Monday, November 10, 2008

Bailing on the US Auto Industry

I hear that Obama wants to bail out the US auto industry. I hope he's talking about the workers and not the corporate wrong decision makers. You know who I'm talking about -- the folks who brought us the gas-hog Hummers and the unsustainable SUVs. I call 'em wrong decision makers, but I'm sure that their corporate boards loved them for selling so many expensive cars for so long.

I've decided to bail on US cars. My Ford Ranger is 14 going on 15, and still runs well enough to get me through another winter. However, I knew I'd be facing another car purchase soon, so I began looking last spring. I wanted something green that I could afford. That led me to the Smart ForTwo car. I put down a $99 deposit on one last March, but the demand was so high for these nifty two-seaters that all the 2008 year models sold out long before my turn in line arrived.

Last Friday, I got my Configuration email from SmartUSA. This means that I got to go over my initial order, change any details and return it so that my car goes into production -- in Europe. Sometime between April and June, my little red Smart Car will arrive in Ohio! Wanna see what it will look like?

I ordered the basic Pure version (basic price: $ 11,990.00) rather than the upscale models. After all, these are tough economic times and I really don't have any desire for a convertible. I like the idea of having a hard roof over my head and I certainly don't need a sun roof in order to tan while driving. I did configure in some additional features:

Heated seats

$ 220.00

smart radio (AM/FM, single CD; incl. 2 speakers, Aux input jack)

$ 350.00

Anti-theft alarm system

$ 160.00

Air conditioning with automatic temperature control (incl. dust, pollen filter)

$ 600.00

Destination charge:

$ 645.00

Total price[*]:

$ 13,965.00

It has a Mitsubishi engine and a Mercedes-designed super safe body, receiving top safety rankings for its pod-like design. And the gas useage? 33 city and 41 highway. It is the fourth most fuel efficient car in the US, but at half the price of a Prius.

Having driven a small truck for years, I am quite used to the small size of a truck cab. In fact, the Smart car will feel larger as I don't have any room behind the seats of my truck, just the flatbed of the truck that has been empty space I've been hauling around for over a decade. Every now and then, I might haul something in the back of the truck, but with the Smart Car, if I need to haul something big, I'll either have it delivered or rent a trailer. But mostly, I'm thinking that driving the Smart Car is yet another step toward downsizing my life. The less space available, the less I will be tempted to fill it with yet more unnecessary stuff.

Smart is planning on introducing an all electric model in 2010. I won't wait for that one, because at 35K only rich folks will be buying it. The Smart car remains the least expensive of the green cars available. It was designed with "green" in mind:

"The smart fortwo is produced at "smartville" in Hambach, France. System partners on site deliver the prefabricated modules directly to the production line. Protecting the environment, energy efficiency and preservation of natural resources are hallmarks of smart brand. It starts with smart development through to the production of the cars in smartville. For example, only water-soluble paints are used for the smart's three basic colors – black, white and red. Painting the tridion safety cell is done by the powder-coating process. This removes the need for solvents. The body panels with molded-in color are fully recyclable. Environmental Management is a high priority in Hambach. smart is dedicated to protecting the environment with future focused recycling and an environmental policy that makes a strong statement.

The smart fortwo is also classified as an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) due to its extremely low exhaust emissions. The catalytic converter is positioned close to the engine for a quick response. An electric pump blows fresh air into the exhaust port when the engine is cold to almost completely oxidize the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrocarbons (HC) and render them harmless."

It's just too bad that US automakers chose to ignore such things as the end of cheap petroleum and the effects of carbon burning gas guzzling SUVs on the environment. Instead, they trashed their electric models and chose to build bigger and flashier instead of smaller and greener. So bail out the workers, if you must bail out anybody. Give them the empty factories and a mandate to come up with an American smart car. But until that happens, I've committed to the made in France Smart ForTwo.

One guy started a blog about his Smart car. You can check it out here.

1 comment:

KevinBBG said...

The same thing happened in the 70's when the first gas crisis hit and we all had to wait in line. No one wanted and American gas guzzler any more and were snapping up the gas sipping Japanese cars (I had a gas sipping German car).

A few years later we had to bail out Oldsmobile. But after that everyone got complacent again and the cars turned into SUV's and got bigger and bigger.

I tried to tell everyone that gas prices were going to go up again and they would regret having those cars but no one listened.

If we have to keep bailing these companies out we should have a say on how they do business.

Good luck on your new gas sipper. I'd rather have a Prius but as you said, twice the price.