TCS Daily

My Other Car Is a...

By Brock Yates - August 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Mea Culpa: I own a Hummer H2, the PC equivalent to Al Capone's armored Cadillac. Yet despite the yelps and snarls of outrage from the Greenies, the great old lump serves me well, hauling our dogs and our 15-foot Donzi (yes, a powerboat) to our second home in the St. Lawrence River's 1000 Islands. Moreover it prompts more admiring waves from other motorists than any vehicle I have ever driven -- including a wild thumbs-up from a young man at the wheel of yes, a Honda Insight Hybrid!

But of course the latest rage among the Sierra Clubbers are such hybrids as the Insight and Civic from Honda and the new darling, the Toyota Prius. This little four-placer is so popular that dealers are packing up to $5000 premiums on $26,000 fully-loaded models, yet the Company claims that 26,000 of the miracle machines are currently back-ordered. With gasoline expected to hover at or above $2.00 a gallon until the next ice-age, more Hybrids are on the way from Ford, Nissan and of course, Honda and Toyota.

The Prius is a superb machine, packed with clever technology and encased in a slick and slippery bodywork. According to the desk-riding bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Prius is supposed to deliver up to 63 miles to the gallon, but real world driving produces more like 45-50 mpg, depending on load, speed, weather, etc. This has prompted whining from disappointed owners and drops it in the economy league with Volkswagen's Jetta TDI diesel, which goes out the door at $18,000 -- or roughly $12,000 less than currently available Prius's.

This is but one of the idiotic anomalies wrapped in the elite media's fascination with the spike in gasoline prices -- which, by the way, did nothing to impede the 30.9 million motorists who traveled more than 50 miles over the recent Memorial Day weekend -- an increase of 3.4% over last year, according to the Travel Industry Association. A strong economy, relative tranquility within our borders, and, most important, abundant quantities of gasoline, opened the highways of the nation to holiday travel despite the hand-wringing of the national press.

In the face of this presumed "crisis" viewed from the salons and television studios of the elite media (located in New York and Washington where actual driving is limited to cabs and limos) the cry rises for stiffer taxes on gasoline to impede driving. The usually sanguine columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, has called for a fixed-price on gasoline of $3.00 a gallon. This, he claims, will force motorists into lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles (but less crash-worthy) and therefore stem the demand for foreign oil. Other pundits and pols, including Jungle John Kerry, have called for similar taxes, choosing to ignore the fact that 79% of all travel in this nation is by motor vehicle and that egregious boosts in gas prices would have a savage effect on the economy.

It is presumed by these Olympian thinkers that auto travel is somehow frivolous; that Americans simply motor around in inane, pointless circles, sucking up precious petroleum with no regard for the environment or the larger economic scenario. Pardon me, but millions upon millions of Americans need their vehicles, not only to commute and to run errands in the normal course of daily life, but to operate a staggering number of small businesses.

We are a vast nation inter-connected by highways, not rail roads or bicycle paths. We need automobiles unlike any other nation. The power and diversity of this economy can be credited to the quick, efficient movement of goods and services offered only by the versatile and maneuverable motor vehicle. Despite the wailing of its critics, there is no viable alternative if we intend to maintain the energy generated by this incredible economic juggernaut.

Ah yes, my H2 Hummer vs. the Prius and other saviors of the future, including the chimerical fuel cell: To be sure, the three-ton H2 is a gas-hog. While large SUV's like the Hummer have become the Devil-incarnate to the media, the auto industry in May saw a jump in demand for both pickups and SUV's, even in the face of the so-called gas "crisis".

The H2 runs an easy 75 mph on the Interstates and consumes up a gallon of regular every 12 miles. A Prius will go over three times as far on the same tank but will haul no more than one-quarter the capacity of this big machine. A round trip from my home to the 1000 Islands is roughly 400 miles. The H2 will use up about 33 gallons of regular, costing about $66. The Prius, by contrast, will sip a gentile eight gallons and cost about $16. No argument there, fuel-wise, but try hauling my family, luggage, our English Mastiff, Great Dane, West Highland Terrier and Cavalier King Charles plus the Donzi, and you might plan on three round trips with the Prius as opposed to one.

The point is simple: We Americans employ motor vehicles for insanely complex and diverse missions. Some are well-suited to small, low-powered cars like the Prius. Others demand larger, tougher machines -- especially for we country dwellers who face longer drives, haul heavier loads and live in wintry climates where four-wheel-drive is a necessity.

In the end, the ancient law of supply and demand will govern what kind of automobiles and trucks we drive, without the crackpot mandates from the political class, academia or the media.

By the way, the H2, like most vehicles, is a second car. My daily driver is a Mini Cooper S that get 30-miles to the gallon all day long.


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