Gas was $3.57 a gallon at Costco yesterday afternoon, when I stopped by on the way home from work to pay our annual dues. Having heard during the morning commute that the average price is now $3.95, that sounded like a bargain, so I decided to top off the tank.
Lines were out to the street at every pump. Fifteen people were stacked up ahead of me, and I may have been the only person there who turned off the ignition while standing. Admittedly, it was a warm day and sitting in the car with no air conditioning was a little uncomfortable-far from unbearable, but not exactly brisk and cool. Most people let their engines idle, burning gas for the ten minutes or so it took to crawl up to a pump.
Directly in front of me was a brand-spanking-new, shiny Toyota Sequoia, dealer’s paper license still in the plate-holder. The thing is the size of a Sherman tank! Its 273-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 must get all of ten gallons to the mile. Toyota must be giving the things away-surely the only reason anyone would buy such a behemoth would be a price tag somewhere near gratis. When it finally lumbered up to the pump, what should climb out of the passenger’s seat but a vast woman with Mma Ramotswe‘s “traditional build.” She must have weighed over 200 pounds…and her gentleman friend was proportionately well fed. Big car for big folks: the springs on a beast like that should hold up under their weight, anyway.
As I stood in line breathing exhaust fumes, I counted 10 SUVs and pickups and 5 regular passenger cars. Most of the SUVs were late models. None of the sedans were low-mileage vehicles.
Pickup trucks make some sense: they’re designed to carry cargo and most people who own them use them for exactly that. Being trucks, they ride like a truck, and so it’s unlikely that many folks choose to buy them for the around-town family ride. And I can understand how you would hang on to a gas guzzler despite high fuel prices-I sure can’t afford to trade in my 2000 Sienna yet. But to go out and buy a brand-new gigantic SUV that gets 13 to 19 miles a gallon, at a time when gas is headed north of $4.00 a gallon? Clearly, market forces are not discouraging Some People’s Kids from consuming large amounts of gas and pushing the prices up for the rest of us.
Less than a third of a tank cost me what a whole fill-up used to cost, just a few months ago.
IMHO, it’s time for some legislation, and not just in leading-edge California but nationwide. We need to do more than just “encourage” people to buy fuel-efficient vehicles by offering a few lagniappes such as small tax breaks and license plates that let you drive in the HOV lane. We need to make it against the law to sell a passenger vehicle that gets less than 30 miles per gallon. Period. Force manufacturers to take that junk off the market, and force used-car dealers to quit peddling the trade-ins.