Poll results, sort of, and random thoughts on automobiles and oil.

Well, very smallish sample size, but what this tells me is that my LJ readers are more likely to pick a compact car instead of an SUV.

What the general consensus is in the rest of the automotive world is that Joe and/or Jane Auto Buyer will lean toward the SUV or crossover (“don’t call me a cute-ute”) utility vehicle instead of the small car.

Or at least this was true until about April of this year, when gasoline prices spiked due to a rather amusing confluence of the US dollar tanking in international currency exchange and a few supply issues.

Yep, that’s right, kids: If you correct for the falling US dollar (which is the international currency of choice for oil transactions), the price of crude has merely *doubled* or thereabouts, not *quadrupled*.

Meanwhile, Edmunds has come out with a cost-of-ownership list for the US market and to the surprise of virtually nobody remotely knowledgeable about automobiles, the highest-ranking hybrid is the Honda Civic Hybrid in 14th place. In first place, with the lowest cost of ownership? The Chevrolet Aveo, a delightfully nasty little box assembed by GM Daewoo in South Korea and sold worldwide under a bewildering variety of names (the Chinese Chery JJ is a complete copy, by the way — Chery managed to sneak out of Daewoo with the CAD models and prints for the car when Daewoo was in bankruptcy, before GM bought Daewoo. An Aveo door will bolt right up to a JJ, for example) is the winner this year.

A local Hyundai dealer is running radio spots comparing Hyundais with hybrids — if you buy a Honda Civic Hybrid instead of a Hyundai Accent, at current gas prices, you’ll recoup the difference in purchase cost with fuel savings in about 18 years. If you buy a Toyota Camry Hybrid instead of a Hyundai Sonata (assembled in Mississippi, by the way), it’ll take just under 20 years to recover the purchase price difference in gas savings. And while the latest Sonata freshening took what was a very nice-looking car and made it Korean-funky instead (quick, guess which version was done in-house at Hyundai and which was done by an Italian design house?), I will say that having driven both the Sonata and a fairly well-optioned Camry, I’d pick the Sonata in a heartbeat: it’s a much nicer car.

The thing is… and I say this as someone with a vested interest in hybrid automobile sales since that’s what I’m getting paid to make happen these days… hybrids in their present form are a feel-good that make precious little fiscal sense to the average consumer. If you have a fleet of city taxis or urban-area delivery vehicles, where LOTS of miles are racked up quickly but only in stop-and-go traffic, a hybrid may make sense — that is the operating mode where the most benefit happens, and a fleet vehicle that’s in near-constant operation will increase the rate of recovery versus an equivalent conventional vehicle in the same duty cycle.

My criteria right now for a car purchase is “can I recover the cost of buying the car in fuel savings vs driving my truck every day, within the span of a 4-year car loan?” So far, the answer is no, even with gasoline running about US$4.10/US gallon and diesel at US$4.65/US gallon. Even with the car being a smart fortwo. Or an Aveo (which I don’t fit into very well anyway), for that matter. I have a spreadsheet with all the permutations quantified — I’m not getting rid of the truck, but if I keep it on towing and limited non-towing duty, it will go X miles and consume about Y gallons of diesel in a year, which I balance against a car driving Z miles (the balance of my annual driving currently done by the truck), consuming A gallons of gasoline. The difference over 4 years has to be greater than the cost of buying the car and insuring it. Not gonna happen unless diesel prices REALLY spike.



  1. I drive a compact for ease of driving and parking and also for gas mileage. I get from 700-800 km with a 40 liter tank. I don’t know what that means in miles/gallon. My car is a Fiat Punto with a 4 cyclinder gas engine. It does 130km/hour on the highway with no problem. It costs less to insure than slightly bigger car with slightly bigger motors. Of course, a bigger person might have trouble fitting in it. I don’t know. I’m only 5’6″. But my DH is 5’10 and he fits in it alright. Probably this is more info than you needed. πŸ™‚


    1. Can’t buy a new Fiat of any stripe in the US. They left this market with their tail between their legs in the early ’80s, under a cloud of “Fix It Again, Tony” reputation. The Spider 2000 and X1/9 soldiered on for a few years under Pininfarina and Bertone (the carrizione that designed and built the bodies for those models), respectively, for a few more years. European operation is so very different to US vehicle operation that it’s tough to draw a satisfactory comparison. Between the tax structure for vehicles and fuel (engines 2000cc or larger are taxed at a higher rate than engines under 2000cc, hence a lot of European “2L” engines that are 1998cc…) I wouldn’t want to drive a Punto from, say Detroit to Tulsa (a run I make frequently), a distance of 950 or so miles. Paris-to-Nice wouldn’t be an issue. And while I do fit (at 6’4″, 250ish lbs — 195cm, ~115 kg), it’s not really comfortable (yes, I’ve driven one briefly). Hmm… 40L/800km works out to about 5L/100km (European method of computing fuel economy). In US terms, that’s about 10.57 US gallons for 497 miles(!!!) of driving (assuming 800km range on a full 10L tank), which works out to a tick over 47mpg — that’s a lot. 700km range is 435 miles — 41.15 mpg, which is much more like what I’d expect (5.7L/100km) for that car. The “magic number” for EU automakers is the “3 Liter Car” — a car that consumes 3L of fuel per 100km of driving, which works out to about 80mpg using US gallons. Only very small specialized diesels have gotten there (VW Lupo diesel, Peugeot 1-series diesel, if memory serves, and I don’t know if either made production).


      1. Maybe I’m mistaken. When I get into my car after filling the tank up, the computer tells me that I can go 800kms (sometimes 650 sometimes 1000). So I’m assuming that’s what I get. But I have never really checked it. So I could be mistaken. I got 500 to 600 “verified” kms per 40l tank with my original Punto, and this one is newer.

  2. My big-ol’ ’90 GMC 2WD has been reserved for trips to the barn to visit the horses. That’s it. I occaisionally have to drive it here or there but at current gas prices needless galavanting is over.


    1. Oh, I understand completely. But I have to be able to demonstrate a zero-sum or net-gain to the family CFO to justify a purchase right now. For a number of reasons, picking up a used, say VW Jetta TDI is not a viable option (I work for a UAW-infiltrated domestic automaker for starters, and used VW TDIs are currently trading at new-car prices — 50 mpg will do that). I could probably pick up a used Focus (about the only small car I’d consider) relatively cheap, but it’s hard to justify getting a loan on a 6-8 year old small car. So I’m still driving Leviathan, shown in this picture with the reason I own him, the 26′ car hauler (pay no attention to the Benz sitting beside the trailer — not my car). He pulls down 16-18 mpg regularly in mixed driving, even with the new Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel that dropped energy content and thus mileage a bit. The newer diesels with all the emissions stuff get worse mileage, too, for a variety of reasons, not the least is lower compression ratio to reduce the formation of NOx emissions by lowering combustion temperatures.


  3. 1-choice to spend $$$ supporting the technology 2. Prius is a comfortable car with significant hip and head room and adequate cargo room, not to mention substantial luxurious tech bits (on steering controls – GPS, etc)


    1. 1-choice to spend $$$ supporting the technology Hybrids are also loss-leaders for the automakers. Toyota *might* at this point be close to break-even on the Prius. And with Toyota/Lexus hybrids no longer qualified for tax breaks from the feds (due to hitting the sales volume threshold triggering the cutoff), you’re still looking at a premium. 2. Prius is a comfortable car with significant hip and head room and adequate cargo room, not to mention substantial luxurious tech bits (on steering controls – GPS, etc) Prius is a comfortable *city* car, but due to the narrow, high-pressure, low-rolling resistance tires and the additional mass of the hybrid system, it’s a hippo on roller skates on the highway. As far as the tech bits, those are available on any number of conventional competitors such as the aforementioned Hyundai Sonata. Of all the hybrids out there, the one that’s sold the best *has* been the Prius because it’s a dedicated hybrid-only model with funky styling that screams “I’M saving the planet! What are YOU doing?”. Honda dropped the Accord Hybrid due to piss-poor sales. Why didn’t anyone buy it? The only distinguishing mark was a small “Hybrid” logo on the back of the car. It didn’t advertise its hybridness. What does that tell me? It tells me that the marketing person who decided that the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon Hybrids “needed” no fewer than *9* “Hybrid” logos plastered all over the truck was on to something. It’s all about the *image* — people are making a statement to their fellow motorists. I worked out the math a while back because someone asked if a group, say a church youth group (high school age) of 12 adult-sized people, was taking a trip somewhere, whether a full-size van (16 mpg) or a small group of Priuses (call it 40 mpg) would be the more economical option. Given that 12 people would require 3 Priuses (Prii?), but only 1 van, it was easy to compute that the single van would be the more economical option from a passenger-miles per gallon standpoint, which is the only way to look at this. This math holds for any value of passngers greater than 1 Prius’s worth (4, 5 if one’s really small), including values that require multiple vans. The above math, by the way, is what makes mass transit theoretically possible. If you have sufficiently-frequent buses that people are riding instead of driving, it’s more efficient than each individual driving themselves. But you have to have buses/trains going places people want to go when they want to go there or they’ll stay away in droves. What is happening due to the regulatory climate is that you’ll see more hybrid options in more vehicles so that the automakers can meet the new CAFE and emissions standards. With more volume, theoretically the cost will come down. Reality is that advanced battery chemistry does work better but costs more at any production volume.


  4. I’m at the same sort of crossroads as well, but with repair costs. Our two vehicles have been kind of costly over the past year or so: clutches, sensors, and a/c work. But, the costs still don’t add up to a continuous monthly payment for a new vehicle. Although, with the good financing available, the wife has mentioned getting a new pickup. She’s want to make certain I have a reliable vehicle for hurricane evacuation. She’ll be stuck in town, but I’ll have to leave with all of the animals.


    1. I looked at replacing Leviathan with a comparable new truck from Current Employer. My price? About $45K. And it’d get worse mileage and all the emissions crap would incur more maintenance expense. For under $15K I can put a bulletproof rebuilt engine and trans in Leviathan and get at least another 250K out of him (he has 224K now). Guess which I’ll do when the need arises?


  5. I’m glad you think highly of Hyundai’s since that’s what I drive. Two summers ago (2006) I bought a 2005 Hyundai XG350 (which I believe is the precursor of the Sonata). Carfax showed that it had been a rental car in urban Maryland. It had about 19K miles on it. I bought the car for two reasons: 1) we needed a lighter weight car for me. I’d been driving the 2000 Grand Prix to work every day (20 miles each way) during the school year for 6 years, and I was starting to have serious neck, shoulder and arm troubles because the thing handles like a tank. I needed a lighter weight car that was easier for me to maneuver. 2) although we were “window shopping” a 2006 Sonata, I happened to see some XG350’s in local traffic and I liked the look of that model a lot. Then the car I ended up buying showed up on a dealer’s lot in a nearby town. We test drove it. I liked the interior appearance and the relative ease of handling compared to the Grand Prix. What I have found out about my XG350 in the past two years doesn’t really please me. 1) it gets about 20 mpg in local driving — the same (or maybe even a mile or two per gallon worse) than the Grand Prix. This seems illogical given how much lighter a car it is, but since I needed the lighter weight car for my own physical difficulties with steering, I was willing to put up with it… until gas prices rose to where they are now. I can’t help the commute distance to work. I’ve been there for 26 years, and I am planning to retire at the end of the 2008-09 school year, so I only have one more year of this daily drive to do. It’s local roads, most with a speed limit of 35 or 45 mph, a lot of stop and go– in other words, the worst situation for getting good mileage. There are no interstates or other limited access highways between my house and work. Yes, I could move closer to work; but with only one more year at the job, the real estate market in the toilet, and Steve currently having only a 5 mile drive to get to his job–there isn’t going to be any move. 2) the air bag light and/or the check engine light keep coming on whenever my husband drives the car and we have to change the position of the driver’s seat. [You already know what size Steve is!] That means making an appointment at the local dealer (not the one from whom I bought the car, which is 30 miles away as opposed to 2 miles) and enduring the inconvenience and expense of having the sensors reset every other month or so. The XG350 is the car we use for long-distance trips because it is comfortable for both of us to drive and to be a front seat passenger in. I would guess than highway mileage is about 23 or 24 mpg. As I said, the heavy Grand Prix which is going on 8 years old this fall gets the same mileage as the newer, lighter-weight Hyundai. But I can’t drive the Grand Prix anymore (too heavy for me) and it’s coming up on having 100K miles on it so it’s not a car I really want to be taking on road trips. I just don’t know what to do about this Hyundai, which for all that it is a nice-looking, smooth-handling, and comfortable-for-both-of-us car, just doesn’t get the mileage I’d like for a commuter car and is in the shop a lot (or in any case, what seems to me to be “a lot”). Sucking up the commuting costs for another year would seem to be preferable to going shopping for a new or used Honda that would probably get better gas mileage but require another car loan (I’m still paying off the Hyundai) only a year before our income drops drastically.


    1. Hmm… wonder what prompts the check engine light. The air bag light, I can sort of understand (and if I was the dealer, I’d be checking the wiring from seat to car to make sure nothing is getting pinched or the connector is being flexed as the seat moves back, which is what I’m almost positive is happening). If they’re saying the check engine is a spurious code, what I’d do instead of taking it to the dealer is disconnect the negative terminal on the battery for about 30 minutes to an hour. That should reset the code. Alternatively, there are relatively inexpensive code reader/resetters available at some of the larger parts store chains, and you can do it yourself. The XG350 is a bit larger car than the Sonata, but on a comparable platform, if memory serves. It looks a bit like a Jaguar run through a ’50s Japanese monster movie filter. πŸ™‚


  6. We’ll be looking to replace David’s hideous old Ford Escort when it finally bites the big one, and obviously fuel efficiency and safety are going to be important in our decision making process. You’ve given me some good fuel for thought (pun?) and interesting stuff to think about. Thanks. πŸ™‚ ~Tawni


    1. Remember that David’s brother works for A Major Automaker and there are Discounts available, also. πŸ™‚ That’s how he got the Escort “back in the day”.


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