The trend to bigger, higher vehicles is killing us in more ways than one.
We wrote earlier that Ford is getting out of the car business in the USA, suggesting that there was an inverse relationship between the price of gas and the size of light trucks, which is what SUVs and pickups are classed as in the rulebooks. But according to Dan Neil, writing in the Wall Street Journal, the reasons are more complex than that.
The original SUV, the Ford Explorer, took advantage of the fact that when the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules were brought in, they did not apply to trucks. This was changed, but they still have an advantage; Neil writes:
In 2011, the industry won a change in the EPA’s calculation of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE). The “footprint rule”—which refers to the area within the perimeter of the four wheels—calculates a vehicle’s fuel economy as a function of its size. The rule change effectively incentivizes building larger vehicles by holding them to progressively easier standards. As a result, the largest and most profitable vehicles also enjoy the lowest relative costs of compliance. The rule change also constituted a backdoor tariff on more efficient imports, but that’s another story.
Interestingly, so-called "crossover" vehicles that are built like cars (without frames) but are four-wheel drive are also considered light trucks, so they benefit from the footprint rule as well. And now that the EPA is rolling back the CAFE 2015 rules that the auto makers all agreed to when they took their bailout money, Ford doesn't need the little fuel efficient cars to balance the consumption of the big profitable ones.
Neil notes that EPA secretary Pruitt justifies the rollback of the CAFE standards by saying that there is "consumer demand" for larger vehicles.
Really? Are hills steeper now? Are boats harder to tow? Are families larger, or pieces of 4x8 plywood? The latest generation of supersize vehicles offers little in the way of real-world advantages over its predecessors. In many cases it’s just more unused capacity....Automakers always say they just aim to give the customer what they want, but they never mention the billions in advertising and marketing spent convincing customers what they want. Just like in the 1990s, the industry is pushing larger vehicles precisely because they are profitable.
And because the USA doesn't have standards for pedestrian safety like they have in Europe, they are also far deadlier; you are three times as likely to die if you are hit by a light truck as you are if you are hit by a passenger car. So between the increased pollution from the fuel consumption, particulates from the tire wear, and the pedestrian and cyclist deaths, Ford and the other light truck manufacturers are going to be killing more people in more ways.