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SUV backlash redux

2005-04-27 14:38:34.483593+00 by Dan Lyke 16 comments

A few days ago I asked if y'all thought the SUV backlash had hurt or helped SUV sales. A follow-up: Has it hurt or helped the sales of more fuel efficient vehicles, like hybrids?

[ related topics: Consumerism and advertising Automobiles ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 15:22:40.877943+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Last weekend I parked next to a Prius. My 1999 Acura TL has 134K miles, and I'd definitely consider a hybrid (Prius, Accord, other) with my next purchase. My current vehicle fleet provides the following fuel economies:

Acura TL: 21mpg city; 28mpg highway (22-25mpg mixed)

Suzuki DL650 V-Strom (motorcycle): 45-55mpg

Kawasaki KL250 Super Sherpa (motorcycle): 65-70mpg

I personally find SUV's disgusting, but I'm single and don't have a lot of cargo needs. It would be interesting to understand the breakouts of why people purchase them.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 16:00:57.252018+00 by: ebradway

A big reason for some of the behemoth SUVs is that if the vehicle is big enough to be considered a "commercial vehicle", small businesses can write-off the purchase amount up to $100,000.

Honda just released their Accord Hybrid. You'd probably get a kick out of it coming from the TL. They designed the Accord Hybrid to provide increased performance, not focusing on mileage as much but it still gets almost 40mpg on the highway (and puts out 250hp).

I think the desire for SUVs, in the end, is going to push hybrid technology even harder. GMC already makes full-size pickups with a hybrid powertrain. I've heard of two versions of a Hummer hybrid (one using four independent electric motors - one at each wheel, allowing for tank-like, in-place turning and the other, a Hummer-lite designed for extreme efficiency with a tiny diesel engine that can be easily removed for use as a stand-alone generator). Ford/Mazda makes a Hybrid Escape which looks real promising. Toyota/Lexus makes a Hybrid Lexus SUV.

I think you'll see hybrid Suburbans and Excursions on the road real soon. Of course, that'll just get their mileage in the low-20s from their current low-teens. If they move to a diesel-hybrid, they'll get up into the 30s for two reasons: diesel fuel contains more energy per gallon than gasoline and diesels put out full torque at low RPMs, making them well-suited for moving large vehicles and for off-road use.

As Diane mentioned, gasoline needs to hit $4/gallon before most Americans will consider a switch. But that's looking at a switch to smaller vehicles. I think hybrids are going to become more commonplace before then.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 16:10:11.830426+00 by: Diane Reese

Can they do something to get rid of the stink of diesel exhaust, do you think? I find it nauseating to drive behind a diesel vehicle, but perhaps I'm oversensitive to the odor.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 16:29:22.491749+00 by: jeff [edit history]

The last time I was in England I had the opportunity to ride in a diesel-powered taxi for my ride from the airport to the hotel. The thing rocked! Talk about low-end torque and acceleration! It was a European design (can't remember the vendor), but I came away VERY IMPRESSED. Also, didn't smell a thing while standing outside the vehicle as it idled.

I will also definitely consider a Honda hybrid Accord ...

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 16:52:04.460352+00 by: TheSHAD0W [edit history]

Well, I own *two* SUVs, both Ford Broncos. (One was nearly totalled, and I got another to replace it, but the original had some sentimental value and I found out it'd be cheaper to repair than I'd thought, so I did.) I have them because I own some property in the mountains and a lot of it is inaccessible to a lesser vehicle. For most of my driving, however, I use a somewhat more efficient minivan, which really isn't as efficient as I'd like. It's up for replacement, and I'm certainly considering getting a hybrid when I switch.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 17:15:45.644819+00 by: jeff [edit history]

At the risk of hijacking this thread and expanding it to include a broader (but related) topic, we really do need a new world economic system if the human species is going to maintain its standard of living (or close to it) in the developed countries of the world.

Capitalism fueled a lot of innovation and the exploitation of fossil fuels for much of what we enjoy and "take for granted" today. Unfortunately, those supplies are finite (even coal will ultimately become too expensive to mine). And I do NOT see "interplanetary mining" taking place within the next couple of hundred years on the scale which would be required to support the current (and future) burn rates.

So, in both the short and long-term, we (the world) needs to reduce the "burn rate" of finite fossil fuel resources. We also need to develop a homeostatic world economic system (a modified version of capitalism), something that really takes a forward look at non-renewable resources, while focusing more and more on renewable energy which doesn't have deletrious effects on the world climate and ecosystems. I know I sound like a Greenpeace or Sierra Club groupie, but it's the plain truth.

A new world economic system and model needed. Within our lifetimes.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 17:45:11.599112+00 by: radix

I bought a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse last year (27mpg commute, 30 mpg interstate) mainly because of fuel economy issues (pickup trucks get lousy mileage). One of the underconsidered (IMNSHO) aspects of environmental impact of a vehicle is the pollution and energy cost to manufacture the vehicle. When considering the impact of a vehicle you need to take those costs and divide them by the lifespan of the vehicle. The hybrid cars so far seem to be very complex and they are too new to know how long they will run. As of now, I would put my money on the super-efficient TDI diesel technology that at least VW is selling in the US market (I'm hearing Mercedes may bring back the diesel to the US too). It's a simpler technology, less complex and they last forever. Hybrids will probably catch up and become the better choice, but as of now I'm not convinced that it is the least impacting in terms of energy consumption to produce and operate and pollution impact from manufacture and operation.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 18:58:40.789223+00 by: jeff [edit history]

You make a very good point about TPCO (total pollution cost of ownership). I think that is overlooked in most studies. Something also overlooked is the TECO (total entropy cost of ownership). TECO units ultimately may become a basis for any future long-term, sustainable economy based on free energy.

In the meantime, the Diesel Technology Forum takes a stance on diesel power and the Union Of Concerned Scientists discusses diesel vs. gasoline in this article.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-27 22:30:32.056655+00 by: Pete [edit history]

It's a dead link now, but the UCS used to have a really detailed document on why diesels are not your friend that contained all these bits:

Direct Particulates. Recent data indicates that diesels emit at least 10 and perhaps as much as 300 times more PM mass than properly operating modern gasoline vehicles (Table 5). Many factors—such as vehicle age, condition, temperature, and driving cycle —can impact these vehicle-to-vehicle comparisons. For example, gasoline cars that are malfunctioning can increase PM emissions by a factor of 100. But even emissions from malfunctioning gasoline cars appear to be several times lower than from diesel vehicles.


Carcinogenesis. In addition to its contribution to mainstream air pollution problems, major public health agencies also consider diesel exhaust a potential human carcinogen (Table 3). While diesel exhaust contains over 40 compounds thought to cause cancer (CalEPA 1998a), most public health studies of diesel exhaust have focused on the aggregate emissions rather than on specific compounds. In its recent ruling, however, the California Air Resources Board voted to list only diesel exhaust particulates as a toxic, rather than whole diesel exhaust, which contains both particulates and vapor-phase emissions (CARB 1998b).

Studies of humans routinely exposed to diesel exhaust indicate a greater risk of lung cancer. For example, occupational health studies of railroad, dock, trucking, and bus garage workers exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust over many years consistently demonstrate a 20–50 percent increase in the risk of lung cancer or mortality (HEI 1995; Bhatia et al. 1998).

Even at the average rates of exposure experienced by most people, diesel exhaust poses a potential cancer risk. Extrapolating from epidemiological studies, at current exposure levels it is estimated that up to 450 of every million Californians are at risk of contracting lung cancer as a result of lifetime exposure to diesel exhaust, or over 14,000 residents.


Emissions modeling suggests that lifetime average NOx emissions from diesel vehicles are roughly twice that of gasoline cars being sold in some states by 1999 and the rest of the country by 2001 (Table 4). These results must be viewed with caution, however, because the EPA model used to construct these estimates is based on relatively little diesel vehicle emissions data.


Toxics. Comprehensive and detailed comparisons of the carcinogenic properties of diesel exhaust versus gasoline exhaust have not been made, but early evaluations suggest that important differences may exist. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified diesel engine exhaust as "probably carcinogenic" but assigned gasoline exhaust a lower risk of "possibly carcinogenic" (IARC 1989).

More detailed and recent research into gasoline has focused on specific toxic compounds, such as benzene or 1,3 butadiene, rather than whole gasoline exhaust.17 Current evidence suggests that diesel exhaust is more potent than these individual toxic constituents (as measured by its unit risk); however, a complete risk assessment would need to compare public exposure to these compounds as well as their potency relative to diesel (Table 6).


Emission Regulations. Today's diesel passenger vehicles are allowed to emit more of two key pollutants, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM), than their gasoline counterparts under existing regulations, the Federal "Tier 1" standards (Table 7). This loophole is largest for diesel automobiles and some small pickups and sport-utility vehicles, for which NOx standards are over two times higher than for gasoline cars. Although gasoline vehicles are not required to meet a PM standard, their emissions are typically 16 times lower than the PM standards for diesel cars.

Diesel exhaust is bad juju, even in relation to gasoline exhaust.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-28 17:51:49.765966+00 by: ebradway

Okay, are you talking about Diesel exhaust using current Petroleum-based Diesel fuel? This is the problem with Diesels - it's not the technology in the drivetrain, it's the crap fuel that's sold in the US.

The odor from current Petroleum-based Diesel fuel is sulfur. Sulfur is removed from gasoline but left in Diesel. This year the Federal Government is mandating reduced sulfur levels in Diesel fuel. According to AFIA

"Reduced sulfur levels for highway-use are planned to reduce PM and NOx by 90% and 95% respectively by 2007."

China has an even more detailed report on the effects of reducing sulfur content in diesel.

But reducing sulfur content is only the first step. Sulfur in the fuel makes diesel particulate filters possible. This reduces diesel emissions well below that of current gasoline engines.

And the final death blow, and the reason I bought a new Diesel-powered VW Jetta wagon, is that I can buy soybean oil-based Biodiesel right here in Chattanooga. Right now they only sell B20, 20% soybean-based but they are hoping to expand. Biodiesel IS[Wiki] a renewable resource. Biodiesel, at least at 100%, contains no sulfur. The exhaust smells like french fries. This isn't waste vegetable oil or pure vegetable oil and requires NO modification to exisiting diesel to run.

Ethanol, the veggie-oil-alcohol-based replacement for gasoline, has only about 60% of the energy content of gasoline. That means if you get 30mpg on gasoline, you'll only get 18mpg on Ethanol. Biodiesel B100 has over 90% of the energy content of petro diesel and, since diesel has a higher energy content than gasoline, my Jetta will get over 35mpg on pure biodiesel. Ethanol is also more volatile than gasoline, making it hazardous to transport. Biodiesel is LESS volatile than petro diesel and is biodegradable. If a biodiesel tanker runs aground, there are no lasting harmful effects. You can drink biodiesel with little more than an upset stomach. According to current estimates, using 6% of existing US cropland would produce enough biodiesel to fuel the entire nation, including electric power plants.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-28 17:57:25.514925+00 by: Mars Saxman

According to current estimates, using 6% of existing US cropland would produce enough biodiesel to fuel the entire nation, including electric power plants.

Hell of a complex way to build a solar-powered car, but hey, whatever works!

#Comment Re: made: 2005-04-28 20:48:14.68845+00 by: meuon [edit history]

You mean all of those farmers receiving checks from the government for not growing things could be receiving money from us for growing things that become biodiesel fuel.. and that it would keep that money in this country.. and.. and..

Can someone give me a reason NOT to be doing this?

SUV Log: Today I made two trips in my truck hauling 1500lbs of rock in each run.. Tuesday we hauled carpet from Dalton to Chickamauga..

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-02 12:12:22.575411+00 by: jeff [edit history]


I have chosen not to participate in the various threads concerning personal tranportation and how to do it most conservationally. The participants have missed the point completely if the point is to have personal transportion that hurts the planet the least. I'm going to offer a viewpoint that I admit contains some gross oversimplification and leaps of logic but I think will illustrate the true cost of transportation ( and really, ANYTHING we consume).

  1. Energy=Money, Money=Energy. Yes. Really. Every single thing we use/consume begins in the ground as raw material. Everything. So the cost of an item is a reflection/measure of the amount of TOTAL energy it takes to manufacture and even market it. All the raw materials to make a vehicle have to be tranported, altered from their original form and then transported again. At the other end--marketeers have to get to meetings and use computers. Salespeople have to get to work, dealerships have to keep the lights on etc. I hope you see the point. The true, total energy cost of any NEW item is HUGE.
  2. So let's look at this. If $=E and the average price of a new car is $28,000---that's $28,000 dollars worth of ("dirty") energy consumed before you even fire it up. Excluding the huge manufacturing cost (including the highly toxic battery pack) your Prius is hauled to the dealership by diesel powered ships and trucks. The same with your Jetta TDI. Many of the parts are made in environmentally insensitive countries. I won't even mention $60,000 Hummer H2s. The intent of H2 owners is obvious. Here I'll insert a wholly unrelated thought---H2 sales have dropped precipitously which gives me hope that there IS a finite number of total assholes on the planet. There, I feel better.
  3. So what personal transportation has the least impact on the health of the planet and it's people? Walking. Anything else is grossly, hugely, filthy. Chinese bicycle factory/foundry environmental impact? Yikes.
  4. Or. Again if Money=Energy=environmental cost, than the real environmental price of any new car plus the comparatively small environmental price of fueling/operating it is huge. If you are truely concerned about the planet I would recommend using the vehicles we have already manufactured to the complete end of their usefulness. And put as many people in them as often as possible to increase the passenger miles per gallon (true efficiency!). Or walk.
  5. My total annual fuel cost driving vehicles already manufactured is approx. $500. I live 6 miles from work. (Long commutes take a terrible toll on the planet and the commuters). If $=energy=environmental cost---that $500 is pretty low impact.
  6. Sorry Biodiesel drivers, Prius owners, and motorcyclists. To even begin to argue the planet sensitive merits of any personal tranportation device is a ludicrous waste time (and ENERGY).

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-02 23:35:32.473442+00 by: Pete

Your friend is wrong.

"Energy=Money, Money=Energy. Yes. Really."

No, not really. That can only be true for commodities, and only for commodities with a constant demand. This does not describe cars.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-03 03:02:37.403887+00 by: jeff [edit history]


Jeff Hunt's comments contain an extremely valuable perspective on this issue, even though, as he admits, it may contain some gross oversimplifications. "All the raw materials to make a vehicle have to be transported, altered from their original form and then transported again. At the other end--marketeers have to get to meetings and use computers. Salespeople have to get to work, dealerships have to keep the lights on etc. I hope you see the point. The true, total energy cost of any NEW item is HUGE." All quite true, and I would add that it isn't limited to new products -- it covers virtually all activities and services. This is an incredibly important concept if you're to grasp the true importance of energy -- overwhelmingly fossil-hydrocarbon based -- to modern civilization.

The key point that may be an oversimplification is that there is a direct 1:1 relationship between energy and money. I think he is absolutely right to point out the relationship between money and energy, but I'm not so sure it's anything like a direct 1:1 relationship. Different items and activities can be much more or less energy intensive, and I suspect that would hold hold true even after you look at the ultimate disposition of the funds involved in its production and distribution. It would be interesting to see what theoretical economist-engineering teams would come up with.

But consider these examples: How much of the direct cost of a $35 tank of gasoline is from energy? Well, the product itself IS energy, plus energy was used to find, extract, refine, and transport the product. So a huge proprotion of the direct cost is energy, but some is paid in salaries and other costs of doing business. Now consider the direct cost of energy in a $35 software package downloaded from the web. Certainly there is energy consumed in the process of writing the software (office lighting and A/C, computers, etc.), but a large amount of the value added is in salaries -- people. But, you say, ah-ha! When you pay people, they use the money to purchase other products and services, and those require energy -- the INDIRECT energy costs of the original products. That's correct, BUT -- some of these purchases by the employees -- secondary purchases -- are of energy intense products and services (fuel for THEIR cars) and some are not (software THEY purchase for personal use). And so, on it goes. I don't see the ULTIMATE proportion of the $35 for the software going to energy alone ever reaching that for the tank of gasoline.

Conclusion #1: If you accept my premise that products and activities have differing ULTIMATE energy costs, then it DOES matter what you buy and what you consume, somewhat independently of how much you spend alone, on how much fossil-hydrocarbon energy is consumed.

This is a good thing, since in the end, all money (except that stuffed in one's mattress) is spent on more activities and products: You either spend what you earn, or you invest it, i.e., you lend it to someone else who spends it on something (capital improvements, home construction) that also uses... guess what? energy. This leads to:

How much total fossil-hydrocarbon energy consumption does it really save to walk instead of drive, or to keep that old car? If you do those things and it saves you money, you will have more money to either spend on or invest in other things that also will use energy (assuming you don't stuff your money in your mattress)! So...

Conclusion #2: ONLY if there are differing ULTIMATE fossil-hydrocarbon energy costs for different goods, services, and activities does it matter how you spend your money, in terms of true TOTAL energy costs.

Conclusion #3: The only way the money you earn does NOT result in energy consumption is to neither spend nor invest it in the general economy. You would have to burn it. (Hmmm... even that releases energy, doesn't it?)

#Comment Re: made: 2005-05-06 16:40:32.349199+00 by: jeff [edit history]

Rising call: Cut US oil imports


It's good to see an apparent "level of awareness" seemingly being raised. Some of the necessary policy decisions are still missing, or very inconsistent, however.

For example:

"One key change is that this year's bill eliminates most tax incentives for alternative fuels and fuel efficiency. Last year's version devoted about 65 percent to fossil-fuel exploration and nuclear research; this year's apportions about 95 percent of tax incentives to them, leaving just 5 percent for conservation and renewable energy, Mr. Nayak says. More than $3 billion in tax incentives for renewables were dropped, according to his analysis. The production tax credit for wind, solar, and other renewable industries expires in 2006. The House bill doesn't renew it."