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Vehicular Genocide

2 August, 2009 (14:18) | Politics

Cash-For-Clunkers

Late last week, the House of Representatives announced they were seeking additional funding for the Cash for Clunkers program. The program, which allocated 1 billion dollars in subsidies and government assistance to those trading older, less fuel efficient cars for newer models with better gas mileage, will shut down Tuesday without new funding despite being scheduled to run through November. According to multiple sources, the House passed a bill on Friday securing 2 billion dollars in funding to continue the program. The Senate is slated to vote on the bill this week.

I fully support stimulating the economy in an effort to make life better, especially when that stimulus comes in the form of a plan to get more fuel efficient cars on the road. I couldn’t care less that the Cash for Clunkers program is more effective at shipping dollars to foreign car companies, but it seems counterintuitive when the plan was also intended to help save the auto industry, as the auto industry is a symptom of a far greater issue (I’ll get to that later). Adding 2 billion to the program, while seemingly noble at first, has a big hurdle to cross:

Where’s the money coming from?

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is one of the many senators who are wary of adding new funding. Many in the Senate would consider rerouting other stimulus money, but it begs the question from where. here have been reports that the 2 billion will be coming out of energy loans intended to develop better renewable energy sources. If that’s true, we may simply be trading our long-term future along with our clunkers.

Renewable and alternative energy was an important piece to Obama’s campagin for the presidency, and his early maneuvers showed a lot of follow-through. Cutting fuding from prospective changes could not only cost us in the short term by restricting research and expansion of new and more efficient types of power, but in the long term by stunting our advancement and maintaining our dependence on environmentally unfriendly power sources. That’s not a trade I’m fond of.

It’s a near certainty that the Cash for Clunkers program will pass the Senate, but not without some changes. Environmentalists have pointed out that the fuel-efficiency upgrade required is paltry and virtually non-existent. An owner of a 2002 Toyota 4Runner (16 MPG) could upgrade to a 2009 model (18 MPG). While Senators Diane Feinstein of California and Susan M. Collins of Maine both want the required gas-mileage increase to be better, my favorite idea comes from Ed Wagner, a bicyclist. He suggests that Cash for Clunkers should allow for people to trade in their cars for bicycles, which is the ultimate gas-mileage upgrade.

As much as I love the idea of a bicycle riding public, the current urban design of the US makes it impossible for many to bike, bus or walk. This is the flaw of the American dream itself. Our desire for the suburban home with a backyard has sprawled us past the point of public and man-powered transport, and without a serious look at massive, nation-wide urban-renewal, as well as a social shift to being able to live in smaller shared spaces, we are doomed to be attached to our cars and trucks.

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  • denisethornton

    We can all drive more fuel efficient cars starting today without spending a dime – it’s a matter of adjusting our driving habits. I learned a ton at an eco-driving workshop at this summer’s Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. Check out the top ten tips at http://digginginthedriftless.wordpress.com/2009

  • TheOldBear

    While I know that many people are concerned that foreign automakers are benefiting from this program, one must keep in mind that it does have the effect of increasing the overall US fleet economy, providing jobs for US employees of car dealerships, and getting Americans to feel optimistic enough to spend money on a new car. In spite of concern about the number of “foreign” cars being purchased, many of these cars have import labels but are actually manufactured in the USA. And, because of our free trade agreements, other countries are free to implement similar programs allowing their citizens to buy US marques like GM, Ford and Chrysler. (Assuming that GM, Ford and Chrysler manufacture cars which are sufficiently attractive.)

    Quite some time ago, the electric power company in Southern California ran a similar incentive program as a way of getting polluting cars off the road — which was cheaper than placing emissions controls on their power plants. It seems illogical, but in reality it makes perfect sense.

    I don't know where the 16mpg to 18mgp Toyota 4Runner example in your text comes from. As I understand the program, there must be at least a 4mpg increase in average fuel economy between the “clunker” and the new car.
    That gets you $3500. And a 10 mpg increase gets you $4500. Starting from a 16 mpg “clunker”, that's a 25% to
    62.5% increase in fuel efficiency. IMHO, that seems seriously significant.

    There is a problem with the program in that it does not allow one to purchase a used car. For many people, even with the incentive, a new car is financially out of reach. Hence the program helps the affluent to drive newer, more fuel efficient cars, while leaving the less affluent forced to spend more on fuel and to generate more carbon dioxide and pollutants.

    The bottom line is that this program is not perfect but that it does do a lot of good. Perfection is something to which we all aspire — but should never be used as an excuse for not doing good.

  • AceHarmon

    The 16-18 MPG quote was a complaint registered by senator Diane Feinstein and quoted in the New York Times article as follows:

    Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, noted that the government had raised the minimum fuel economy for sport utility vehicles and pickups, so that simply junking an older one and buying the 2009 model year could qualify as trading in a clunker. For example, this was true for a Toyota 4Runner (16 miles per gallon in 2002 and 18 miles per gallon in 2009) and a Chevy Silverado (14 miles per gallon in 2005 and 16 miles per gallon in 2009). But supporters of the program said those trades were unlikely because the market value of the old vehicles exceeded what the government offered for scraping them.

    She certainly might be mistaken or the New York Times may not have done the proper research to negate the bad math, but if that's true, then my lack of research is equally to fault.

    I don't personally mind that foreign automakers are getting a benefit from this program, and I'm well aware of the US factories and dealers involved benefit, but it is a short-term benefit and one that, as Alan Greenspan pointed out here (unfortunately on Fox News), is more indicative of an already rebounding economy where people think spending is ok rather than a program that actually stimulates the economy. And while I appreciate that the intention and effect is good to an extent, I also believe that it's supportive of a culture that's already spiraled out of control (see above points on urban planning and urban renewal).

  • TheOldBear

    You (and the senator) are correct. For some big SUVs, the “Cash-for-Clunkers” only requires a 2mpg improvement. But the figures so far show that the average consumer trade-in results in a 9mpg improvement in fuel efficiency. I have not seen any detailed aggregate figures, but $1-billion results in about 300,000 vehicles at $3500 each. And, if the average driver goes 12,000 miles per year, that's about 1,350 gallons x 300,000 drivers, or about 400-million gallons of gasoline saved. I have no idea how to convert this to tons of carbon dioxide, but I'm sure it's a lot. (Also, I did these calculations hastily on a piece of scrap paper, so you should check my numbers and make sure I did not misplace a decimal point or something.)

  • TheOldBear

    You (and the senator) are correct. For some big SUVs, the “Cash-for-Clunkers” only requires a 2mpg improvement. But the figures so far show that the average consumer trade-in results in a 9mpg improvement in fuel efficiency. I have not seen any detailed aggregate figures, but $1-billion results in about 300,000 vehicles at $3500 each. And, if the average driver goes 12,000 miles per year, that's about 1,350 gallons x 300,000 drivers, or about 400-million gallons of gasoline saved. I have no idea how to convert this to tons of carbon dioxide, but I'm sure it's a lot. (Also, I did these calculations hastily on a piece of scrap paper, so you should check my numbers and make sure I did not misplace a decimal point or something.)