Perhaps like many politically incorrect car enthusiasts, I am growing weary of all this misguided hybrid worship. Equally tiring is the blathering on about the evils of SUVs. This condemnation of practical vehicles isn’t just limited to greenies mind you. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson leads the charge against large vehicles by journos across the pond, but they exist here too. At least the folks in Europe and the UK have a point that their roads aren’t big enough for anything bigger than a Fiat 500.
Here in North America though, we have proper roads that were designed to accommodate land yachts. Back in the Fifties to Seventies, we had sedans and wagons that had cavernous cargo areas and massive seating possibilities. In the Eighties we saw the invention of the minivan and large SUVs made the transition from work truck to passenger vehicle. Through the 90’s to the present, the roads have had their fair share of SUVs and mini vans, which also offer a wide variety of seating and cargo options. The common thread here is that North Americans tend to have larger families and carry more stuff than the masses in other parts of the world. While I’m not doing the research to make this a scientific statement, I would guess that far fewer families over there tow boats, snowmobiles, RV’s, jet skis and the like.
Let’s face reality and realize that vehicles the size of a troop carrier aren’t going away any time soon, at least not in the US of A.
Over the past week, the Grant family piled into a 2009 Nissan Armada and traveled around Pennsylvania. The first thing that impressed me was that the 317 horsepower, 5.6l V8 powered behemoth consistently covered well over 600 kilometers on every tank of gasoline. Given that I usually consider a 500 km range to be an average design range, I thought this was pretty good. The next thing I noticed was that the most gas I installed in the rather large tank was about 57 US dollars. What an incredible truck! Comfortable, quiet, powerful AND cheap to operate!
Until I got home.
The final tank was over 640 km. So far so good. The fuel dispenser nozzle shut off at about 98 liters. Hmmm – I hadn’t thought about how big 24 or 25 gallons is. The finally tally on the pump was about $97 Cdn. With the current exchange that works out to $90.70 greenbacks. Over $30 difference for the same quantity of fuel.
Somehow I doubt that North Americans are going to stop squeezing out babies any time soon and our hobbies aren’t likely to change all that much in the coming years. We’ve been driving these things for 60 years and I think it would be naive to think we are going to stop. Oh sure, there will be a blip (ok, more than a blip) in sales of large vehicles for the next couple of years while the market responds to the fear of looking bad in front of their hybrid driving neighbors. Then, Mom & Dad are going to realize that cramming their 3 kids into a sedan isn’t very comfortable.
The other end of that equation is the false economy involved. Most hybrids don’t save enough fuel to offset the drastically higher costs involved in purchasing one over a traditional model. The sheer size of our continent and cities means that most drivers spend most of their time on a highway of some sort, where the hybrid doesn’t actually provide any economy benefits. How about the family trip when the grandparents are piled in on top of the kids and everyone has a nice comfy seat to themselves and there is still room to carry all the flotsam. How much fuel are we saving when Gramps and Granny have to tag along behind in another car?
Here in Canada where our fuel (like just about everything else) costs 30% more than it does south of the border, the transition back to large vehicles may take a bit longer than it does south of the border but it will happen. In the States, where gasoline has gone back to being cheap again, I’d be willing to bet that the market swings back much sooner. Perhaps, rather than focusing on hybrids that cost a fortune more than traditional vehicles, manufacturers will finally start building our SUVs with clean diesels that are actually economical to operate.