Thursday, January 03, 2008

CAFE Standards|Part 3|What has happned to the station wagon?

Let me start with some deep thoughts:
Who decided that SUV's were better than the station wagon anyhow?
Why did the words on our bumper stickers change?
From even the framing of the questions we can see what the thinking process is for Kate. 'Who' indicates a conscious decision by an individual or a group that thought as one. Nothing was considered about the incentives that influence decisions for the individuals or corporations. Instead of a framework about personalities, economics thinks about the incentives/disincentives that do not control outcomes but change behaviors of individuals on the margins to alter outcomes in the aggregate. This is one reason I tend to avoid the idea of the "invisible hand of the market". It is not like this invisible hand just moves things around in the chess board, but more like it creates incentives for individuals and businesses to move their individual assets around the giant board called the 'economy'. Just as me and my wife found jobs in Alaska when the markets in Los Angeles was a little soft, thus we moved our human capital around till it gained the most benefits. I hear that Melissa and her husband are planning the same thing.

As far as Kate's second question, it is the most silly question I have read in a long time. A better question is do societies change? Duh!
Originally posted by TrishaB:
Why do Americans insist on having 50 different types of toilet paper to choose when wiping their butt and flushing trees down the toilet? HMMMMMMMM
Again, this is how the market works. If there is a demand for variety then I guess you get it. How many different brands and styles of table salt (iodized or non-iodized) is there in the grocery stores? I personally am glad that we have toilet paper around, as opposed to having to wash xxxx off your hands. Since many people do not wash hands after using the facilities, then I at least want TP for them to use. LOL.
Kate:I'm okay with compartmentalizing our conversations about SUV's and station wagons into a dedicated thread. I'd like to talk about something that has a commonality theme in it. I'm working real hard at being fair minded. All roads lead to world view, but I'm okay with staying away from essential world view stuff for a bit.

And, my brain thinks in connections, and sometimes those connections develop in the process of the conversation.
I have no idea what the first paragraph was suppose to covey in the message, but was funny for her fuzzy thinking. It is good to have cooperative dialogue to explore the issues, but Kate's uses of 'connections' is basic binary thinking. After finding a connection she then assumes 100% connection without looking at the degree in the connection or a more analytical view. So instead of connections being an either or they should be thought at as a probability factor or some other scale from 100% control to very weak correlations. And finally someone to answer the original question:
Originally posted by Rachel:
The real reason station wagons have been replaces with minivans and SUVs has to do with laws requiring auto manufacturers to reduce gas mileage. The rules for average gas mileage over a line of vehicles depends on whether the vehicle is classified as a car or a truck. SUVs at least are classified as trucks according to those laws. What happened is that car manufacturers needed to sell fewer large cars. The market for large cars stayed around, so they replaced it with trucks.
This shouts out CAFE Standards and CAFE Standards II! Earlier Kate brought up some facts about SUVs and safety and now she states:
Rachel, I read somewhere that you can get a huge tax break for a Chevy Suburban, because of how much it weighs, like it weighs as much as a truck. But I don't think that tax break applies to mini-vans and the "regular" sized SUV's. Are you familiar with this angle?
At least Kate does find a very good article about the tax break from an unlikely (IMHO) source:
Yup, I found it, tax break for Suburbans ... BUT looks like it only applies to small business owners, who are pretty savvy at doing their taxes.

The Suburban tax break urban legend lies here.[Loophole Gives SUV Buyers a Tax Break]
But Kate misses the Gorilla in the room (CAFE Standards and CAFE Standards II). Why did her phrase need the qualifier: "who are pretty savvy at doing their taxes"? Any good business tax adviser should know about such breaks.
Originally posted by dk:
The only wagons available today are the few models from Volvo, Mercedes, BMW and Audi.
Which is a good indirect point about the Cafe Standards and European Manufactures. They would rather pay the fines than try to adhere to our standards. Another example of these policies not actually promoting less consumption. He also points out:
The SUV is nothing more than a luxury pickup truck with a cap on it. Most SUV's and Pickups are built on the same frame.
And what does Kate do with this new information?
How does this analysis apply to the exploding Pintos and Vegas? (rear-end collisions caused the carnage in many of these cases; even the most alert and careful driver would not have avoided the disaster)
Stuck more on the safety issue, which was never really an issue for most station wagons and it is pointed out below that neither one of these poorly designed vehicles (but over-hyped on the problems) was the station wagon versions. Even for a short time my parents had a Pinto Station Wagon but it was awful since the back seats were hard plastic. In between bringing up more about SUV safety, Kate states:
cool, Maureen. ... still paying my sedan off, ... wonder what our Congress is driving
I would bet my SUV gets better overall MPG than her Sedan. And more deep thoughts:
I enjoyed this thread. It helped put a lot of the world in perspective for me.
But finally a voice of reason and yes CAFE Standards imposed by Government.
Originally posted by faredman:
Long time no see.
The disappearance of the wagon has to do primarily with CAFE standards. Station wagons are cars, built on car frames and subject to the CAFE standards for cars. SUV's are built on truck frames, and are subject to the much lower mileage requirements for work vehicles.

Auto makers foreign and domestic needed to raise the average economy of "cars", and so dumped the lowest-milage cars from their fleets. However, families still needed to seat 3 + kids, bring big bulky itmes home from the store, pack for vacations, and live through minor accidents. The result was car companies finding a loophole they could drive a truck through.

I love this story because it shows just how ineffective social engineering our way out of problems can be.
And I would agree with the social engineering part but try to be softer about such proactive phrases. And he follows up on someone else's comments:
Originally posted by faredman:
Social engineering? Weren’t the main reasons for enacting CAFE standards reducing pollution and dependency on the foreign oil?

Social engineering is social engineering whether one agrees with the intended result or not. In the name of a very noble cause, CAFE standards amount to an attempt by government to get people (manufacturers AND buyers) to do something they were not otherwise predisposed to do; an attempt to reorder the behavior of the masses by force of law. Consumers continued demanding a product with certain capabilities and producers found a way to deliver it. All that changed was the shape of the 7-passenger gas-hog in most drveways.
And the gerbil can not hear the words or even acknowledge that maybe yes extreme social engineering caused the extinction of the station wagon.

I first got interested in these issues when I went down to Saturn over 10 years ago and asked to see what models of Station Wagons they had. The sales man kept saying negative things about the one green display model he had. And always an astute observer of what incentives there are this made me wonder about these issues. Ultimately I did not get that vehicle and ended up with a Grand Am that replaced a variety of small cars including my first car I paid for-a Honda Civic Station Wagon.

Just during my lunch break I also took a note of how many station wagons I could spot. Using this non-scientific method, I saw 7 station wagons with one brand and all others spotted was one. The brand was Volvo. Obviously they market to a certain segment and as such did not abandon their market.

One of the articles by PBS, I feel that I should have covered more was: Why is the sport utility vehicle so popular?
I think the article brought up some important points but thinking that the station wagon was the transformation process into the mini-van is sloppy thinking. First and most importantly it is called a van for a reason. During the late 60s and early 70s the normal van (for work or hauling large number of people) was transformed by the 'custom vans'. So the mini-vans in my opinion is a transformation of the basic van design and not the station wagon.
Congress, remember, passed legislation [Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE), in 1975] that downsized cars. After the downsizing of cars, you ended up with a minivan. But then minivans were like extensions of station wagons. And people had this sense that they didn't want to be soccer moms. Young families didn't want to move kids only in those vehicles. ... Kids go to college every year, and they wanted something that was a little more sporty, a little more aggressive. And it expressed a sense of individuality. I think sport utility vehicles were almost like John Wayne vehicles. It was the excitement of discovery, the excitement of America, the rugged individual. ...

Links (PBS):
Why is the sport utility vehicle so popular?

[In the wake of Ford-Firestone] we have been talking about tires. But is this the scandal we should be talking about?

NHTSA and the hidden history of the SUV

Frontline/Rollovers/The Hidden History of the SUV



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