Supersize That Ford, Please
5/1/12 by Merkel Weiss
just returned from a trip and I tend to notice road vehicles. Generally
speaking, there were no large pickup trucks, no big minivans, no
hybrids and no big vans except for tour busses. The European roads and
the Asian road population don’t look like ours back in the good old USA.
We’re the only nation in the world that has a thirst for these road
monsters, and usually with only one person inside. I’m not saying at all
that when you tow your speedboat to the river for vacation that you
should use anything else but a truck. What I am saying though, is that
trucks make poor commuter vehicles, and now that fuel is approaching
$4.50/gallon, we’re getting close to the break point where for the fuel
saved, that second vehicle is beginning to look economically more
European-type vehicle populations are generally Corolla-sized
vehicles with 4-doors and a hatch. Fold down the rear seats and you
won’t believe how much stuff can load into one of these small cars. I
saw Peugeot 206, Seat Ibiza, Citroen C4, Skoda Octavia, Opel Astra, Fiat
Punto, VW Polo, and a host of other perfectly reliable and reasonable
transportation possibilities that we couldn’t get here even if we stood
on our head and whistled Rachmaninov’s 3rd. Why is this I wonder? There
appear to be a lot of good opportunities here.
This is the land of the supersize. Our country and our roads are
big so our cars are big, but strangely enough many of our parking spaces
in lots are small. I’ll never see the logic aside from just squeezing
more spaces in, but the result is that our cars get dinged and beat up
more often. I wonder if anyone actually cares, or whether we just
casually throw them away when the bodies get messy and the ashtrays are
full of butts. We like to sit up high in the perch of a bucket seat in
the front of a pickup truck. In the rear (if any) there is a truly small
and uncomfortable bench seat. The point here is that even though the
size of an American pickup truck is big, inside it’s no bigger than a
small car. The difference is in payload capacity, for which there is no
substitute so long as you’re moving a truckload of dirt or gravel. If on
the other hand, you’re hauling a package the size of a Chevrolet Small
block engine (maybe 4 feet cubed), that’ll fit just fine into the back
of any of the small Corolla-sized 4-door hatchbacks mentioned above,
with the added advantage of a lower lift-over load height. In addition,
most of the gasoline powered cars mentioned above get around 30-40mpg
(city/highway). Diesel powered cars will get about 1/3 better fuel
Everybody gets into the SuperSizeMe Act!
In addition to the improved fuel economy and easier storage in the hatch, these cars are vastly easier to drive and park resulting in less roadway and parking problems from trucks encroaching over the line. In addition, cars tend to be safer than trucks. Yes, that’s right. Just because trucks and SUVs are large doesn’t necessarily make them safer. They have gotten considerably safer over the last 10 years, but then so have automobiles. I routinely hear the argument that a parent is going to buy a truck for their child because they want them to be safe. Exactly, 180 degrees wrong. They’re buying their child a truck because they like trucks. Truck accidents tend to injure more people than car accidents do. This is true because automobiles have decreased mass and improved crush character at the same time. You might say, well, what if something really big hits me. I respond that no matter how big your vehicle is there is always something bigger, and who or what you hit is obviously a random kind of crap-shoot. If you’re in a small car, there’s a big car. Then a truck, next a semi, and even bigger is a bus. Bridges tend to be unyielding too. But believe it or not, the worst of all is a tree. Impact with a tree maximizes the damage by concentrating the load. I don’t recommend it. I’ll say this as carefully as I can. If your vehicle impacts a tree at speed, it’s generally better to be in a car. At speeds above 35mph, impact of a tree into the driver’s door is generally life threatening regardless of what vehicle you would imagine yourself to be in. In this case, cars fare about the same as trucks.
Trucks obviously use more fuel than cars, and a general rule of thumb is about 1.5 to 3 times more. At the current price of fuel, you really have to pause and consider how much fun your truck is to drive against the rising costs. The worst Corolla sized car gets only about 30mpg, and the best hybrids will do well over 50mpg.
The benefits of a larger car population include reduced wear on the roads and highways, reduced national fuel and oil consumption, more actual space on the roads (the vehicles are smaller) and resultant less traffic congestion on roads and in parking, and reduced injuries from car accidents, but wait, there’s more.
Well made cars have better and fewer repairs and better maintenance characteristics than trucks. Cars depreciate less than trucks do too. In any event, car parts cost less because they’re way smaller. As an example, price a new set of tires or a brake job on a truck and a Corolla and you’ll see a vast savings with the car.
Generally speaking, we in the USA enjoy a spendy little approach to travel, often with the accent on bling. Clearly we are the only country in the world that has this mix of road vehicles in use, and it’s purely part of the American idiom. Whether we can (or should) continue in this vein in the wake of our own financial meltdown is a question I ask myself regularly, but the rest of the country answers my queries every month with the best selling vehicle list, invariably showing the Ford F150 as number one, and the Chevrolet Silverado fairly close behind.