Why do I find it interesting? Because I, being a hugely data-driven nerd, have been obsessively thinking about this issue for quite some time, and I feel that the rational choice for me is hardly to drive a Prius. In fact, in my circumstances I think the rational choice might be to drive the biggest SUV that I can find. How did I come to this seemingly absurd conclusion, pray tell? Well, I'm glad that you asked:jag wrote:If average Joe would actually do a rational cost-benefit analysis we would be way ahead. People would buy houses they could actually afford, so no housing bubble; drive vehicles (or use other transportation options) that make sense, instead of behemoth SUV and trucks; demand efficiency and accountability from corporate and public enterprise as well as government, instead of being swayed by empty campaign promises etc.etard wrote:I bet there are people flocking to the dealerships test driving the Prius this weekend because of rising gas prices. I love it! But in the end, they go home and do cost analysis spreadsheets etc... it all comes down to the dollar.
All of this could be done by most people if they tried. But somehow the idea to apply the math skills learned in school, even the most basic ones, is foreign to most people, often even highly educated people as well.
I, like most people, usually use my vehicle to commute to work. I actually put more miles on my motorcycle than my car, but I will always need some sort of 4 wheeled vehicle as a backup in case of inclement weather and for the unfortunate but necessary days in which I work overnight. As it so happens, I'm a physician, and that's relevant in that my hours are odd and the hospital never shuts down for snow days. It's also relevant in that while I'd be inclined to choose the cheapest option that met my needs I won't be strictly confined to models at a low price point.
How long will my future commute be? I'll never attempt an absurd Central Valley-to-LA type commute since I like to do things other than sit in traffic, but I also will most definitely not be living in some townhome or apartment right in the center of a city because both my wife and I are (noisy, obnoxious to neighbors) musicians, and because I desire both a garage and a yard. So we've established thus far that I will need a reliable 4 wheeled vehicle that'll shrug off snow and inclement weather and which has a range suitable for a medium distance commute. At this point, any late model Japanese FWD car with snow tires might look like the sanest option. Hell, even something like a Nissan Leaf might work for this purpose.
Making the commute a little less painful
Next up, and specific to me, is what toys I want. If I can't lanesplit as when on the motorcycle then there's a non-negligible chance that I'll be stuck in traffic now and then. My inner hedonistic tech-nerd tells me that having a quiet, luxurious car with some sort of adaptive or dynamic radar-based cruise control would be the way to make the most out of traffic, as it were. At this point, we've suddenly jumped up in price point a lot, but there are still options as "lowly" as, say, a Lexus HS 250h or various and sundry European models that'd meet the criteria spelled out thus far. The Leaf still hangs on the list, but just barely, because its quietness might make up for its lack of fancy toys.
Safety, or strength via mass?
Then we come to safety. Cue the incredulous cries: You're concerned about safety, yet you often commute on crowded roads on a motorcycle and a bicycle? Actually, yes, I actually am concerned about safety. While I make the conscious decisions to ride my motorcycle (because it's fun and because it's a good tool to beat traffic when the weather is calm) and my bicycle (for the health benefits mainly) knowing that they carry an inherently higher risk of injury, I also take explicit actions to minimize that risk. I'm an ATGATT high-viz-jacket-wearing/white full-face helmet/auxiliary lighting and brake flasher-equipped kind of motorcyclist, and my bicycles have both reflectors and active front and rear lighting despite the "uncoolness." I've done advanced rider training and actively work on my riding skills since the rider's actions are so large a part of control when on two wheels. I also carry good medical and life insurance because I recognize and accept that other drivers may intrude on my personal space at any time and ruin my day.
Anyway, back to safety. As part of my investigation into the IIHS 2011 driver fatality rate statistics (done for fun on my own time--did I mention I'm data driven? ) I've come to see that my previously held notions about car safety weren't strictly true. As I put it in the linked post:
More data comes in the form of the NBER's just released paper entitled The Pounds That Kill. In it, the authors demonstrate not only that large vehicles are safe, but that every 1000 extra pounds that a large vehicle carries there's a ~47% increase in fatality risk for the other drivers/pedestrians/motorcyclists with whom they may be involved in an accident. They also estimate that the gasoline tax would need to be raised by $1.08 over its current levels in order to account for this external risk.I used to resent the large vehicles that soccer moms throughout the US tend to favor. I thought that they only lent a false sense of security, what with their bulk, high seating position, and, often these days, high "cocooning" door sills. I thought that superior active safety, the increased nimbleness and maneuverability that a smaller, lighter car offers, would trump passive safety when the time of reckoning arrived.
I was wrong.
It turns out that, all other things being equal, physics trumps all... and now, thanks to lower rates of SUV rollovers, "all other things" are indeed equal.
The intersection of politics and personal choice
Next we have to consider that I live in the US of A. This is relevant in a few ways.
First, it means that I'm not in the EU, where congestion charging and vehicle tax proportional to CO2 output is the norm. Second, it means that there's generally plenty of room for a large vehicle in terms of road construction and parking availability. Third, it means that we have a hell of a lot of unlicensed and uninsured motorists on the road driving a wide variety of vehicles that range from rustbuckets on bald tires that are one baling wire away from falling apart completely to brand new luxoboats. Fourth, the general selfish nature of our people means that distracted driving is all too common and likely to increase in the future.
Fifth, and possibly the most importantly, it means that we have a political system in which our choices are right of center (Obama and mainline Democrats) and far, far to the right of center (Republicans). There's no coalition system of government where a minority of, say, Green Party politicians could wield any power. For better or worse, our political system is also very buddy-buddy with industry. Because of these factors I predict that there's about 0 chance whatsoever that we'll implement a carbon tax, or even raise our meager 18.3 cents per gallon Federal gas tax. There's not a snowball's chance in hell that we'd raise gas taxes by an additional $1.08 in order to internalize the external risk to other road occupants that massive vehicles create. Populist pandering and the widespread prevalence of large vehicles (Ford F-150, anyone?) also mean that we'll probably never see a truly progressive fee schedule for vehicle registration, either.
Where am I going with this? I'm trying to paint a picture in which it's clear that there are no governmental incentives to steer people away from large vehicles, and in which policies, for better or worse, are likely to stay the same in that the negative externalities of gasoline use are not borne by the individual driver in the form of a Pigovian tax of some sort.
Basically, President Obama wants you to drive a big car or SUV.
Conscience and Altruism
Some would object at this point and say that one's conscience would dictate the choice of a vehicle that saved resources in general (see: subcompact non-hybrid bargain basement car) or one that saved gasoline and lowered GHG emissions in particular (see: Prius and Leaf alike). I say bollocks to that. As we've established earlier in my thread on the futility of the Prius, I'm unwilling to be a martyr to a cause when the incentives are all lined up against me and the effort will be ultimately futile due to factors entirely outside of my control. Plus, as per the above, I want to be as safe as possible, and have the most relaxing experience in my "cage" while I'm cocooned within it.
What about altruism, you ask? If government regulations won't internalize the externalities, won't good will towards your fellow man inspire you to save the commons through your own unilateral action? Well, no, not in my case it won't. As I wrote above, we're a selfish, distracted, undertrained, poorly equipped driving nation on the whole. The uninsured motorist who may hit me while texting will have exhibited no altruism in his actions, and, as with the environmental issue, I'm not going to be a martyr to a failing cause.
Off to the showroom!
We can finally take a look at the vehicles out there after all that thought and rationalization done beforehand. By distilling down the above and thinking about what I'd want, I come up with this list of attributes:
- MPG be damned, as our gas will be cheaper than the rest of the world via our policies, for better or worse, and because I realize that depreciation on any nice/newer model vehicle I may buy will be far greater an expense than fuel cost itself
- Cost not a huge issue as long as it's not some six-figure exotic
- Really big/massive, so as to minimize my risk and because there exist no real incentives other than fuel economy to not go big
- Luxurious, with adaptive cruise control and cooled (not just heated) seats
- Not ostentatious. This one isn't a rational thing but rather a cultural thing. I'd never consider a Cadillac Escalade, for example, because I think their image is far too flashy and trashy simultaneously.
- Reliable, so many of the European marques are out of the running instantly, including BMW, Audi, Mercedes, and Range Rover in particular
- Sure-footed since I'll be in inclement weather, so why not opt for 4WD while at it since mileage isn't a concern?
- Good outward visibility, since although I mention "cocoons" in passing above I don't want to actually feel as if I'm in one. I don't want a tank with slits for windows or a cartoonish vehicle penned by a teenager--I'm looking at you, Infiniti FX.
- Handling prowess at the limits of traction doesn't really matter, as I'm a cruise control-at-the-speed limit-in-the-right lane kind of driver these days
Put all this together, and the vehicle that seems to fit the best isâ€¦ this 6000 lb monstrosity.
May I present my (hypothetical) future vehicle, the Lexus LX 570.
Any comments, besides the inevitable tl;dr and "Wow, you have a lot of free time on your hands"? (To address the second point, I did have a lot of time on my hands in between cases this weekend, as I was in house at the hospital for fully 48 of the 72 hours of the long weekend and then couldn't sleep very well in the intervening 24 hours at home. I wrote much of this then, albeit in a more disorganized form.)
Cliffs Notes: Given the right set of inputs even a very rational individual can come to the conclusion that driving a barge of an SUV is the proper choice.