Friday, January 7, 2011

The Car Chronicles: Caronomics

When I bought our new Sienna, I got a few predictable comments about it being obscenely large and therefore a gas-guzzler, and what an interesting time for someone with my education and insight to be making that kind of long-term investment, so I thought I'd speak to that.

To begin, I have two major consumer dislikes as follows:

(1) I hate large houses because of the wastes of energy, resources, and money that they represent.  As I explained in Home Is Born, the only reason why our house exceeds 2,000 square feet in HVAC'd area is that I needed space for my business.  Our personal living space is only 57% the size of the average new house being built in comparable Houston suburbs.   

(2) I hate small cars because of the wastes of opportunity that they represent.  The only thing they can do is carry your fat, stationary ass from Point A to Point B, but that's the least of what they should be doing for you if you have a healthy active lifestyle.  You can't load bicycles into small cars, you can't sleep in them, you can't load thirteen-foot crepe myrtles into them or other large landscaping supplies.  You can't hurricane-evacuate in them very well at all, and you sure as hell can't put 4x8 sheets of plywood into them and shut all the doors.  Small cars can't be parked in random forested locations and turned into temporary play-forts for young children, but a van is a complete house-on-wheels.  And small cars can't haul trailers or even carry inflatable boats; they have neither the power nor the size.  And of course, you can scratch carpooling off your list entirely if you have a small car. 

In other words, it's not what you have - it's what you do with it.  Just because you have something doesn't mean that you have to use it excessively.  For those who are fixated upon energy consumption, my advice is to go smaller where your uses are chronic and perpetual (houses) and go larger where your needs are more acute but strongly discontinuous (cars).

I put 6,000 personal miles on my Sienna last year.  Not bad, especially considering that I have a child who must be driven to a Magnet school for which no bus service is offered by the ISD.  The damned Magnet school alone accounted for 3,200 of those miles, so that's an astonishingly small amount of non-school-related personal travel overall: 2,800 miles. 

I also put another 6,000 business miles on my car, which was kind of unavoidable because I was under contract to others and required to do it (in other words, it wasn't discretionary). 

I did not exceed the American average of 12,000 miles per year.  Except UNLIKE most Americans, I squeezed the running of a commercial business into my mileage equation (most Americans who must do some driving for work would use company cars, so their actual driving mileage would be much higher than their personal averages if both were combined).

So where's the consumer immorality if I'm actually using the obscenely-large asset in a way that minimizes expenditures of energy and money? 

Even with my relatively low numbers, I continue to look for new ways to reduce my consumption in that regard.  Yes, I do know that gasoline prices will likely rise significantly during my ownership of the thing.  If they do, I'll find new ways to reduce my driving.  But I want that car to be available in all its glorious capacity when we absolutely must have that size in order to continue our normal activities.  The next camping trip, the next hurricane evacuation, the next extended-family outing (why take two cars when mine seats eight people?!?!), the next Girl Scout carpool to some event.

Incidentally, the damned thing is not even that obscene, as far as consumption goes.  In my first 1,000 miles of driving, I averaged a steady 23 mpg combined highway and city driving (it's rated for 19/24/20 but I religiously use its "Eco" monitor to control the way I feed gasoline into the engine).  A 2011 Ford Explorer is smaller and nowhere near as versatile, but probably could not equal that kind of mpg (they're rated for 17/25).

On a related note, my cousin sent me this eight-minute discourse, which I found to be fairly concise:

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