Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts for a Tuesday

Every time I turn on the news, there seem to be reports on the ever increasing cost of oil and the rising cost of fuel. What amazes me, as I hear the poor oil company executives complain about their narrower profit margins, is that as oil goes up the cost of gas goes up. What we are pumping now was refined months ago. The cost should be based on the cost of that oil. But, no. I'm sure there is something my poor brain hasn't figured out.

Those of us who remember the oil crisis in the 1970's should have learned something, but we didn't. Brazil learned. They made a concerted effort to reduce their oil consumption and are using sugar cane Ethanol, which is 7 times more efficient than corn based Ethanol. They are not feeling the effects of the current oil crisis, and that's what we looking at, folks.

The US, and I know I'll catch heat for this one, has a government that doesn't give a crap about those that are struggling to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Our economy is in the tank, and Bush thinks we're going through a "rough patch". The Democratic party is more concerned about keeping special interests groups happy than in doing what's right for the constituency. In a word, we're screwed.

As individuals, we kept our rose colored glasses on too long. I'm in that group. Obviously, I'm a consumer of things that I don't need. Do I need 50 skeins of sock yarn? Do I need those 5 knitting magazines? Do I need that new blouse? Do I need those CD's? No. Do I need to save money for a rainy day? Do I need to save money for retirement? Yes.

One thing I can honestly say that we did right comes to our cars and driving habits. When Kevin was in his accident last year, we weighted the idea of fixing his car instead of buying a new one. The $2,000 to fix the Subaru would have made sense if it weren't for the fact that we knew we would have to replace it in the next couple of years. It had 267,000 miles on it, but it was still getting 38 miles to the gallon. We were more concerned about it's reliability on long trips, which we made several times a year. So we bought the Honda. It was the first time we had had a car payment since 1996.

Now, I drive a car that is 20 years old. Granted, with freeway driving, I only get about 17-18 miles per gallon, but I'm not driving 20-30 miles one way to work. I take BART to San Francisco. I try to consolidate my errands to make it as economical as possible. This is coming from someone who loved just to get in the car and drive somewhere just to get out of the house. I've spent less than $2000 in upkeep in the last 2 years. It killed me to fill it up for $60, but my monthly cost for maintaining the car is exceptionally low.

When I think of those people that drive their huge SUV's and trucks that get less than 15 miles to the gallon, with their $500+ a month car payments and their $2000+ a year car insurance bills, I don't know how they do it. I read about one man that is a contractor and when taking the three factors I mentioned into consideration, he's spending over $2,000 a month just to use his truck. How much more does he have to work to make up for that? I have also read about many people that are just leaving their gas guzzlers in the driveway with the keys in the car, and have told their lien holder to come and get it.

Last year, there was a bill before Congress to raise the fuel efficiency requirements. Lobbying from the car industry and oil producers was sufficient enough that Congress didn't nail them as they should have. It all comes down to CAFE Standards, which is the bar that car manufacturers are supposed to achieve. As of early 2004, the standards for cars had to be 27.5 mpg and light trucks 20.7, otherwise the manufacturer would have a fine. The manufacturers pay the fines instead of working towards the creating more fuel efficient cars. Since 1983, they have paid more than $500 million in penalties. In 1974, the standard was set to double the average by 1985 to reach 27.5 mpg. In 1978, it was set to 18mpg, and then it was raised each year until in reached the goal. Standards were dropped slightly between 1986 and 1989. They were set at 27.5 again in 1990 and remained unchanged until last year when the first new goal was set in over 30 years. The manufacturers have until 2020 to reach a standard of 35 miles per gallon for both cars and light trucks. This is a bigger change than the one seen in 1973, because standards for trucks was not imposed until 1979 and the set yearly without a specific long term goal.

So auto makers have 12 years to improve fuel efficiency by 6.5 mpg. In comparison, auto makers previously had 12 years to double their efficiency. Granted, that was around 13 mpg and they were working with engines that had carburetors not fuel injection. One question - the Japanese have been doing it for years. The Japanese have never paid fines. I am reminded of that old quote "if you build it, they will come". The Japanese imports have kicked US manufacturers butts for years. US and European manufacturers can build fuel efficient cars, we've seen them on the road. Here's a novel idea - instead of just fining the auto makers, add a usage tax to the inefficient cars.

Ok - I'll stop my rant. If you want to see where I got my info - here are the sites:

CAFE Overview - NHTSA
Corporate Average Fuel Economy - WIKI

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