If They Build It, Will You Buy It?

By Daniel Rodrigues
Published August 11, 2011

Riding on the coattails of the US Government, Canada is joining in on the push to get automobile manufacturers to produce more fuel efficient vehicles. The proposal being brought forward will see all new trucks and cars essentially double their fuel efficiency over the current level by 2025. This new standard would put Canada and USA's fuel efficiencies on par with vehicles produced in Europe, China & Japan.

There is no question that a newer, more efficient vehicle would bring benefits: to the owner in terms of reduced operating costs for fuel; to the environment in reduced greenhouse gas emissions; and to the economy with less reliance on the global oil market, which in turn would translate into reduced volatility of gas prices at the pump.

With all those great reasons noted above, why would the automobile industry put up a fight to see this change brought into rule? Well for them, changing the fuel efficiency of a vehicle goes beyond simple electronics, and requires changes to allow for greater reliance on biofuels, electrification, coupled with body style and size. That alone would cost billions of dollars in upgrading/updating their production facilities - a cost they are unable to bear in these current economic conditions.

That increased cost to produce will most likely translate into higher purchase costs for the consumer. And from a point-of-purchase view, the consumer is less inclined to spend more when the economy is in turmoil.

Another consumer-driven concern being raised by the manufacturers is the current purchasing habits of their customers. Sales of SUVs, vans, and other high-fuel consumption vehicles continue to occur, whereas sales of fuel-efficient smaller style vehicles account for less than 3% of the current domestic market. Absent of consumer demand, manufacturers are less-than-receptive to government intervention.

The proposed new standards are expected to be released in September, and then brought into force following public meetings early next year. Indications seem to indicate that the US Government's opening bid may be lowered. As well, the manufacturers are lobbying to ensure the State of California doesn't set a standard of its own.

So now comes the question: Would you buy a smaller pick-up or SUV for more money than that larger style? Would you pay more for a vehicle knowing that you're reducing your 'carbon footprint'? If they build it, would you buy it?

Originally published on Dan's website.

Dan Rodrigues was born and raised in London, Ontario, where he was an active community member in East London. He moved to Hamilton in late 1996, residing on the East Mountain. He has been married for 27 years, with a son who works with adults with physical and mental disabilities, and a daughter completing her degree in Chemistry at Western University this coming year. He is an active community volunteer, sitting on a number of committees and Boards, as well as coaching soccer. His professional life includes food and beverage industry sales and consulting, building industry sales, human resources consulting, and transportation consulting. Dan's diverse skills inventory allows for fuller discussion and better understanding of individual and community concerns. Currently, Dan is campaigning to be the Ward Six Councillor.


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted August 11, 2011 at 12:19:08

As driving gets more expensive it also gets less affordable, and that means an abundance of cheap used cars. Will new, greener cars be able to compete with these if they're more expensive than standard new cars now?

Most of the energy use and pollution produced by a car happens before you buy it. Extracting ores, smelting metals and running production lines emits more carbon than you're ever likely to manage with the tailpipe. Buying a new car, even if it's fuelled by happiness, cuddles and sunshine is not a "greener" option if there's any life left in your current vehicle.

This isn't to say we shouldn't work towards cleaner cars, but we need to put it in context. As important as new "greener" cars are, there's also the need to look at our existing vehicles. How do we use them more effectively? Car shares and carpooling networks are a good start, as well as maintaining and upgrading the cars we already have.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted August 11, 2011 at 18:42:16 in reply to Comment 67861

Buying a new car, even if it's fuelled by happiness, cuddles and sunshine...


Beautiful! Thanks for that.

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By Bradley (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2011 at 14:24:35 in reply to Comment 67861

"Most of the energy use and pollution produced by a car happens before you buy it. Extracting ores, smelting metals and running production lines emits more carbon than you're ever likely to manage with the tailpipe"

not disagreeing with you, but I'm wondering if this is a researched fact. I often hear of the idea of 'embedded energy" but never see it quantified. In the case of a car, I'd be surprised that the unit energy cost of producing a car is greater than the energy savings over its lifetime if an alternative is twice as efficient.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 11, 2011 at 12:22:17 in reply to Comment 67861

Indeed. The easiest and cheapest way to reduce energy consumption and pollution is simply to drive less.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted August 11, 2011 at 22:25:23

^Quite. The U.S. has been the largest consumer of gasoline as a result of poor planning and an extreme aversion to conservation. However, Khazoom-Brookes posutlate tell us that as fuel efficiency improves, we paradoxically consume more fuel. The average U.S. driver once drove 9000 miles/annum, and after years of slow improvement to fuel efficiency, that number crept up to 12 000 miles/a.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 03:56:48

What vehicles with twice the mileage are produced in China, Japan and Europe that are not available here? It is not a matter of the vehicles not being available but consumers not buying them. It may take legislation removing SUV's from the market to stop people from buying them.

I suspect in 15 years the electric car movement will be a much bigger market force.

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2011 at 09:47:02

To add to the above comments (which are very much appreciated), Canadians have steadily purchased more fuel over the last 5-years (with a small decline in 2008). Here are the numbers according to StatsCan: 2006: 38.65 billion litres 2007: 39.63 billion litres 2008: 39.15 billion litres 2009: 39.71 billion litres 2010: 40.56 billion litres

With the recent changes in legislation requiring all Provinces to have at least 5% of fuel sold contain renewable fuel content, the net result means that Canadians will have to visit the gas station more often. While the addition of renewable fuels to gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the fuel economy deteriorates resulting in more fill-ups. Using data like the above may not necessarily mean that we are driving more, but rather just consuming more...

While I don't necessarily disagree with Ryan's "simply to drive less" approach, I think the better phrase would be to "drive more responsibly". As a person who's business demands require me to drive almost daily, I would rather have a vehicle which attains double my mileage and reduces its impact on the environment. Based on the current pushback from the automobile manufacturers, I'll likely be in my retirement years before I'll be able to get behind the wheel of one of those vehicles (affordably)!

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 12, 2011 at 14:19:22

The only way that the car buying public as a whole is going to switch to smaller vehicles is if the price of gas goes up significantly.

Unfortunately, no politician is willing to sacrifice their career by doing so.

Until then manufacturers can modify pricing to encourage people to buy the smaller vehicles but there isn't a lot else that they can do.

That being said, fuel economy isn't really a concern for me when I buy my vehicle. I'm looking for practicality and fun factor, not necessarily in that order.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted August 15, 2011 at 11:58:15

I think many people end up buying larger vehicles because they need them on occasion and the fixed costs of ownership (licensing, insurance, road taxes, etc.) don't change regardless of how much, or how little, one's wheels are actually used. For instance, I would love to have a Smart car for running urban errands and a minivan for camping trips or taking kids to soccer games. Unfortunately, this would mean my insurance rates would double, even if only one vehicle were ever used at a time (there are two registered drivers in our family and, apparently, this makes a difference). Allow people to pay, across the board, for the amount of use a vehicle gets, rather than rates that don't change regardless of the kilometres driven, and I think you'd see a change in buying patterns and driving habits pretty quick. If there's one tool in the toolbox, it'll be a hammer, not a set of screwdrivers suited to their tasks.

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