Thursday, June 05, 2008

Cause and Effect

It seems that some real change is afoot, as David Leonhardt points out in the New York Times, in comments on the declining sales of the F-series pickup in the US:

For more than two decades, Ford’s F-series pickup trucks have been the most popular line of vehicles in the country, selling more every year than any sedan, station wagon or S.U.V., foreign or domestic. But F-series sales have dropped more than 30 percent since last spring.

Last month, according to the new sales numbers released on Tuesday, the Toyota Corolla and Camry and the Honda Civic and Accord all surged past the F-series. It was the first month since December 1992 that a car — not a truck — was the country’s top-selling vehicle. The world doesn’t seem to have come to an end as a result.

Leonhardt looks at the mid-term comparative costs of buying and operating different vehicles across five-years, emphasising how much concentrating on fuel efficiency can save you:

While the F-250 costs $100,000 and a fully loaded F-150 — the better-known, smaller Ford pickup — costs about $70,000, a Ford Focus still costs less than $40,000 over five years. A Honda Civic Hybrid does, too. A Toyota Prius costs only a little more. A Subaru Outback station wagon runs $50,000 or so.

To put this in perspective, the difference between a Focus and an F-250 over five years is $60,000. The annual pretax income of a typical family in this country is also about $60,000. So choosing a F-250 over a Focus is like volunteering for a 20 percent pay cut. The relative resale values might cushion the blow a little, but not much.

The primary beneficiaries of this shift seem to be Toyota and Honda, who, I think, have pretty much dominated the small car market in the US for decades.

I wonder: is there an opportunity here for European car makers to also expand in the US?

Even...dare one say it...the French? Even if previous efforts in this direction (think 'Le Car', better known to European readers as the Renault 5) have been less than successful.

This was despite the excellent ad campaign for 'Le Car'. (Link leads to an extraordinary ad, on which embedding has sadly been disabled. But take a look. You'll be glad you did.)

I mean, how could Americans have resisted back in 1981?

In the mid-90s, a grad-school roommate had one of these, in the classic yellow colour with 'Le Car' written on the side, as I recall. It was, by that point, about 15 years old, I think, and he continued driving it for about 4 months even after the clutch went out.

(Some American readers may no longer know what a 'clutch' is. Explanation here.)

When I mention to Americans what make of car we have, most seem to think I'm suffering from some kind of speech impediment when I respond.

For a change, I don't think that's a result of my poor French pronunciation. (I've been told by one friend that I now have a German accent when I speak French, which is apparently quite comical.) Rather, Citroën stopped selling cars in America in the 1970s.

Interestingly enough, they are now promoting themselves in Britain by pretending to be German.

(I, actually, find the C5 to be sort of dull: the C4 is much more interesting.)

Happy motoring.

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