Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pick-Up Trucks of the Future and Revised CAFE Standards

Gretchen Wilson, also known as the "red-neck woman," posing on the bed of a Chevy truck

Hi folks -- this is a response to an inquiry I just received from a reporter who writes for the Christian Science Monitor:

Hi Patrik -- You have asked a complex and important question about the future of light trucks given 2012/2016 CAFE standards. Until now, the bundling of trucks and SUVs under CAFE was a travesty. SUVs are for the most part a luxury and a consumer choice used primarily for the convenience of the owner and family. Light pick-up trucks are not, however. They work as hard as their many owners. If P.J. O'Rourke, writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, is right that the greens and elitist bureaucrats are now disproportionately influencing Washington legislation and Detroit manufacturers, then the pick-up as we know it is in trouble. And while April, 2009, sales statistics suggest that pick-up sales are really no different than passenger sales in terms of the large downturn (about 40%), smaller, lighter, and less powerful trucks in our future may be shunned by the "authentic" pick-up buyer, who does want a large bed to haul all kinds of stuff, room on the inside for his overweight body, wife and children, and a menacing front bumper guard that could push my old Porsche into a ditch with minimal effort.

If models do change to become more energy efficient and less powerful, the good old boys and girls who do not live in the Virgina suburbs will keep their old trucks forever. And they need to, for many are small craftsmen and repair folks who don't have the money to buy new every two to four years. If they cared what people thought about what they drove, they wouldn't be in a truck to begin with!

I have a good friend, Cliff Brockman, who lives in Xenia, Ohio, on a small farmette. He has an old 1975 Chevrolet Silverado with enough miles on it that it probably could have gone to Mars by now. I can't tell you how many engines, transmissions, body parts, etc. have been put on this truck over the years. Doors rust, rocker panels fall off, and yet the truck still goes, and probably would make it to California today, although with its oil leaks you would need to take a couple of cases of 20w-50 oil along. The truck is painted primer black, except for sections that have faded off on the hood, and with its gun rack, looks like something someone would keep in an Aryan Nations or Taliban compound. But boy, does it get the job done! Cliff doesn't make a ton of money, but he hauls wood, scrap parts, old GM engines, etc. in it, and it doesn't fail him. Consequently, with his supplementary income and activities, he does just fine. And it is often weighed down beyond capacity.

I think what Cliff has done for years is what many Americans will do, if pick-ups become more expensive, less powerful, lighter and with less capacity. They will say the hell with Washington and the bureaucrats, even if they tax gasoline or force stricter emissions controls.

To: John Heitmann
Subject: cs monitor story on 'truck of the future'

Hi John, I'm working on a story about how the new fuel efficiency standards will affect America's love affair with the truck. I'm focusing particularly on the vast legions of small contractors who make their livings off the beds of trucks, and how higher costs, different configurations, etc., will affect them. Will we see a surge in rebuild shops so they can keep their old trucks on the road longer? Since they often operate on small margins, will they be unduly punished by higher standards, and will their trucks even be able to do the job? I'm setting this against the backdrop of the truck's unique role in American society and work culture. Curious to get your thoughts. An email response would be fine on this end, since I know you're in Germany at the moment. Many thanks! best, Patrik.

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