Note from the author: As promised, here's the final draft I submitted for my writing class. Only changes here are to the Works Cited section- the PDFs and screenshots I attached to the word document didn't show up here. May add links to them and/or upload the PDFs later, for posterity's sake.
Have you ever seen something so abhorrent it makes you recoil and grimace in disgust? I feel that way when I see how much callous destruction and wanton waste is directed toward cars- especially 2004 model year examples and older. Governments, manufacturers, and select end users all contribute to the problem. We’re building newer, less sustainable cars on the backs of older, more sustainable cars. On top of that, these new cars tend to have far less character than their predecessors. But that’s not all! We’ve gone a step further and passed the cost on to people like you and me, who want nothing to do with said newer cars. How is that fair for the rest of us? We didn’t ask for any of this predatory policy. Despite this, it has gone on for years, unchecked and unfettered. Thankfully, this problem is far from insurmountable. All we need to do is stop rewarding poor decisions made by people in the government, the automotive industry, and the public. Of course there’s more to it than just waving a magic wand and undoing all the damage; it’s going to take a concerted effort, and we’re all going to have to pitch in. Such is the nature of highly resilient strains of wrongdoing. But if we hit all three components, we can eradicate the virus. Let’s look at how government factors into this destruction.
Government may be the single worst offender of all. In terms of raw body count and carnage, no other single entity comes close. Let’s look at how things got to the way they were. State and federal governments alike have a long track record of trying to kill older cars. Their direct assaults have taken the form smog credit initiatives, such as the new-and-improved for 1994 Smog Check II program in California. Among other things, it has a little stipulation that says “If it’s more affordable to sell the car than to repair it, the Department of Consumer Affairs offers a buy-back program, in which it buys and crushes gross-polluting cars. The owners are paid $800.” (Hsu 1994) Nowhere in this press release is there a clear-cut definition for “gross polluting”. There is no mention of which model years would be affected- is the law retroactive or does it only apply to 1994 or newer cars? There’s also zero mention to the environmental benefits to maintaining existing cars, instead of constantly producing new cars. How very troubling! Now, I understand there were probably more cars produced for the USDM with a high domestic parts content (in other words, seventy five percent or more of the components used on the car were produced in North America or Canada, definition courtesy of Cars.com) back in 1994 than there are today. But that hardly detracts from the sneaky omissions I mentioned earlier. In other words, it’s still a very troubling program. I doubt Smog Check II was state government’s first jab at old cars, but it had all the right signature features: arrogance, incompetence, and insidiousness. Take it from California’s Department of Consumer Affairs director, Lance Barnett. He comes right out and says Smog Check II will “[force owners of vehicles that emit high amounts of pollutants to] make repairs or get them off the road” (Hsu 1994). Not bad for a first crack at large scale automotive meat grinding. But the worst was yet to come, some fifteen years later.
In 2009, the infamous Car Allowance Rebate System (C.A.R.S.), also known as Cash For Clunkers, was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. I’ll cut through as much legalese as possible and boil it down for you. C.A.R.S. allowed people to trade in select 1984 to 2007 model year vehicles in to participating dealerships. The traded in vehicle would be destroyed, and the customer would be granted a rebate toward a new 2009 model year vehicle. The bigger the fuel economy gain, the bigger the rebate- up to $4500. Now this already should be raising some eyebrows. Why is the rebate only applicable for brand new vehicles? Producing new cars from scratch is the by far most resource intensive and pollution intensive aspect of a vehicle’s life cycle; maintenance of an existing vehicle is far less demanding. Junking or disposing of a vehicle has its own issues too- the parts that don’t get recycled or re-used go to a landfill. (Weiss and Heywood 99-103). These production costs and pollution issues should loom especially large for USDM vehicles with low domestic parts index scores. It only gets worse the deeper you dig. The Cars Allowance Rebate System law is the most malicious and vitriolic piece of anti old car legislation I have ever seen. From inception to implementation, it smacks of unhinged, unbridled, and unacceptable destruction. Don’t believe me? Have a gander at the bill’s definitions section. “The term `eligible trade-in vehicle' means an automobile or a work truck [that] is in drivable condition; has been continuously insured consistent with the applicable State law and registered to the same owner for a period of not less than 1 year immediately prior to such trade-in; was manufactured less than 25 years before the date of the trade-in” (CONSUMER ASSISTANCE TO RECYCLE AND SAVE PROGRAM 7). In other words, you couldn’t sell your car to the undertaker unless it was already in good running order. You couldn’t sell a fixer-upper, or a project you grew tired of sinking money into. Oh no, that wasn’t good enough for the cretins behind this scheme! They wanted those reliable daily drivers, those regularly used vehicles that were already in service; it’s no accident that the criteria for trade-in were written this way. Do you keep insurance on a car you’re not driving at least semi-regularly? I didn’t think so. But there’s more cruelty to go around. We’re just getting started here. Look at how tight the screws get twisted in on the vehicles and their executioners. “For each eligible trade-in vehicle surrendered to a dealer under the Program, the dealer shall certify to the Secretary … that the dealer has not and will not sell, lease, exchange, or otherwise dispose of the vehicle for use as an automobile in the United States or in any other country; and will transfer the vehicle (including the engine block), in such manner as the Secretary prescribes, to an entity that will ensure that the vehicle will be crushed or shredded within such period and in such manner as the Secretary prescribes; and has not been, and will not be, sold, leased, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of for use as an automobile in the United States or in any other country. Nothing … may be construed to preclude a person who is responsible for ensuring that the vehicle is crushed or shredded from selling any parts of the disposed vehicle other than the engine block and drive train (unless with respect to the drive train, the transmission, drive shaft, or rear end are sold as separate parts); or retaining the proceeds from such sale.” (CONSUMER ASSISTANCE TO RECYCLE AND SAVE PROGRAM 3). That’s a mouthful! But it all serves a purpose to the pond scum behind Cash for Clunkers. They wanted to be absolutely sure no cars would escape once ensnared in the scheme; the wording covers almost all the bases. The dealership that receives the “clunker” for a trade-in cannot do anything with the vehicle except for destroy it. Only select parts from the vehicle may be sold off. The rest just gets destroyed. It says it right there in the bill! The amount of waste and cruelty written into the program is unprecedented, and the results speak for themselves. According to the official government statistics on Cash for Clunkers, there were 690,114 rebates granted under the program- one rebate per destroyed vehicle (C.A.R.S. Program Statistics 1). All of this happened in the span of less than two months. It is unbelievable and reprehensible, horrifyingly so. But for Congress and its cronies in other branches of government, it’s just another day at the office.
Some government stooges went a step further and even touted the program as a sweeping success. Ray LaHood, the villainous secretary of transportation during this time, is one of those stooges. He oversaw and administered this whole process, and he’s more than happy to brag about successes in the wake of glaring failure. “American consumers and workers were the clear winners thanks to the cash for clunkers program. … Manufacturing plants have added shifts and recalled workers. Moribund showrooms were brought back to life and consumers bought fuel efficient cars that will save them money and improve the environment. This is one of the best economic news stories we’ve seen and I’m proud we were able to give consumers a helping hand … This is a win for the economy, a win for the environment, and a win for American consumers”. (Bolton). You cannot be serious, Ray. Don’t you DARE act as if this was something beneficial to the electorate! Because the net cost to us, the taxpayers, was over a billion dollars in total- about two thousand dollars per destroyed vehicle by conservative estimates. (Abrams and Parsons 3). The economists who made the estimate point to many of the same issues I did, such as the senseless destruction of vehicles that are in good working order (Abrams and Parsons 1). But wait, there’s more! We’ve actually made mistakes like the Cars Allowance Rebate System before.
Christopher Westley, an economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, draws a parallel to one of the New Deal’s most damning price control policies- the Agricultural Adjustment Act. Westley explains how Cash for Clunkers, like the aforementioned act, “tried to thwart falling prices by destroying perfectly good and usable products that otherwise would have lowered prices. In the 1930s people rioted when the government forced farmers to pour perfectly good milk down sewer drains. No one’s rioting today because now the government is more richly compensating those who own the property being destroyed.” (Westley). In other words, we don’t realize the scale of the waste because the people engaging in the stupid, wasteful, evil activity are being compensated so much for it, it doesn’t seem like such a waste anymore. Our economist goes on to document some other unfair and counterproductive outcomes stemming from the program. “Cash for Clunkers certainly had its share of winners and losers. Car dealers who experienced summer profits surely won, as did those individuals who otherwise would have gone without cars. And let’s not forget the banks and finance companies that now have loan assets on their books. You can be sure the members of Congress who voted for this bill will remind dealers of their generosity in directing other people’s money their way in this old-fashioned shell game. And it is a shell game, because the losers here are the poor and the lower middle class—the very groups in the most precarious economic shape 18-plus months into the Great Recession. They suffer in two ways. First, as primary consumers in the used-car market, they will see supply shrivel. Many cars that qualified for Cash for Clunkers still had long lives ahead of them. The poor will also pay in the form of higher prices resulting from the inflation that will be required to finance the program. The government is broke, with tax revenues falling while spending soars at levels even higher than those associated with the profligate Bush administration. In terms of cost, Cash for Clunkers is at least twice as expensive as its New Deal inspiration, the Agriculture Adjustment Act. This program will be paid for, at some time, with monetary inflation furnished by our not-so-independent central bank, and we will pay for it in the form of higher prices. … Indeed, when I first read about Cash for Clunkers, I thought it should have been named the “I Hate the Poor” Act of 2009 because—you can be sure—this program sticks it to those members of society least able to manage in hard times. In the end they will find maintaining economic autonomy all the harder, making it more likely they will become dependent on government in the future. The cynic in me wonders if this might be the actual intent.” (Westley). Way to stick it to the mattoids in the halls of Congress and the dorks in the dealerships, Chris. It’s high time people other than car enthusiasts take shots at stupid policy that should’ve never been implemented! Westley turned out to be correct about the pain being passed on especially hard to low income people, by the way. Charities such as the Car Ministry, and the Humane Society took a big hit (Payne). Take it from Roger Penn, the director of the Car Ministry charity. He pointed to the same issue of waste that my economists did when the C.A.R.S. program was in its infancy. Penn even went a step further, and explained the effects at the individual level. “Maybe the new cars will get better mileage, but what about the people who can't afford to buy a new car? They need transportation. And if they don't have it, they won't be able to get to work. They won't be able to get the medical help they need, because they won't be able to get to dialysis.” (NPR). Now that’s not to say charity users are the only people who drive the older, cheaper cars. There are plenty of people who are happy to just drive what they’ve got. But this certainly calls a lot of Cash for Clunkers’ touted “benefits” to consumers into question. Roger Penn isn’t the only one who has insight either- take it from an expert in someone who buys cars specifically for charity use- Pete Palmer. He points to a huge incentive to junk an otherwise useful car- at the expense of someone else! “There's a whole industry that helps support the charities, including the auctions, tow truck drivers, telephone answering personnel; and all of those people are going to be hurt … Somebody has to be pretty darn altruistic to do a car donation over the cash for clunkers program if they want the new car.” (NPR). Palmer would reiterate his concerns months later, after the C.A.R.S program ran its course, as would other people associated with charities that depend on easy access to cheap, reliable cars. (Payne). Now that, my esteemed colleagues is the proverbial smoking gun. How can anyone stand behind a program that so ruthlessly and indiscriminately harms cars and consumers alike? And a program that incentivizes waste and disincentivizes sustainability? But we’re not done yet- there are other entities who lose under the arrangement- namely the environment.
The environment loses under programs like Cash for Clunkers for a few reasons. Abrams and Westley point to the first issue: gains in fuel economy can be very deceptive if taken at face value; end users’ driving habits and spending habits change along with fuel economy numbers. Abrams and Parsons explain the process of how “drivers of the new higher mpg vehicles are likely to drive more miles per year than they did with their old gas-guzzling clunkers. Second, some of the retiring vehicles may have been traded in for strategic gain. For example, a couple with two old vehicles, one a truck and the other a small compact car, might trade-in the truck for a new small compact to take advantage of the subsidy. Later, the old compact would be sold and a new truck purchased” (Abrams and Parsons 2-3). Funny how opportunism works, huh? Westley makes a similar observation in his analysis, pointing out how. “Getting people into cars that get better mileage often leads them to drive more, negating any benefit from the switch.” (Westley). But there are other issues too! “What’s more, scrapping hundreds of thousands of clunkers en masse while encouraging production of new cars to replace them isn’t exactly an environmental blessing either.” (Westley). Like Abrams and Parson, Westley notes the effect higher fuel economy averages can have on driving habits. At the very least, this casts doubt on the pompous C.A.R.S. program shills’ claims about “good news for the environment” (Bolton). Both my economist sources and I honed in on the myriad harms that stem from mindless destruction of useful property. The sad part of all this is that the environment is paying the price. Given the C.A.R.S. program’s overwhelming emphasis on destruction and explicit instructions, there’s hardly any chance for reusing or recycling. Well if you can’t recycle or re-use, where do think all those destroyed cars are going to end up? The landfill! If all this doesn’t seriously call Ray LaHood’s boastful claims about everybody winning into question, you’ve got me to what will.
Despite having made a similar mistake over seventy years ago, the government happily ushered in mass scale destruction and mass scale production simultaneously, and then touted the “efforts” as a triumph- even if Cash for Clunkers was never about doing anybody or anything any good! People in government seemingly haven’t learned from their mistakes or taken any of my advice. In fact, California is still hard at work putting old cars in the crosshairs with their state sponsored vehicle scrappage program. They’ve even revamped it for the next decade- the official title for it is the Consumer Assistance Program, or “CAP” (CashForClunkers.org). The title’s wording alone should violate existing truth in advertising laws simply based on our previous analyses of vehicular scrappage programs! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. CAP has taken Smog Check II, which was already a predatory program with an emphasis on destruction, and infused it with “knowledge” gained from Cash for Clunkers. CAP is mostly seeking out reliable, drivable vehicles just like Cash for Clunkers did, but there are also ways to destroy undrivable cars- like Smog Check II. (CashForClunkers.org). But where CAP really learns from Cash for Clunkers is its target audience- the people eligible for the largest rebates are low-income citizens, and only low income citizens can scrap vehicles that have passed state’s strict emissions inspection. (CashForClunkers.org). Conveniently, it’s the poor who will be hurt the most by such a scrappage program (Westley); Make no mistake, CAP is all about destroying cheap, drivable, and reliable older vehicles, and then locking their former owners into crippling payment plans on new cars. This should sound very familiar- remember Westley’s analysis? But it gets even more blatantly predatory with CAP. The program’s goal is “to promote clean air by removing older vehicles that are currently operating in California”. (CashForClunkers.org). They’re not even trying to hide their motives anymore! That’s just how bad it’s gotten. Thankfully the funding dried up for this little cancerous growth of a program circa June 2015 (California Department of Consumer Affairs), but that doesn’t change the fact that a rotten bunch of government crooks got away with murder- again! They’re not the only culpable party here though. There’s more blame to go around. Let’s go back to Cash for Clunkers.
Speaking of rotten crooks, I hold the dealerships that partook in Cash for Clunkers in 2009 equally liable for the wrongful death of those scores of vehicles. They are just as bad as the shitheads in government. That’s not to say I think everyone at the participating dealerships was completely complicit with the program’s requirements. I like to think a few brave souls scooped up vehicles and hid them away safely before the slaughtering began. At least that’s what I like to tell myself. So I can sleep at night without having the scenes and the thoughts haunt me. The reality was likely very different, and far more uglier. I wager less than a thousand vehicles were able to escape their impending doom; there’s only so much a few lone rebels with a cause could do on their own. If any of you aforementioned brave souls are reading this, I am eternally grateful for your deeds. I do not extend any such thanks to Congress. All of you are guilty in some capacity. Those who voted for C.A.R.S., you have blood on their hands. How do you live yourself? How do you sleep at night in the wake of the madness you brought on, and the 690,114 vehicles you murdered? As for the few who did not vote in favor of C.A.R.S., you did not do a good enough job of convincing, bribing, begging, or strong-arming the others to go along with you. In other words, you were lazy and incompetent. But then again, should I expect anything less from government these days?
This whole tragedy could have been averted if none of the aforementioned destructive people were ever in office; there’s little doubt that Congress is one the root causes to this problem. The solution to this aspect is simple. Vote all those moronic “representatives” out of office. (For your convenience, I have included links to the complete voting records in my references section). Those disgraceful pieces of garbage didn’t have our best interests in mind, and were even arrogant enough to think we would believe otherwise. It says a lot about the base, cruel, and reprehensible character of everyone associated with Cash for Clunkers. But they did more than just slaughter cars. The people behind the program helped create an enormous opportunity for automobile manufacturers and select nefarious end users alike.
I really don’t understand why automobile companies keep producing brand new cars, year after year after year. I’ve said it before, but it’s relevant so I’ll reiterate. Producing new cars is a huge burden on the environment, far more so than maintenance of existing cars. (Weiss and Heywood 99-103). I’ll make an extreme point to demonstrate just how big of a deal this is. Even a frame off restoration on a bondo bucket likely does not use as much resources as producing say, a new Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, or Hyundai Sante Fe! Because even in worst cases like frame-off restorations, there’s always something there that can be re-used from the car originally. Getting new parts is not always a huge hurdle either- there are new old stock parts from everything from body panels to transmission gaskets. But even when you do need brand new parts, they’re often sourced within North America. I hinted at the issue of new USDM cars earlier, with that comment on the domestic parts content index. Let’s revisit it for a bit. Ever taken a 2005 model year or newer car in for maintenance or repair work? Ever wondered where all those expensive modules, panels, and composites came from? Unlike older cars, the components for these newer cars are produced all around the world, which means shipping back and forth around the world, from final assembly to maintenance. Even domestic manufacturers’ cars don’t have high percentages of globally sourced parts these days. Look at the domestic parts content index from 2014 to 2016, and note how few domestic manufacturers even make the cut. (Cars.com) This is bad for our manufacturing base, for obvious reasons. But this arrangement is also bad for the environment- all those cross national flights and long sea voyages don’t do the ozone layer any good. Think of all the plants we could’ve kept open, and all the people we could’ve kept employed. Think of all the thousands of gallons of jet fuel and diesel fuel we burned in the pursuit of new cars.
Speaking of burning fuel, let’s address that. I’m sure people will argue fuel savings associated with new cars, and that fuel economy standards aren’t past the point of diminishing returns. Go right ahead and beat that drum! But you can just as easily argue getting raw material to produce new cars from literally nothing has its own cost. In fact, it’s far worse for the environment than just keeping an existing car on the road. (Weiss and Heywood 97-103). Then there’s the issue of domestic manufacturing jobs being killed in pursuit of globally sourced cars- not all the losses in the manufacturing sector are due to automation! I don’t think there’s an exact point where these changes started happening. I do know that by 2004, things were really getting out of hand. Cars bound for the USDM started sourcing fewer parts from North America. Pointless “features” that do nothing to enhance the driving experience also started appearing around the same time in small numbers- I’ll discuss some of these in the next paragraph. Now of course there were a couple noteworthy exceptions to my rule, such as Ford’s panther platform cars, and the sixth generation Chevrolet Corvette. And that’s also not to say all the progress we have ever made in the land of automotive manufacturing was a net loss. For a little while, things really were great. Up until the 2004 model year, we had an excuse to keep making newer cars- because we didn't really lose. In fact, the regulations and requirements did us some good early on- five mile per hour “crash bumpers”, safety glass, and Antilock Brake System all come to mind. The parts for these new features were sourced within the country of origin (GM’s licensed production of Bosch’s 2 channel ABS in the 1980s still counts!) the cars were emotionally fulfilling, and we the people were happy to drive them if we so desired. There was no real penalty to keeping your older car around either. That is no longer the case. We have gone too far. Way too far.
You may be wondering if any major manufacturer has sidestepped the shift in priorities. Is there any new car out there that’s not akin to checking a giant penalty box? The short answer is no. While the time of onset varies on a brand by brand basis, every major car manufacturer still alive today has sold to the devil, enjoyed going to the bank, and structured their company to continue going to the bank. Think about it. Do you build a mass produced car's engine around the body, or do you build the body around the engine? You could have the most powerful, most fuel efficient, and most reliable engine on the market, but it doesn't mean a thing unless your car passes crash tests. All that useful glass area doesn't matter if your design fails the crash test. Did you know there are two components to this? There’s one for impacts into other vehicles, and another for impacts into humans. And your car has to pass both tests to go on sale here in the States! There are incredibly specific aspects of each flavor too, as well as arcane requirements that you must also meet. Take it from Mark Rechtin, who interviewed car designers from Porsche, Cadillac, and Jaguar. I’ll quickly summarize what the experts said. The biggest issues facing designers today are tighter requirements for crash testing, whilst simultaneously providing more space to package features, such as driver assistance technology. There’s less and less creativity allowed, and it’s cost-inefficient to try to work around it more often than not- especially with globally produced cars which must meet a variety of conflicting fuel economy, safety and emissions standards. (Rechtin). Despite this, some companies tow the line and claim the ever-tightening regulations forced them to consider other avenues of design. Take it from Joel Piaskowski, the head of Ford’s European design division. Being a good corporate shill, he claims trends like “plastic bumpers replacing chrome blades was a pretty big shift on how vehicles looked. As pedestrian protection continues to evolve we’ll find other ways to define the vehicle too – it just challenges creativity” (Hull 2015). Claiming unfair and unrealistic regulations don’t make cars boring is a dubious claim at best, as I’ve already demonstrated. But we’re just getting started here. Piaskowski goes on to acknowledge CAFE’s role in changing how cars are designed, and that this somehow isn’t a bad thing for end users. “Really what’s affecting the industry right now is CO2 emissions and CAFE. How cars can become more efficient. There are a few ways to do that, obviously: the powertrain and EVs. Or, design the vehicle to cheat the wind. … It’s also an opportunity. It helps us to evolve our design language in many cases, particularly the front and rear of the car, being able to incorporate those aero elements into a signature design language.” (Hull 2015). In other words, he’s deferring to regulation instead of imagination when it comes to new cars. Noted. These quotes are all from a 2015 interview, and by this point, the destructive processes I’ve alluded to were well underway. But ol’ Joel here isn’t done selling us lies. He goes on to deny all this, and instead claim Ford is watching out for its customers in some twisted, convoluted way. “It’s not just about meeting regulations though. The rear bumper of the new Ford Edge was redesigned for Europe, surprisingly not to meet regulations but for a lower insurance rating regarding repair costs. This is important too for Ford customers.” (Hull 2015). Wait a second. If we just had a stronger rear bumper made out of heavy gauge steel and with proper structural supports, wouldn’t that take an even bigger cut out of repair costs? Oh wait, Joel’s not interested in preventing damage in the first place. Noted. And who appointed him to be the single voice of Ford’s entire customer base?
I apologize if I got nasty with that last bit. But you can understand my frustration with ol’ Joel here. He’s one of the many people within the automotive industry who contribute to the mess we’re in today. They’re not all at Ford either. As I will soon demonstrate, pretty much everyone is doing it. Let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine you are designing a car for a company. It’s around 2005. Emissions, crash test, and fuel economy requirements have just gotten stricter- again. Nevertheless, you are tasked with making a vehicle better across the board than its predecessor. You need to make it safer in order to meet the new crash test standards. This usually entails thicker pillars, more weight, and less glass surface area. Uh-oh, now we have to make the car bigger and taller to get that glass area and visibility back that we lost to those thicker pillars and raised beltline. But wait! We can't do that because the extra weight will hurt our MPG ratings, and put more stress on driveline parts. We can't redesign the car and make it out of carbon fiber. We have conned the end user too much already to pass that cost on to them. So what do we do, fellas? We stop caring. Hence the adoption of features that add zero real benefit to the physical act of driving- less communicative electric steering, distracting infotainment systems, driver assistance technology packages, piped in engine sounds via the speakers to mask the awful engine sounds, automatic rev-matching on manual transmission cars, and so on. Good thing too, because Congress doesn’t want us to make sustainable cars anyway- let alone cars with character! Besides, we’d never dare to revolt against these choking regulations that have gotten completely out of hand, and we’d surely never succumb to greed. Yeah, sure.
It’s worth noting that all of these changes within the automotive industry coincide very neatly with increasingly stringent fuel economy and safety requirements for USDM automobiles; California was already planning to severely ramp things up as early as 1999. But unlike in the past, some companies decided to embrace this brave new world instead of doubling down against it. I’m willing to bet the shareholders were delighted to keep going to the bank. Nothing helps to rationalize a bad decision like a fist full of hundred dollar bills that you wouldn’t otherwise have! The pitch would go something like this: “Why keep character in cars when you can take it out, and keep posting record quarterly profits? In fact, let’s try to get out ahead of this!” Honda, Ford, GM, BMW, MB, VolksWagen, Lamborghini, Audi, Jaguar, Ferrari, Volvo, Toyota, Mopar, Mazda, Aston Martin, Cadillac, and oh so many others cashed in on this vile trend in some capacity. If you’ve ever wondered why so many cars these days look the same, are very difficult to see out of, and are very boring to drive, you now know why- companies are being rewarded to stifle creativity and excise emotional involvement more than ever before. They’re also being rewarded for producing environmentally unfriendly vehicles. And nobody rewards companies more for this than consumers. So let’s take a nice hard look at our last group, the needy, greedy, end users.
Welcome to 2017, evil end users. Your unreasonable and hapless demands for cars that do everything for you have been met. It’s cost us billions of dollars, cost us thousands of jobs, destroyed millions of good cars, and turned the new car landscape into a maelstrom of boredom and waste. You’ve replaced the cars you destroyed with less sustainable and less interesting examples too. Now that’s what I call progress! Think I’m off the deep end with how I characterize these folk? Let’s analyze some testimony from real cash for clunker participants. We’ll start with one who traded in their 1990 C1500 long bed pickup truck as part of the C.A.R.S. program. “We've known for a year or two that we needed to replace the Chevy. Its transmission was starting to go, and it had a bad computer.” (CNN Money). Stop right there. I understand the TH-700R4 isn’t the best transmission from the factory. But changing the fluid and the assorted wear items, as well as installing a quality aftermarket stacked plate transmission cooler, will greatly lengthen the 700R4’s lifespan. The second bit is just as important as changing the fluid, gasket, and filter(s). This is because transmission cooling on many older vehicles wasn’t very good from the factory, if it was even offered in the first place. And it’s not just a General Motors issue either. Ford’s AOD based transmissions and Chrysler’s Ultradrive based transmissions need those same bits of extra care too. The owner is looking at less than $500 worth of parts and labor to remedy the issue. As for the “bad computer”, that is highly unlikely. Those tend to outlive the trucks they’re installed in. The same cannot be said for fuel lines, wiring components, and vacuum lines- these are wear items that need to be periodically replaced. Your vehicle won’t run right if the fuel delivery or the vacuum levels aren’t consistent, or if wires powering any sensors are corroded or poorly grounded. These are all simple facts of automotive design. In any case, the owner is looking at less than $500 worth of parts and labor here to fix this. What’s more, an online owners’ community will be able to help with other parts of caring for the truck. After all, owners’ manuals don’t always cover everything. Let’s get back to picking apart the participant’s words. “I've been waiting since I first heard about the Clunkers program, during the initial stimulus talk. The PT Cruiser is not my first, second or probably even 10th pick for a car, but it's rated well and Chrysler matched the $4,500 federal rebate. I never could have afforded this without the rebate programs, nor would I have purchased a brand new car. I have a bit of guilt that I'm sending the great white dragon (our nickname for the beloved Chevy) off to slaughter before its natural death, but it was on its way anyhow.” (CNN Money). Let’s stop here for analysis. Recall that I have demonstrated that it’s cheap and easy just catch up on the maintenance on the truck and keep it going. Conveniently, this is also more environmentally friendly versus driving a brand new one. (Weiss and Heywood 99-103). Despite this the owner still just sends the truck off to its death, even expressing some remorse for it and calling its fate a slaughter. You cannot make up the kind of ignorance and irresponsibility that exists in the world today. You just can’t! This is why I come down so hard on people who don’t “get it”, so to speak. It’s not fair for the entities caught in between- in this case a 1990 C1500 long bed pickup truck. Its owner is exactly the kind of end user the C.A.R.S. program targeted- the lazy, ignorant, incompetent buffoon who can’t appreciate what’s there and who instead thirsts for novelty. Even if the novelty is neither sustainable nor practical! This is the inefficient, illogical, throw-away culture we have today. It’s stronger now than it ever was before. It’s the same one that governments and companies alike happily cashed in on, then and now. Nobody seems to want to stop! So tell me, end users, where do YOU draw the line? After we’re all driving boring, unsustainable new cars and our landfills are chock to the brim full of all the old cars you destroyed to build all those new ones?! But I’m getting distracted again. Let’s look at the last piece of the truck owner’s testimony. “And it's not lost on me that this program is funded by taxpayers. Does it make me part of the financial problem?” (CNN Money). Why yes it does, you delightful little mattoid. That’s the smartest thing you’ve said today. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for costing the taxpayers some two thousand dollars (Abrams and Parsons 3) and replacing a more sustainable vehicle with a less sustainable vehicle. Thanks so much for playing!
I apologize if I came down hard on the quoted participant back there. I’m sure he or she is a wonderful person. But you cannot forgive ignorance and waste- especially when it’s directed to vehicles that didn’t deserve any of it in the first place. Where’s our respect? Or did that get dumped in a landfill somewhere when the next best thing came out? There are plenty more deadbeat owners out there, but I think you understand. There are 690,113 other stories just like that 1990 C1500 pickup’s. Each one is likely just as tragic. There’s plenty of guilt and blame to go around here though; I’m just getting started with the end users! New car acolytes are a huge part of the problem of building less sustainable cars on the backs of more sustainable cars. Despite the higher production costs to the environment, issues with keeping globally produced cars on the road, and the the Weiss and Heywood article I cited, new car acolytes like Antony Ingram blissfully posit that brand new beats old. For a particularly egregious example of this, read Ingram’s shill-tastic work of “journalism”. It’s called “Buying A New Car Is Greener Than Driving An Old One…Really”, where he cites the Weiss and Heywood article, only to not point to a specific place in the article where he got his percentages. Upon reading said article, I could not find any of the percentages Ingram used. They simply weren’t there. Is this the kind of end user we want to be trying to direct policy and behavior of others? Someone who can’t even be bothered to research a topic?
We The People have really done it this time. Are you happy with what you’ve accomplished? You’ve engaged in senseless mass slaughter, driven up prices on older cars, damaged the environment, and hurt people who wanted nothing to do with your broken policy in the first place. I think it’s time for you- all of you- to butt out and stay out. I mean, it’s not like you had ways of getting around not wanting to drive. Bicycles, motorcycles, car pooling, public transportation all come to mind. But no, it’s too difficult for you figure out ways to live your life in a manner that doesn’t disrupt it for the rest of us. Pity you.
The end user problem is a seemingly tricky one to tackle. In reality it’s very simple. End users need to stop making unreasonable demands to Congress, stop destroying older cars, and stop buying new cars. It would also be nice if you left the people around you who enjoy driving older cars, alone. I’ll say it again in plain English. Leave SEMA, aftermarket companies, driving enthusiasts, and old cars alone! We’ll be more than happy to do the same for you!
The problem of unsustainable cars being built at the expense of sustainable cars is multifaceted and complicated, with few winners and many, many losers. Government, car manufacturers, and select members of We The People have all come together to make things worse for everyone else- especially those among us that like cars to be sustainable- not to mention interesting and fun to drive. The solution to this problem is simple- stop empowering destructive entities. This takes on many forms- voting out representatives who don’t have your best interests in mind, not rewarding manufacturers for making bad cars, and doing your part to keep old cars alive, to name a few. This isn’t a typical quick fix, or band-aid. This easily classifies as open-heart surgery. But it’s the only way forward. Who’s with me?
Works Cited, bootleg edition!
Smog Check II reported on by Nancy Hsu 1994 (articles.latimes.com/1994-12-3…)
“ON THE ROAD IN 2020 - A life-cycle analysis of new automobile technologies.” Weiss, Malcolm A.
Heywood, John B. Drake, Elisabeth M. Schafer, Andreas. AuYeung, Felix F. Energy Laboratory Report October 2000.
Title Xiii--Consumer Assistance To Recycle and Save Program. (need link on web archive, have PDF saved)
CARS program statistics (need link on web archive, have PDF saved)
Bolton source (infamous DoT press release, need link on web archive, have screenshot saved)
Abrams, B A. Parsons, G R. “Is CARS a Clunker?” The Economists' Voice 2009. Volume 6, Issue 8.
Westley article (fee.org/resources/the-i-hate-t…)
Payne analysis on effects (www.pressdemocrat.com/csp/medi…)
NPR charity director statement (www.npr.org/templates/story/st…)
California Consumer Assistance Program “CAP” overview (www.cashforclunkers.org/califo…)
California Department of Consumer Affairs scrappage info (www.bar.ca.gov/pdf/VR_Requirem…)
C4C INITIAL VOTING HOUSE (clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/roll3…)
C4C INITIAL VOTING SENATE (www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS…)
C4C $2 billion infusion VOTING HOUSE (clerk.house.gov/evs/2009/roll6…)
C4C $2 billion infusion VOTING SENATE (www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS…)
Cars.com domestic parts index scores 2014 up to and including 2016 model year autos. (www.cars.com/articles/2014/06/… www.cars.com/articles/the-2015… www.cars.com/articles/the-2016…)
Rechtin interview with designers. (www.autonews.com/article/20120…)
Ford Europe design director quoted article 2015 (cardesignnews.com/articles/res…)
CNN Money article with testimony from end user. (money.cnn.com/galleries/2009/a…)
BONUS: Anthony Ingram article if you want to see someone playing it fast and loose with facts, figures, and articles. (www.greencarreports.com/news/1…)