: Fear of a $160 Planet...”


  • avatar

    “…I’d be drawing a full-sized truck that walks back the massive growth of the past 20 years.”

    The 2018 Colorado is just about the same size as the 1998 Silverado. The ’90s fullsize truck is already here, it’s just a midsize now.

    Weaning the consumer off of a gigantic truck they [mostly] don’t need is a big ask, though. I think they ought to continue developing and refining the midsizes they have, so they’re ready for the front lines once the big boys get too expensive to run.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Very little to disagree with in the article or comments.

      However is the Colorado/Canyon not primarily a 4 seater? That may restrict sales as the majority of consumers seem to prefer at least a 5 seat vehicle.

      • 0 avatar

        Might not have a real spacious rear bench, but again it’s the same width as people had in the GMT400 trucks.

        • 0 avatar
          Carlson Fan

          I find that hard to believe Corey. You could lay a 4X8 sheet of anything between the wheel wells in the bed of a GMT400, can’t do that with the current Colorado/Canyon.

          I owned a ’97 2DR Tahoe, that truck was just as wide as my current GMT900 Tahoe and both are noticeably wider (not even close actually) than the current Colorado/Canyon which I’ve sat in.

          • 0 avatar

            I think the difference lies in styling and increased thickness of -everything- for crash standards. That takes up lots of space, and has lead to a same-size truck with a lot less usability.

            Not sure which of those things is more to blame for the loss of space though.

    • 0 avatar
      warrant242

      > “more efficient. Smaller. More capable. Just plain better.”

      2019 Ranger anyone?

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      ……………..Silverado 1988….2018…..Colorado
      Head room front – 40………….42.80…….41.40
      Head room rear – 37.5………..40.50…….38.30
      leg room front – 42………….45.27…….45.00
      leg room rear – 32………….40.93…….35.80
      wheel base crew – 155…………153………140.50
      length crew – 236.9……….239.57……224.90
      width – 76.4…………….80…………74.30

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    “covering between 1,000 and 1,500 miles a year”

    I think you mean 10,000 and 15,000 miles per year. (I’m at 20,000 per year now FYI and have been since about 2014.)

    I remember gas that a 25 gallon fill up was $85 in Gallup, NM when I bought my F150 2 years used. Got a heck of a deal on it too because of that.

    I think it will also be an easy bet that ‘Merica will probably be last to leave the petroleum party. I don’t see us leaving until the punch runs out and we start to sober up.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      For year, read month!

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      And then we’ll adopt the metric system.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        The Metric system is the tool of the Devil!

        • 0 avatar
          TMA1

          The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and lined with kilometer markings. Sorry, “kilometre”!

        • 0 avatar
          Sub-600

          “We’ll be on the metric system by 1980” – Jimma Carter, 1976

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            After 40 years the Canadian government still cannot get me to accept the metric system.
            1) It was imposed on defeated nations by Napoleon.
            2) Its original core measurements were incorrect.
            3) All existing infrastructure, including sewers, roads, and the grid system were based on the Imperial system and cannot be retrofitted.
            4) Construction materials are still manufactured and sold using the Imperial system.
            5) Being based primarily on the human form, measurements in the Imperial system are easier to assess by eye and process. Thus the police in Canada still use feet, inches and pounds when describing suspects. We can all visual 5′ 10″ inches but can we visualize the equivalent measurement in metric.
            6) All sports that mean anything are conducted in Imperial.
            7) You can divide 12 using both odd and even numbers. You cannot do so with 10. Therefore it is actually easier to base a measurement system on 12 inches than on 10 or 100 cm’s.
            12) Most decisevely no nation using strictly the Imperial system has lost war to a nation using strictly the metric system.

            Case closed. Now to go outside and yell at the weather.

          • 0 avatar
            Felix Hoenikker

            If I’m not too confused, didn’t the US automakers adopt the metric system around 1982?
            Sometimes the significance of the metric system is overstated in it’s effect. Take for instance piping. A 2 inch schedule 40 pipe had the exact same dimensions as a 50mm schedule 40 pipe. The only difference is on the P&IDs.
            I agree with Arthur. Pressure measurements in psi much more intuitive and kilobarr where the atmospheric pressure is 101,000 barr vs 14.7 psi in US Engineering units.
            I find using mm as the base measurement in the metric system especially vexing in civil engineering where the dimensions tend to be large.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “And then we’ll adopt the metric system.”

        Unofficially you have. Other than maybe FCA advertising of the hemi, no one talks cubic inch anymore (other than Harley Davidson).

        BTW, according to the CIA, Myanmar (Burma), Liberia, and the United States are the only countries left that aren’t officially metric. Heady company indeed ;)

  • avatar
    Tinn-Can

    Truck and efficient-ish motorcycle… Hooray!
    “Raise your hand if you get the reference” I do not…

  • avatar
    ajla

    As you’ve seen with your Silverado, nonHD trucks that aren’t the Titan and Tundra get way better fuel economy (especially on the highway, where I assume those driving 2,500+ miles a month spend a lot of their time) than they did in the past so the “trade-in point” is likely going to be higher than during the last price increase.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Exactly. They’ve made some major strides in fuel economy.

      And what do you call going to aluminum construction, replacing V-8s with turbo 6s, and introducing diesels in half tons if not “a drastic re-engineering of the full-sized truck”? Not just speaking of Ford here, though they pioneered a lot of it. Credit must also be given to the EcoDiesel Ram and the (other) efforts by GM and FCA to increase efficiency and capabilities at the same time. Its the Japanese wannabes that need to rethink their full-size trucks, or admit defeat and cancel the program (Toyota).

  • avatar
    Mark_MB750M

    Caught references to ‘Boogie Nights’, ‘Matrix’, and ‘Simpsons’ in there…nice!

    Maybe trucks aren’t getting as large as people say, but the beds are getting higher. I’m 5′ 10″ and most full sizers have bed walls at my chest height, which makes loading a challenge. I remember being able to load amps and gear into my drummer’s 80’s era Ram without lifting much higher than waist level.

  • avatar
    arach

    I generally find people overshoot the market, so I often drive what doesn’t seem to make sense. If fuel is expensive, everyone buys super fuel efficient cars driving up their cost to rediculous levels, and giving away trucks for pennies.

    For example, when fuel was expensive, I bought a 4 door truck because it was dirt cheap- more dirt cheap than the gas cost savings of driving a more fuel efficient car. I bought 3 trucks for between $500 and $3000. ten years later and you couldn’t buy one of those trucks for $7500!

    Today I drive a sedan, because it was dirt cheap because no one wants them, and it has the added benefit of being incredibly fuel efficient. I literally paid half of MSRP on a CPO with 7k miles and 6 months on the clock.

    I like trucks, but the price is so high right now the value proposition seems to be non-existant. Why buy a $50k truck with 50k miles on it when a 7k mile, 6 month old, loaded perfect sedan is $15k? Thats 35k I can go buy a freaking lotus or something with.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      Well-maintained lot poison is a used car buyer’s dream. That’s why I’ll drive 3 pedals until my body won’t let me. Hit em where they ain’t!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Right on. I’m waiting for steeper gas prices to knock truck/SUV prices down some. If I was really clever and motivated, I’d scoop up a Fusion Hybrid or a Prius or something right now for dirt cheap (relatively speaking). Then sell it when fuel spikes and at worst break even having done some depreciation-free motoring.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Yup. As a man who is currently fantasizing about a Hemi Grand Cherokee, I say let the price go nuts. After the last fuel crisis we moved from twin 30+ mile each way commutes to less than 10 miles each way. I could care less what gas prices do. Heck, we pay between $3.25 and $3.75 here in Chicagoland for premium anyways. I’d love nothing more than to see $10k+ on the hood of a Grand Cherokee Overland because everyone else is scared of $5/gal gas.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Drive less and drive whatever you want. I only put 4K on my cars in Maine last year, split about evenly between the BMW and the Rover – and I was in Maine a lot more than I plan to be going forward. 6K on my car in Florida, but that included a 2K hurricane evacuation. And that was also with a zillion 200 mile round trips to Tampa while redecorating the house and renovating the kitchen. Probably 1500+ miles going back and forth to IKEA! The Rover only does 18mpg, but the BMW gets 30 and the GTI 35.

        Also, does no one put money down on a car anymore?? I can’t even contemplate being upside down on a loan. When I traded my M235i for my GTI I had more than my original down-payment in equity to apply to the VW.

    • 0 avatar
      markf

      “Why buy a $50k truck with 50k miles on it when a 7k mile, 6 month old, loaded perfect sedan is $15k?”

      Cause you can’t take your sedan off-road?

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        LOL – sooo many trucks go off-road. I suppose if “off road” means parking at the Mall.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I had my 4Runner up to its axles in mud horsing around on some fire roads over the winter holidays while visiting family in Central NY, I specifically took the 4Runner rather than the Pilot so I could do that. Yes, some of us do go offroad. Not sure I’d be doing quite the same trails in a nice new crew cab, but I’d definitely drive it offroad. Try the Outer Banks some time with a 4wd and a beach access pass, it’s awesome.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        “Cause you can’t take your sedan off”

        No because you can’t tow with a sedan. The offroad vehicles go in/on a trailer behind the truck.

    • 0 avatar
      JREwing

      Snagged a 2012 Accord in 2015 for $13,000 when the others were running $16,000-$18,000. In part, because it’s a 5-speed manual. Also, because gas had dropped to under $3 a gallon and everyone started flocking to big SUVs and trucks again.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    This is so American I’ll be saving it for future reference. The rest of the world agrees about going renewable, and you sing the praise of shale mining and full-sized pickup trucks. Classic.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      The U.S. agrees that going renewable is just super, and will continue to do so as it becomes practical. That natural gas is so convenient though.

      https://www.cleanenergywire.org/news/german-carbon-emissions-rise-2016-despite-coal-use-drop

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        And Europe’s renewable energy push has resulted in electricity prices equal to $0.30 – $0.40 / kWh. Here in the US, my electricity cost is $0.07 / kWh. Charging your EV in Germany will be almost as expensive as filling it with petrol.

        • 0 avatar
          stingray65

          It would be, except they tax the shit out of gasoline.

          • 0 avatar
            markf

            So “renewable” is just a scam to keep people in energy poverty. The entire original point of renewable was it would cheap and bring energy costs way down.

        • 0 avatar
          Felix Hoenikker

          Tell me where I can get electricity delivered for $0.07 per kilowatt? I pay $0.13 and that’s considered low mid range in the US.

          • 0 avatar

            The Feds say the average retail price for electricity in the U.S. is $0.1041/kWhr. The extremes are Alaska at $0.1759 and Washington state at $0.074.

            You’re correct that you can’t buy electricity in the U.S. (at least at retail residential rates) for 7 cents a kilowatt, but 13 cents is on the high side.

            One reason why so many transplant car assembly plants have been located in the south is that electricity there is generally cheaper than average. Why would anyone trying to start a factory locate in California or New York, where electricity will cost them 50% more than elsewhere?

            Source: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Ya gotta wonder if this is where the future is for electric vehicles. Instead of copying slinky coupes and hatch backs, what does an electric full size truck or minivan or three row on frame SUV save you in gas?

    Have auto makers got it wrong in the electric vehicle mix?

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I think you would be right, but the $50k worth of batteries necessary in a truck would drive the price up to be well over 100k- Then buyers will say “I want an electric, but I’m not paying $120k for a truck that costs $70k with a diesel”

      I would LOVE an electric truck, but there’s no way people will pay $120k “just” because its electric.

      The question is… “How much more would you pay”.

      A few thousand? maybe, but 40-60%? heck no.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Looking at the divergence between wage growth and wealth growth, Joe Six Pack can barely afford a 30K model. I say “afford” vs “can be financed with X non-standard variables”.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        All of the riches will go to the entrepreneur who figures out how to cut battery costs by half. There is incremental progress but it’s not yet fast enough to get us to a mostly-BEV world within one replacement cycle.

        Once the premium is down to $5k for a small car or $15k for a full-size truck, BEVs will start to look attractive based on TCO alone, particularly on the coasts.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      The reason the EVs have been mostly small cars is due to battery limitations. To maximize range the EV has to have a small frontal area, relatively low drag, and low weight. SUVs, Pickups, Vans, etc. are all heavy, with big frontal area, and relatively high drag, so would need huge batteries to have any range and power, which would make them hugely expensive. You can get a new F-150 today for well under $30K, but an EV version with 300 miles of range would no doubt start at $80K, and no one except Norway is offering subsidies that big to close that big gap.

    • 0 avatar
      RS

      It seems the technology isn’t there yet for a ‘cost effective’ electric Pickup, Van or big SUV. But given that many pickups list for $50-$60K+, it might be getting close.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        RS, a $60K F-150 is a $28K F-150 with $2500 worth of leather and chrome slathered on, meaning it makes a jumbo profit for Ford. A $60,000 electric F-150 with today’s technology is a barebones model that loses Ford $10,000+ on every unit they sell.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    ’01 Ranger status: still working! Still getting 30mpg with the 2.3! Still able to crawl home 800lb over GVWR, handle all the dump runs, craigslist appliances, and ancillaries of moving!

    I put in a head unit too, so now it has an aux jack!

    It’s still a complete turd, but it’s made me a proponent of the “you need to haul shit sometimes, so get a cheapo truck and a nice normal car” idea.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I like the cut of your jib.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      If you have the space, this is a great way to do it IMO. I likewise used my little ’97 4 banger Ranger to its full capacity and even made it my primary commuter last summer. No worries about loads of gravel dumped in the bed or scratches from getting rental tools loaded with a forklift, etc. Having said that if you only want to own one vehicle or are parking-space limited to one, and are a big DIYer/home owner, a new half ton is a fantastic do-it-all option IMO.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Agreed on your conclusion but would point out the “small” trucks use a similar amount of fuel to their “full size” counterparts. In a perfect world, aluminum or carbon fibre body, turbo diesel I6, etc and you’ll get there but we don’t live in that world. Another 1973 and the goose is cooked, but a new K-car will emerge.

    FUN FACT: Detroit was forecasting $3 gas in 1985, which is why Chrysler swung so hard into K-car, Ford into D186 development, and GM into FWD at their peril.

    The history of Cadillac in this period is also very interesting. After long thought, I concluded they were in serious trouble by about 1990 because they missed Gen X yuppies completely. However, a less slipshot approach after 1980 would have allowed for a softer landing into the early 90s and preserved brand prestige they lost and have never recouped. The big winner out of Cadillac’s buffoonery was Lincoln, but neither fully grappled Gen X hence Infiniti, the success of Acura, and success of BMW/Audi in the period (despite Audi’s scandals).

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Full size trucks are frighteningly efficient. Pretty much all full size trucks get better gas mileage than my G37, and depending on the configuration most are within “god damn it I am going to have to slip in behind him on this 2-1 merge” speed. Thankfully the whole “driving a 2nd floor living room” thing reels back the advantage in the corners.

    But yea, 20MPG + a 14.x quarter mile in a full size truck is the norm. Not sure how much better it can get than that without sacrificing at the altar of towing capacity. If anything I imagine/hope they start downsizing and turbocharging OHV V8s.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      I dont think you can get better right now, at least not without sacrificing towing capacity to a degree. Full size trucks have never been more efficient than they are today. I suppose as the next-generation hybrid pickups start hitting the assembly line we will see another notable increase in efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think this is an only on the Internet thing. Because no one I actually know who owns a truck, and my kid brother currently owns three recent full-size GMCs for his business, gets anywhere near the mid-20s claimed by everyone and their brother online. Maybe, on that perfect spring day with a tailwind, no load, and traffic such you can’t exceed 65mph on a 500 mile all-highway trip. Real world seems to be high teens at best. Which means twice as much fuel as my Golf commuting. Sure a truck can do things my Golf can’t, but realistically it can’t do much that my Golf can’t do towing a small trailer unless you are actually into wallowing around in mud or camping/boating. And with the ludicriously low payload ratings of the fancy pickups and tiny beds on the 4drs, you can haul a lot more with a Golf and a utility trailer than you can with just the truck. And 12″ off the ground is a whole lot nicer than needing “man step” to get in and out of the bed. If you are into camping, boating, or mudding, a proper SUV still makes more sense than a pickup most of the time. At least your cargo is out of the weather.

      The need for 300hp+ to tow is hilarious. My 185hp Rover will tow a 7000lb boat significantly faster than there is any need of towing a 7000lb boat. If you can maintain 50mph uphill, you have enough power. Semi’s manage to tow 4-10X as much as pickups with a fraction of the power to weight ratio.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        My little old Ford Ranger with 2.4 under the hood gets me 20+mpg with my average local driving and between 24-27mpg on the highway (if I can keep my foot out of the throttle.) Thing’s geared for load vs mileage, though… 2000rpm at 55mph in 5th gear (top gear).

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    “Here’s the good news. The fuel crisis brought us the finest American cars in history, namely the 1977 B- and C-body General Motors sedans. If gas prices head for the ceiling again, you’ll see a drastic re-engineering of the full-sized truck. It will become more efficient. Smaller. More capable. Just plain better. That’s a good thing. And if it happens quickly enough, it might even keep the domestics from collapsing. So if I worked at a Big Two Point Five automaker right now, I’d be drawing a full-sized truck that walks back the massive growth of the past 20 years. And I’d have solid plans to put it into production on 18 months’ notice.”

    May that come sooner, rather than later. Pickups today are simply too large.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Party like it’s 1999! You can’t really blame any of the Big Three for cranking out every pickup, but their approaches to the future (with your assessment of which I agree 100%) are wildly different.

    FCA is putting itself into a world of hurt by more or less ignoring small car development, even in small-car markets. Sergio desperately wants to get a cash payout for Jeep and retire to admire his sweater collection, so maybe that’s OK.

    Ford will be OK. It’s reducing its small-car footprint in the US, but it still has a good small-car operation going in Europe, and can quickly bring those products to the US and China if there is more value in it.

    GM is the best-positioned of the three. It’s cashing in on the SUV/pickup boom for the moment but also spending real money hedging for a $4+/gallon world. It would take the others several years to catch up to what the Bolt and Volt are today, let alone what they’ll be in the next generations and when the platforms are converted to small-crossover format.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Given China’s desire for increased electrification, I’d be surprised if the next Focus doesn’t provide a platform for a dedicated EV, which can then be exported from Shandong to the rest of the world. This has the added bonus of not slowing down giant truck production while profits are high.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Hmmm. I often think of the “what next” regarding my current vehicles, neither which are causing any thoughts to replace. However, I still mull our needs, and reflect on the future.
    First, our 6.0 PS F350 is an ’06, and is perfect for our needs, as a dump and lumber runner and with the 8 foot box and four doors, it remains the only vehicle we consider for long drives, actually anything more than to town, as a Costco run to the next town means we need it.
    However, as we don’t tow our heavy trailer anymore since selling it, unless we upsize our boat substantially, we could get by with a newer class of 1/2 ton gasser or diesel. I guess long range it may happen, as a Ram Eco Diesel looks decent, but we would have to get rid of the factory box and change it to a custom 8 foot tilt box with sides for the property work we do. Im with many, cursing a typical short box with very high bed and rail heights, so the aftermarket is an option.
    Second, as we put the majority of our mileage on our Lexus CT200h, our fuel bills are not really an issue, nor would we gain much changing to full EV options, even though our drives with it are 15 miles to town and back. Really, insurance is way more expensive than what we put into the tank, so I guess the 52MPG we get average goes a long way to even out the fuel bill in the Ford, which by the way Jack, has seen $140 CDN fills ($1.25/liter).
    If I was pushing the Ford as a daily driver, I would think twice even NOW let alone in the future.
    As a last point, as our vehicles are paid for, and the truck hasn’t really depreciated much if at all in the past several years since we bought it used for less than 10K, I REALLY would have a hard time replacing it with a new one, as they are 65K min where we are, plus tax.
    As fuel bills may inevitably rise, the reality in our area is that insurance has seen a much higher rate of increase than fuel, so much so it remains one of our larger expenses for the vehicles we own, and THAT isn’t likely to go down. So, in effect, we would strongly consider the insurance costs as a determining factor in future vehicle choice.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Hmmm. I often think of the “what next” regarding my current vehicles, neither which are causing any thoughts to replace. However, I still mull our needs, and reflect on the future.
    First, our 6.0 PS F350 is an ’06, and is perfect for our needs, as a dump and lumber runner and with the 8 foot box and four doors, it remains the only vehicle we consider for long drives, actually anything more than to town, as a Costco run to the next town means we need it.
    However, as we don’t tow our heavy trailer anymore since selling it, unless we upsize our boat substantially, we could get by with a newer class of 1/2 ton gasser or diesel. I guess long range it may happen, as a Ram Eco Diesel looks decent, but we would have to get rid of the factory box and change it to a custom 8 foot tilt box with sides for the property work we do. Im with many, cursing a typical short box with very high bed and rail heights, so the aftermarket is an option.
    Second, as we put the majority of our mileage on our Lexus CT200h, our fuel bills are not really an issue, nor would we gain much changing to full EV options, even though our drives with it are 15 miles to town and back. Really, insurance is way more expensive than what we put into the tank, so I guess the 52MPG we get average goes a long way to even out the fuel bill in the Ford, which by the way Jack, has seen $140 CDN fills ($1.25/liter).
    If I was pushing the Ford as a daily driver, I would think twice even NOW let alone in the future.
    As a last point, as our vehicles are paid for, and the truck hasn’t really depreciated much if at all in the past several years since we bought it used for less than 10K, I REALLY would have a hard time replacing it with a new one, as they are 65K min where we are, plus tax.
    As fuel bills may inevitably rise, the reality in our area is that insurance has seen a much higher rate of increase than fuel, so much so it remains one of our larger expenses for the vehicles we own, and THAT isn’t likely to go down. So, in effect, we would strongly consider the insurance costs as a determining factor in future vehicle choice.

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    I witnessed this in around ‘08 myself. People falling all over themselves to trade their SUVs in on miserable shitcan priuses, elantras etc…taking an absolute bath on their trades and walking out with a comparable payment on a disposable car with depreciation rates of Nigerian currency. Once gas got within reason again, its rinse and repeat on another SUC, truck, etc. even here in Portland where greenies worship at the alter of prius, those things are stacked like cord wood on the used car lots.

    My parents had the right idea: they kept my moms expedition parked for weekend date nights, ferrying my sisters family around and longer trips. They bought my sisters ‘98 Taurus for like $3K and mom used that to go to work and run errands. Dad had a company truck. He semi-retired about 3 years ago right as the recession started to let up so got top dollar on their 60K mile immaculate live rear axle Expedition against the ‘13 Super Crew he wanted.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “My parents had the right idea: they kept my moms expedition parked for weekend date nights, ferrying my sisters family around and longer trips. They bought my sisters ‘98 Taurus for like $3K and mom used that to go to work and run errands.”

      That’s pretty close to my formula. Chevy Volt (Which drives like a million bucks) for 99% of the times I leave the house. The Tahoe only leaves the garage only when I’m hooking something to the back of it or I have to haul something to big to fit in the Volt – which isn’t very often.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    1. Rising fuel prices will also pump up inflation, effectively nullifying the multi-state efforts to raise minimum wage.

    2. I’d like to see energy independence be a matter linked with the US national security and defense policy. It would be much easier to speak objectively about our relationships with other nations if they weren’t complexified with oil purchases. Opinions vary on this, but IMO energy independence is something the US can and should accomplish.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    In 2011, I was driving a 98.5 Audi B5 A4 V6 Quattro about 650 miles per week, at $4.50/gallon for required premium; at 23-25 MPG, that’s about $140/week in fuel alone. There was no monthly payment, but it was far out of warranty. I spent in the prior year $2000 for a new front suspension, $500 for a new ignition switch, and $800 for new rear wheel bearings. I was looking forward in the next year to a new clutch ($2K) and timing belt/water pump ($1K). I traded it in for a 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco, and financed $17K after trade in; note was ~$300/month. My fuel costs *alone* dropped to $70/week between 40+ MPG and using regular at $3.75/gallon. I saved roughly $280 per month in fuel – nearly covering the payment, and I no longer had to worry about saving another $250/month to cover the upcoming maintenance (or having the car catastrophically fail), or put it on a credit card, and I wouldn’t have to miss work to get that maintenance done.

    I came out far ahead with that decision.

    • 0 avatar
      Alfisti

      Meh, but you’re driving a Cruze instead of a [email protected] off Audi.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff Weimer

        Eh, the Audi was nice – very nice, and a personal car lust – but not $530/month nice. Some of the amenities I miss, like heated seats, but I got others with the Cruze that simply weren’t conceived in 1998, like Bluetooth phone or iPod integration. And the Cruze was actually quieter on the highway.

        Anyway, a 9-12 year old Audi fits in the same socioeconomic strata – mine at least – as a new Cruze. And I don’t GAF anyway. All I know is now I will *never* own a German car out of warranty ever again.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          I’m repeating myself from a comment of two or three years ago, but those first-gen Cruzes have a “drive bigger than they are in a good way” quality that makes them very nice on the highway.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Yep, I test drove a new 2012 Cruze Eco 6spd, it felt “Germanic” to use the overused term. I was very pleasantly surprised.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff Weimer

            It met my needs and exceeded my expectations. I think that’s called a good car purchase.

          • 0 avatar
            Carlson Fan

            In general I hate small cars but I love my 2013 Cruze based Volt if that says anything about how it rides, handles & drives.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            First gen Cruze is indeed impressive on the highway. To put it in context my daily at the time I drove the Cruze was a ’98 540, and I still found the Cruze to be an impressive highway car. I wish more small cars were designed for highway driving.

            Unfortunately, GM let the whole package down by installing torture devices for seats, otherwise there is a good chance I would be driving one today.

          • 0 avatar
            Jeff Weimer

            I’ve had two, one with and one without power seats, and I found the unpowered seats to be more comfortable.

  • avatar
    caltemus

    An interesting read on Project 77 and the downsizing of american cars in the late seventies
    http://www.randystern.net/historiography-downsizing/

  • avatar
    stingray65

    If oil prices head up towards $75 to $100+ per barrel, all the world’s oil companies will move heaven and earth to boost supply by using new technology to extract more from existing holes, or finding new places to drill, and prices will go back down as all the new supply hits the market. This means any market based big bump in prices is likely to be temporary, as has been the case in the last 20 years. The problem with reacting to a temporary bump in gas prices is that a smaller pickup at best saves you 1-2 mpg versus a full-size according to EPA ratings, so the “size” savings are nowhere near what they might have been 20-30 years ago. Furthermore, you can bet that both used and new F-150s and Silverados will have huge cash on the hoods and discounts compared to “efficient” Tacos and Colorados if fuel prices suddenly jumped to $4 per gallon, negating almost all the potential savings in fuel expenses. Unless you trade in a truck or SUV for a Prius or Civic, you aren’t going to generate enough fuel savings to pay for the switching costs before fuel prices eventually come back down. Unless the government screws things up (very possible if the Dems get back in power), the market will always respond very effectively to changes in supply and demand.

  • avatar

    The people here praising national fuel spikes so they can save a few bucks on a gas guzzler are just as short-sighted as those who panic and sell their thirsty vehicle at each new turn in the pricing.

    Consider the greater effect these things have.

  • avatar
    Aqua225

    There are practical limits to how much you can shrink the full size pickup.

    I didn’t buy mine for the worse mileage (though it really doesn’t cost you more than a underpowered midsized truck, in gas). I bought it to tow with. The heavier your tow vehicle, the less a medium trailer can push your truck around.

    Yes, there were midsize and small pickups at the time that could haul my load with good power to spare. But it’s the age old question, how important is stopping to you? Not only stopping, but stopping under control, and not in a ditch or jack knifed, or the trailer under you.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      But for every one of you who actually has a real defined need for a real truck, there are 10 people who have one just because they think they are cool. Certainly in my circle of friends and family that is the case. I said in another posting, my kid brother has three relatively new GMC trucks. Well technically, that is one 1-ton that is exclusively used and needed for his landscaping business. But then he and the wife each have a 4dr pickup that they basically commute in, but owned by the business too (because he can get away with that)! I can assure you his wife’s truck has never had so much as a lawnmower in the bed, and if his has it is only because the big truck was already on a job (rare occasion – he’s mostly a sole proprietor). And they actually ARE the sort of stupid people who bought way more than they can afford on too long loans. It will come back to bite them in the butt eventually. They are literally slaves to the payments on those two trucks.

      In general, I don’t give two sh!ts, but the problem is because there are all these 5-6klb behemoths around, most people feel smaller cars need to be built like bunkers to sustain a hit by one of them, and/or sit up high to see around them. And so cars get bigger and heavier and less efficient too. It’s a vicious circle. And it’s all perfectly OK while gas is cheap. This is why if efficiency is a societal goal, and the existence of CAFE, emissions standards, subsidies for EVs, etc would seem to tell me that it is, the right way to go about it is to incentivize buying actually efficient vehicles. Europe has done a pretty good job of this by taxing the bejeezus out of gasoline and diesel (yes, slightly less for diesel, but really only slightly). And because that means they have the funds to spend on infrastructure, which is largely a great deal better than here. Win-win.

      Personally, I find that an even better method of keeping the cart behind the horse while towing than a heavier truck is just going slower. I’ve never exceeded 55mph towing the boat and I never will. The idiots blazing past at 75mph+ are the ones who end up with an Interstate median boating goods lawn sale when someone cuts them off. Seen it countless times over the years in Maine when all the morons from MA invade every summer. The Europeans have the right idea for this too. 80-100km/hr towing speed limits pretty much everywhere, rigidly enforced.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    Not if the Stonecutters regain power.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    Please continue buying the big Tonkas.
    I just added some OXY shares to go along with XOM shares held long-term.
    I need the dividend income.
    Thank you.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    1997 Ford F-150 SuperCab short box 4×4
    L 222.3”, W 79.5”, H 75.1”
    2017 Ford F-150 SuperCab short box 4×4
    L 231.9”, W 79.9”, H 76.9”
    …massive growth?

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      You can start with being a hair under 20 feet long, almost a foot longer than its 20-year predecessor, plus taller, plus wider. And that 1997 model was longer, wider and taller than its 20-year predecessor.

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