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Monday, January 13, 2014

Capitalist Car Production Will Solve Nothing

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Again and again...

The fact of the matter is that it takes a very long time for the environmental value of a brand new "green" car to add up. The better thing or more rational thing to do, if you really need a car, is to buy an old small one. But buying old and used things does not make the market happy, which is why it can not offer real solutions to the current climate crisis. Indeed, it's foolish to expect the market to deal with something as big as the melting polar ice caps when it could not even build roads to the suburbs, maintain their infrastructure, or provide cheap energy and loans to their homes without loads of state support. The market is so weak, the profit motive so limited, that it can't not even sustain on its own the risk of a 30-year home loan. The magic wand that made America's middle class is only found in the hand of the government.


Comments (35) RSS

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One easy thing Americans could do to help the environment would be drive smaller cars and live in smaller houses. With middle class incomes stagnating and most people not saving enough for retirement that would make good economic sense as well.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 13, 2014 at 9:11 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
I believe that newer traditionally-engineered fuel-efficient cars will be more efficient than older makes of the same model, just because of mechanical issues associated with wear and tear. So, from an environmental perspective, if one must buy a car, it ought to be brand new, or perhaps "gently used" as the current vernacular goes.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 13, 2014 at 9:12 AM · Report this
"The market is so weak, the profit motive so limited, that it can't not even sustain on its own the risk of a 30-year home loan." - this is my favorite sentence of 2014.

Of course the market and profit motive are strong and broad enough to line the pockets of Wall Street, but not strong enough to move what Robert Reich calls the "real economy" (as distinguished from the "finance economy" we hear about on the news every evening) of people making stuff and buying stuff and having jobs and homes.
Posted by JAT on January 13, 2014 at 9:24 AM · Report this
@3 The United States still suffers from an unfavorable balance of trade. That means that the total value of the goods and services Americans consume exceeds the total value of goods and services that our economy can produce. Leftist, like Robert Reich, claim that increased consumption is what our economy needs right now. How can that be if Americans are already buying more stuff than our economy is capable of producing?
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 13, 2014 at 9:44 AM · Report this
raindrop 5
If you want to drive a large car and live in a large house, that is your prerogative as an American. Who wants Bill and Melinda to move to an apodment?
Posted by raindrop on January 13, 2014 at 9:46 AM · Report this
Why in the fuck would I buy a heavy, inefficient car that will break down all the fucking time when I could buy a lighter, safer, more efficient car that wont? Then, when I drive it for 10+ years, I still have the advantages of it's better efficiency/lighter structure *and* it lasts a long time.

I can't really do that if I'm the second (or third or fourth) owner of a car and any of the previous owners haven't taken care of the damn thing.
Posted by Solk512 on January 13, 2014 at 9:46 AM · Report this
Mudede got it exactly right. The embodied energy in the new car is far more than the car will "save" in its lifetime, compared to an old small car -- the latter might burn a bit more gas per mile, but the energy to build it has already been expended. The energy cost of the car is mostly in the car itself, rather than the gas/electricity to run it. The same is true for phones & laptops, etc.

Most of us have great difficulty perceiving the embodied energy in our buildings, gadgets, clothes, food. Marketing products as "green" further obscures this reality.
Posted by MsBoyer on January 13, 2014 at 9:48 AM · Report this
@7 Right, which is why I'd rather be the only owner of my car and ensure that it's taken care of properly and lasts a lot longer than some shitmobile that wasn't ever taken care of in the first place.
Posted by Solk512 on January 13, 2014 at 9:52 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 9
Here's the problem: how many of you are REALLY going to keep your car in perfect running condition for a 10 year period? Even if you buy it brand new? Let me give you a hint, the number is single digit.

And the other issue with the hybrid cars and electrics rest in the heavy environmental damage the mining of the materials for the batteries cause as well as what to do with the batteries once they are dead.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 13, 2014 at 10:19 AM · Report this
unknown_entity 10
Typical IT-MUST-BE-PERFECT-TO-NOT-BE-AN-EVIL-TOOL-OF-CAPITALISM thinking by Charles. Cars wear out after a certain point. I drive a 1999 Nissan Sentra that has 130k miles on it. I have the vehicle regularly maintained in the hopes of driving it to 200k miles. But ultimately once the engine fails or transmission goes, it will cost me more to repair the car than it is worth (I paid $2,500 for the car in 2010) so I will turn it over to the recycling yard.

Yes, I said recycling yard. Why? Because the secondary market for automobiles is one of the most efficient systems that recycles and reuses parts in the world. Car got rear ended, the transmission and the engine are still good. Pull those parts and use them for replacements, and keep two more cars on the road. And that is just the beginning: radiators, wheels, doors, steering wheels, sun visors, nearly everything on a car can be salvaged. Whatever cannot be salvaged is shredded, making it possible to recycle all the metal that cannot otherwise be accessed. In fact, the only materials that are typically landfilled is the plastic.

Other factors worth considering:
1) The market for used cars is so tight that used car prices are higher on a mile per mile basis than new cars (assuming typical cars have a 200k mile lifespan and the first 100k miles are free of major repairs).
2) In 1994 compact cars had good fuel economy if they got 30mpg. By 2004 that had risen to 35mpg. Currently, compact cars can get 40mpg.
Posted by unknown_entity on January 13, 2014 at 10:31 AM · Report this
@9 I've done it before, and I grew up in a family that did similar? The fact that so few people are willing to take care of their cars over the long haul supports my claim that buying used is a risky proposition.

Buying a car is a complicated affair, and once again Charles offers little more than simplistic bullshit. If he really cared about changing things, he'd bother to deal with the hard details of making those changes.
Posted by Solk512 on January 13, 2014 at 10:37 AM · Report this
Fnarf 12
@10, not in the city they don't, especially this city.

My piece-of-crap 1997 Toyota Tercel is still limping along, even though it frosts up on the INSIDE of the windshield and sways like an old drunkard, but since I drive ~750 miles a year tops it makes zero financial or environmental sense to replace it with something new and more efficient.

Replacing moderately efficient cars with super-efficient ones doesn't save anywhere near as much as replacing terrible-mileage cars with pretty much anything; going from 10 MPG to 20 MPG saves twice as much fuel than going from 20 MPG to 40 MPG. Get the worst boats and clunkers off the road and it would make a huge difference.

But the worst environmental damage cars do doesn't come out of the tailpipe.
Posted by Fnarf on January 13, 2014 at 10:41 AM · Report this
@9: I buy cars new and keep them for 10+ years. It's never been a problem, but I always had all the scheduled services done. My "old" car is a 2000.

Small cars, small houses and small families. This "three kids" shit has got to stop yesterday. Two kids, also questionable if you want to lead a middle-class lifestyle.
Posted by tiktok on January 13, 2014 at 10:45 AM · Report this
rob! 14
@9, my car turns 20 this year; I've had it for 15. It's quiet, fast, handles well, gets 30+ mpg on the highway. Keeping up with necessary maintenance is not hard if you have a modicum of intelligence.

@10 ("...once the engine fails or transmission goes, it will cost me more to repair the car than it is worth..."), the question is not what the car is worth, but what its replacement will cost. The transmission failed in my car seven or eight years ago, due not to wear but to an electrical fault that I failed to recognize in time. I happily paid ~$4k to replace it (more than the car was worth at the time) and thereby saved myself the uncertainty and time involved in trying to find a trustworthy used car, or ~$25-30k and time shopping for a new one. I'll most likely do the same when the engine goes.
Posted by rob! on January 13, 2014 at 10:56 AM · Report this
rob! 15
Oh, I almost forgot: $350/year for very good insurance (no collision or comprehensive at this point, of course), $84 annual registration, and no annual smog test in my rural location (though one would be required if I were to sell the car).
Posted by rob! on January 13, 2014 at 11:23 AM · Report this
No car, 800 square feet.

No problem.

Get over yourselves, Americans.
Posted by NineOneFour on January 13, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Report this
God, I have to agree even partially with MUDEDE!

Or Rob! come to that...

I bought a 5 year old base model Ford truck in 2006. For $2300. It's needed repair, oil changes, tire replacement and so on to the tune of under $1000 in the nearly 8 years I've owned it, and that without regular oil changes or tune UPS which I always forget. Which is why a Ranger which keeps running anyway. And my mechanic is pricing a rebuilt powertrain right now at $1800 installed. This doesn't even cover the savings in insurance carrying only liability since I have no bank to indemnify, and no desire to spend the $200 a month on unnecessary full coverage.

So, for a total outlay of around $5000 I'll have a vehicle for 15 years or more. That comes, even assuming that another couple grand in repairs is needed, to about $50 a month, including insurance, repairs and maintenance to drive.

So no, I'm not in the market for a new car. Though whether Capitalism is fatally flawed for producing them? Yeah, that's still Mudede on crack.
Posted by Seattleblues on January 13, 2014 at 11:33 AM · Report this
@16 Says the poster named after a Porsche.
Posted by Solk512 on January 13, 2014 at 11:51 AM · Report this
@16: Yes, keep pontificating about how veryone else should live. See how that works for you.
Posted by bigyaz on January 13, 2014 at 12:07 PM · Report this
@17 The invisible hand of the market does a good job of systematically punishing people who make unwise decisions. When liberals see this happening they site it as evidence that the free market has failed because people are hurting.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 13, 2014 at 12:09 PM · Report this
rob! 21
@sb, it's a shame automakers can't seem to make enough profit putting out small, utilitarian trucks. I could use a 4x4 Ranger crew-cab, but Ford has now discontinued the whole line, and the locals aren't going to let go of theirs (or their 20-year-old Toyotas/Nissans, or even their 30-year-old Rabbit Diesel pickups) for either money or love.

Although people like Mehlman sometimes give up other stuff for a little love.
Posted by rob! on January 13, 2014 at 12:12 PM · Report this
@21 How much do you want, Rob?
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 13, 2014 at 12:23 PM · Report this

It's a tough market because of the kind of people who buy them. They want vehicles without power windows or wool carpet or heated seats that just run and keep doing it. And they keep their trucks forever for reasons like mine and won't pay luxury prices for them new. Hard to make money as an automaker on those terms. Ford has gone to a type of small van I used to see everywhere in Italy to serve the needs of utilities or fleets for such vehicles. Still annoys me that such a useful thing was discontinued even though I understand why.
Posted by Seattleblues on January 13, 2014 at 12:27 PM · Report this

Um hmm. There's a fully valid place for regulation of course by government, and I and liberals could argue all day about what that role means. But with someone like Mudede who hates anything NOT done by government one can't discuss such rational ideas. It would assume he was rational in the first place.
Posted by Seattleblues on January 13, 2014 at 12:36 PM · Report this
I'm half tempted to spite Charles and just turn this into car chat. Any fans of small, reasonably priced sports cars?
Posted by Solk512 on January 13, 2014 at 12:42 PM · Report this
@4: Fundamentally incorrect. The capacity of our economy to produce is irrelevant to trade balance. What is relevant is what IS being produced. If demand goes up for things produced here, we will produce more of it. There are a variety of issues which combine to constrain demand for nationally produced goods, but that's a different discussion.

Also, are you suggesting that buying a cheap car/truck that will run forever is an unwise decision? If not, why does the market have no interest in that? Could it be that the market has no interest in the wisdom of consumer choices?
Posted by Hanoumatoi on January 13, 2014 at 1:45 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 27
The big problem I perceive with cars that never gets attention is people idling in them, sometimes for hours. I see it all the time when I go to pick up my girls from school, but also in various parking lots. I went to a dentist appointment a couple of years ago on an unseasonably warm early spring day (Denver usually doesn't get really warm until mid May), and I parked next to someone in a midsized SUV idling away while she ate lunch and did stuff on her laptop. Windows rolled up, and I could see her hair being blown by the AC. (It wasn't that warm, probably mid 70s.) When I came out 45 minutes later, she was still there. Who knows how long she was there in total, but that must have burned a significant amount of fuel, maybe a gallon.

When I see people complaining about gas prices, I wonder how much widespread idling contributes to our rate of petroleum consumption.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 13, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Our society is too wasteful and over consumptive with our limited resources.

Add the ever increasing prevelence of planned obsolescence and cheap manufacture and design as another reason to avoid buying anything new.

Also... If you think you're being green by buying a new car and pledging to keep it up, you're still deciding to let a perfectly functional and maintainable used car end up at the wrecking yard.

Same with green McMansions (or condos) etc... How many empty homes per homeless person in America again? Why do we need to build more housing again?

Instead of the endless cycle of getting new plastic crap and throwing old crap in the hole, how about we start learning how to repair, restore, and conserve our resources and our world?
Posted by Upchuck on January 13, 2014 at 11:33 PM · Report this
@28 Wah wah wah is all I hear there. Cash for clunkers pretty much wiped out the used car market, and for there to even *be* a used car market in the first place, you have to have a new car market.

And fuck you with this "pledge" shit. We already maintain our cars until the wheels fall off, and then put new ones on. We're not the ones being wasteful, the folks who don't take care of their cars are. Fuck you and your judgmental bullshit.
Posted by Solk512 on January 14, 2014 at 7:02 AM · Report this
I'm offering a fair critique of our society, and I include myself. If you want to get all defensive and take it personally that's your problem. And if humans and the earth survive beyond a century or two more future archeologists can judge me then as incorrect.
Posted by Upchuck on January 14, 2014 at 7:23 PM · Report this
@30 Wow, using the GWB excuse of "we'll let the historians decide"? Amazing.

Here's your fucking problem: like Charles and many others here, you don't give a flying fuck about solving the hard problems. Your post wasn't a "fair critique", because an actual critique would have addressed the issue of where used cars come from. You ignored that.

Do you know where used cars come from? Are you of the opinion that they simply breed like rabbits overnight when stored on a used car lot? Are you also of the opinion that there are infinitely many used cars, and that they are all safe, well maintained and in good condition?

Come the fuck on and address the hard questions rather than masturbating over vague rants about overconsumption.
Posted by Solk512 on January 15, 2014 at 5:19 AM · Report this
I am curious as to what Capitalist Newspaper Production will solve.
Posted by CATSPAW666 on January 15, 2014 at 10:11 AM · Report this
@31, used cars used to be new, thanks for the insight, self righteous dipshit.

@32, Apparently not much!
Posted by Upchuck on January 15, 2014 at 9:18 PM · Report this
@33 Your answer is for everyone to buy a used car regardless of condition, safety or environmental impact, and if they don't apparently no one else will buy that particular car and it will just rot.

But hey whatever, your feelings are apparently more important than the environment I guess.
Posted by Solk512 on January 16, 2014 at 5:25 AM · Report this
@34 no matter how much you rephrase or alter my arguments to make yours look stronger, you cannot objectively argue that buying a new car consumes less resources and energy than maintaining older ones. More economical, comfortable, safe, and cosmetically appealing maybe. But not less resource intensive. I'm also disappointed that suggesting owning a car for (gasp) ten years or more is somehow impressive. I can't fathom even buying a used car (particularly on our family's budget) that is less than 15 years old.

And yes new cars are where used cars originally come from (duh) but if we were to extend the life span of a typical car from 10-15 years to 20-30 years that would make a huge impact and is entirely doable. But I don't just blame the materialistic instincts of consumers like us but the greed and incentives that capitalist industry operates with. It is counterintuitive in a capitalist system to produce cars, computers, or any other consumer goods designed to last and be easily maintained even though it is perfectly possible to design and engineer products that way.

Which brings us back to your critique of my comments and Charles' post: your defensiveness has blinded you to the fact that Charles and I are not simply ranting, but we are making a very serious proposal: to ditch capitalism entirely as our organizing structure in society for determining the utilization and distribution of resources and production of goods in our society. And short of that, anyone who is sincere about wanting to see humanity survive longer than another century or so should seek ways to radically reduce their consumption of resources and energy.

On that note: not to brag (because i am not proud to own or drive a car) but to make a point, Our two vehicles from the early 90s and late 80s were bought used, have since been restored and well maintained (just about 300k on each and no oil leaks) and in many respects more durable then our friends cars that are barely 5 years old. And our 1980s commuter even beats a new Honda civic in mileage. So driving used cars doesn't necessarily mean driving a hoopty gas guzzler. And I'm not saying I'm better than you because of it, only that it is possible!

You're welcome for the detailed response specifically addressing all your critiques. Next time I will just stick to quick jabs and smart ass comments that allude to rather than spell out my thoughts!
Posted by Upchuck on January 16, 2014 at 10:25 PM · Report this

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