Americans, Cars, and George Will’s Habit of Getting It Wrong
by Bill Chameides | January 13th, 2014
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
For 32 years, the Ford F-150, shown here from back in the day and in 2013, has been America's best-selling vehicle. But what does that say and what doesn't it say? (Top photo: Flickr/dave_7. Bottom photo: Flickr/Motor74.)
The F-150 notwithstanding, Americans are choosing more efficient cars.
George Will has been described as an “intellectual,” as “erudite,” “brilliant,” even “brainy.” If you’ve ever heard him on television, you’d have to admit that his opinion of his own intellect seems to be quite high. And yet for such an erudite and brainy fellow, it’s amazing how often he gets it wrong when it comes to things environmental. (No comment on his other positions.) TheGreenGrok has covered a few of his anti-green gaffes over the years (see here and here, for example) and now we do so yet again.
Will’s Take on More Efficient Vehicles in America
Mr. Will’s latest “you got it wrong again” diatribe appeared in his recent column “Liberalism By Gesture” (Washington Post, January 8, 2014). From its title, the piece would seem to have little to do with the environment unless you believe that environmental issues are political in nature — which I do not and Will apparently does. However, the column quickly turns into a rant against government regulations aimed at improving vehicle fuel economy and thereby lowering pollution, including greenhouse gases emissions.
Will claims that such policies are intended to “wean [American consumers] … from the desire to drive large, useful, comfortable, safe vehicles … [and make them] want wee vehicles.” Citing the fact the Ford F-150 pickup has been the best-selling vehicle for 32 years straight, Will concludes that policies to improve the fuel economy of the American fleet are doomed to failure because they don’t recognize the desire of the American consumer and are little more than a liberal gesture and the “climate may not understand the importance of gestures.” (I wonder by this, if we may conclude that Will finally accepts the linkage between greenhouse gases and climate.)
It’s Not Size That Counts
The fact is that policy makers couldn’t care less about the size of the vehicles folks drive. The objective is to get drivers to drive vehicles with better fuel economy. Unfortunately, Mr. Will would seem to be stuck in a 20th century time warp unable to recognize that, with technological advances in materials and powertrains, it is possible to greatly enhance a car’s efficiency without radically altering its size.
And the fact is, the fuel economy of many vehicles being bought in the United States has increased markedly. According to a recent report of the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the “average sales-weighted fuel-economy rating (window sticker) of purchased new vehicles” increased in 2013 for the sixth consecutive year. Since 2007, the average fuel economy increased by almost 20 percent, from 20.8 miles per gallon to 24.7 miles per gallon. And by the way, Mr. Will, this occurred at the same time that many Americans were choosing to buy F-150s.
The Ford F-150’s Makeover
And while we’re on the subject of the F-150, ironies of ironies, right on the heels of Mr. Will’s column pointing to F-150 sales as evidence that fuel economy-boosting policies are no more than a “gesture” came this New York Times article: “The F-150’s Aluminum Diet.” Ford, it turns out, is redesigning its classic truck “making one of the boldest product gambles in its 111-year history” — “switching to a body that is largely lightweight aluminum … to improve fuel economy.” (See CNN video here.) Ford estimates that with this redesign, the pickup will achieve close to 30 miles per gallon. As you can see from the above graphic, that would place the F-150 well above the average of new vehicles sold in 2013. I’d call that a victory for the policies Mr. Will is so quick to deride.
Mr. Will might choose to keep his head buried in the sand, but it appears that a major transformation is occurring in Americans’ automobile-buying habits. Not necessarily a shift to smaller cars, but, rather, with technological innovation, a shift to those that take us more miles on less fuel — no matter what the fuel. And, as it turns out, the change we’re witnessing is not just about the cars we buy and drive, it’s also about our driving behavior — specifically, less of it. To learn more about that, stop by tomorrow.
Further Reading:filed under: automobile, energy, faculty, transportation
and: cars, efficiency, Ford F-150, fuel economy, George Will, greenhouse gas emissions, technology