Column: Government Should Help Get SUVs Off The Lot

This story was written by Cathy Wilson, The Post

One of my friends bought a new car last year, and she had wanted a sport utility vehicle from the moment she began looking for cars. She enjoyed the feeling of the safety she felt when she drove her sisters Ford Explorer, so she went out and got herself an SUV. Now, she is driving a gas-guzzling machine that no one wants to take off her hands.

Around the nation, people are trying to get rid of their SUVs, and car dealerships are wary to take them or pay a lot of money for them because they tend to sit on the lots. A report from CNW Marketing Research explains that in April, it took about 66 days to sell a used SUV, and even then, the price was discounted about 20 percent from the average blue book price.

A 2008 Ford Explorer costs $26,195 (remember that in case they are selling one on The Price is Right) and has a combined average of about 16 miles per gallon. Assuming gas costs $4 per gallon, a 22.5 gallon tank would cost $90 to fill. Yes. $90. And thatll get you about 360 miles, so if you live about 30 miles south of Cleveland, then you can make it there and back to Athens on one tank of gas.

Amidst plummeting U.S. auto sales, the Ford Focus (at a cost of $14,755) is an example of a smaller car that people are clamoring to buy instead of larger SUVs, according to the Detroit Free Press, which reported a 43.5 percent increase in Focus sales. With a 13.5 gallon tank and 28 combined city/highway miles per gallon, thatll get you 378 miles for $54.

The point here isnt to plug the Ford Focus or to shame the Ford Explorer but to shake some sense into the U.S. auto industry. Chrysler is offering gas for $2.99 per gallon for three years to people who purchase its fuel-efficient cars which for some reason encompasses the Dodge Ram truck and Jeep Grand Cherokee. While this might entice buyers, it completely misses the point of fuel efficiency, which is to use less gas.

People need an incentive to get rid of the inefficient SUVs or cars they already have, and car dealerships need an incentive to buy them. The government needs to offer some kind of assistance to keep car dealerships in business if they agree to accept more SUVs so consumers can purchase more fuel-efficient cars. Then, can we just scrap those SUVs all together and recycle them to make fuel-efficient cars? Thatd be great.

The U.S. needs to stop being stubborn and accept that there is a problem with our oil consumption and dependence, or the auto industry is going to continue to suffer for it. Look at a foreign car, the Toyota Prius Hybrid, of which more than one million have now been sold. According to BusinessWeek, almost 60 percent of those one million were in North America. No wonder: With a combined total of about 46 miles per gallon and an 11.9 gallon tank, the Prius would cost $47.60 to fill for 547 miles.

Especially with our shaky economic status, U.S. automakers need to step up their game. Its not that people dont want to buy new cars; its that the best products are being developed elsewhere.

The efficiency of U.S. automobiles increased from 23.1 miles per gallon in 1980 to 24.7 miles per gallon in 2004, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In about 25 years, we managed to squeeze 1.6 extra miles out of our automobiles for each gallon of gas we use. This is pathetic. The popularity of SUVs most likely had something to do with this low number, but luckily, consumers are finally ditching them for something more practical. This isnt to say some people dont have an actual need for a larger vehicle, but many dont have a need as much as a want.

To help the cause, the Bush administration opposes states making their own, stricter fuel-efficiency laws. Most notably, Californias goal of reducing greehouse gas emissions by 30 percent within the next eight years has been adopted by 12 other states, according to the San Jose Mercury News, but President Bush has blocked them from implementing it.

The Guardian reports that carbon is more present now in the atmosphere than it has been in 650,000 years, and nitrogen oxides from cars account for about 38 percent (the highest producer) of all nitrogen oxides expelled into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Whether people want to buy fuel-efficient cars to reduce putting these gases into the atmosphere or to save money at the wallet-gouging gas stations is not as important as people seeing that fossil fuels are not the end-all of energy choices. Unfortunately, the auto industry is just now catching on, and the government hasnt quite caught on yet.