The Road from Hel is paved with wind turbines!

On our way to the airport we stopped at a mall, and saw one of the new Smart cars, which is retailing in the US for between $30k and $35k depending on the options. After finally getting to our first destination I was amused to find that some 3 of the seven cars in the parking lot were of that geometry, but my host almost went into giggles when I told him of the price being charged for such a car in the US. Gas prices here - depending on grade, run around $1.50 a liter, and, apart from the minivan carrying us around, most cars are much smaller than in the US, and with the poorer state of the roads, move somewhat slower, and thus more efficiently (though I suspect that the cause is police enforcement rather than energy cost).
This is true of most traffic, and while I prefer trains there are abandoned tracks, and overgrown sidings along our path, and our first journey took over 5 hours to go not very far. (For those really curious as to where I was, the church that I could see from my window burned on the 22nd of May this year). And while there is some concern about energy costs, there does not appear to be much concern, as yet, with the folk that I have talked to about energy security of long-term supply. Most of the power stations in the North are running on natural gas, with steam generation for local heating, and in this part of the world that means only one supplier.

Yet there are some realities that seem to be creeping into the picture, unemployment is quite severe, though with many of the educated classes moving west, there are jobs going begging in critical parts of some industries. As we turned south we ran through a wind farm with some 27 turbines turning lazily in the morning wind, towering over producing fields, and the comment was made that the investors expect that the turbines will be paid for in five years. And yet there is little thought that we have encountered so far, as to a greater investment in alternate fuel sources.

Further south the exceptionally warm season is holding off discussions as to what must be done, since in the warm of a late summer, it is hard to focus on the fuel problems of the winters that lie ahead. And there are still, for a few more precious days, tourists (and a certain beauty contest) that are distracting the public. But the worries are there as a nervous undercurrent in some of the discussions. And there is a concern that when bureaucratic regimes collide, even less will get done.

Because of the fleeting access to the Internet it is hard to find out all that is going on in the rest of the world, our days are full with the work of my day job, but in glancing at the site a couple of times I see that there is a suggestion that the Cornucopians are winning. Would that they really were - but a return to that debate will have to wait another week until I get back to the US.

A couple of questions. How much are they charging for the Smart cars there? And where exactly are you? The only Hel I can recall is in Poland.
The only Hel I can recall is in Poland

That's the one, Robert, HO is in Eastern Europe.

I don't know about Poland, but here in Germany Smarts range from 9,000 - 24,000 Euro.
Polish Smart configurator. Currently, $1 USD = 3.13485 PLN (Polish Zlotych).
Here in Canada, a Smart Car cost around CA$20,000.
The base Smart "fortwo cdi" (turbodiesel) is $16,700 Cdn, which equates to $15000 US.  Why are they twice as expensive in the U.S.?

I have been to Hell, it is about 35 km from Trondheim, Norway. There wasn't much apart from a railway station, it was quiet, very quiet, I don't recall seeing any other humans apart from my girlfriend who was with me. We didn't stay long.
Oh, that must be the place AC/DC are singing about in their tune "Highway to hell" right? ;-)
"Hell" means lots of generally positive things in Norwegian - "prosperity", "success", "good luck", "bright" and "blond"
Here's a smart car on Capitol Hill in Seattle, Broadway and Mercer, on 17 Sep 2006:

I like the way that they can be "row" parked in parallel parking spots, like motorcycles. That's a big plus. :o)


They're charging more than they are for Priuses in the US, why would someone want one? Unless they lived where the parking is SO tight, that being able to park it like a motorcycle is a huge advantage.....
Tight parking about describes Seattle, especially on Capitol Hill.
There is also a Hell in Norway, a quite small place. The Christian democratic party held a big meeting there some years back, probably to show people they have a sense of humour.
Re: I see that there is a suggestion that the Cornucopians are winning

Yes, I've noticed that. Despite the all-out assault of the last couple of months, I've seen nothing that would change my views. Jack #2? Sorry, no cigar. The price slump? Just volatility -- though that's not a good thing. The EIA is revising downward and timing of their latest data release is a bit on the suspicious side. Mostly, it's the same old "big reserves numbers" argument from ExxonMobil or Saudi Aramco. Trillions and trillions. The mainstream media have predictably added to the drumbeat of optimism and because ignorance is bliss, they'll be swayed in whatever direction the wind is blowing.

My suggestion for the discouraged is "if you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen."

Come on back, HO, some of us oldtimers are missing you. We need to start talking about oil fields, E&P costs and geology again. It is a peak in production that we anticipate, is it not? And I'm not talking about corn or soybeans.

I'll try to get the ball rolling once this little wave of burn out passes.

The media talk about gasoline prices collapsing is absurd.  We are already seeing that $60 is a floor.  Most of the price drop in the last few weeks is irrational market exuberance triggered by lack of hurricanes and the perception that there is no imminent crisis looming in the Middle East.  If this spike of optimism can't break below $60 then you can expect the prices to recover to the $70 level as reality sinks back in.  
when will peak oil be in the headlines again?....after the election season, when Hel freezes over!
"Re: I see that there is a suggestion that the Cornucopians are winning"

One can argue the merits of future breeder reactors, but currently we are consuming--from non-renewable nuclear + fossil fuel sources--the energy equivalent of a billion barrels of oil every five days.  

We consume the energy equivalent  of all ExxonMobil's proven oil and gas reserves in less than four months.

Corncucopians like Peter Huber literally assert that we can continue to increase our consumption of energy indefinitely.  

Trillions and trillions.

It's too bad Carl Sagan couldn't be alive to repeat those words. :-)

The 'smart car' is a joke.  For 30k you get a glorified scooter that consumes over 4.5 liters per 100 km.  The Golf diesel I used to own consumed 5.5 liters per 100 km.

It's time to sell dual mode hybrids to urban residents.  That is if we are serious about facing the future and not engaging in stupid gimmicks.

I agree, dissident!

I like the looks of the SmartCar in a way, but it seems like the cost could be far lower in the USA.  at the same time the car could be engineered to be truly smart, and perform better.

My own sense is that "stupid gimmicks" continue to dominate our discussions.  If we are serious about the environmental tsunami we face, nothing short of radical and immediate change of lifestyle will do the trick.  The current paradigm is all wrong.  Our premises are screwed up, so we caqn't possibly get it right.

I use the Organicengines SUV for most of my transportation needs.  We do have a hybrid -- not my choice, but I am still married to its owner, and we're working on the change of paradigm for ourselves.

Localisation of agriculture and much manufacturing can contribute to much energy savings, but we'll see plenty of diet changes and changes in consumption patterns to go along with that.

Unfortunately, the iron triangle and our political anti-leaders are all agog at the "eternal more-for-me, but-not for-thee" pattern of hegemony, which feeds gluttony, which in turns requires Jesus Camp and "War for God and Democracy" propaganda to keep everyone from dwelling on the obvious truth that we are killing planet and poor and the future just to keep ourselves rich, fat, and happy in the present.

Cheery mess we've made for ourselves, eh?

The road from Hel may be paved with wind turbines, but the road to Hell is paved with absurdities believed so as to justify atrocities.

On a happier note, I will try to do what I can and leave the outcomes to God, the Universe, or that mseey Creative-evolutionary process.

Its worthwhile those in the US noting that the Smart Car in Europe is primarily chosen for its small, agile, city car capability and its party trick of parking nose first in parking slots at the side of the road.

Its not specifically targeted on fuel economy.

That's certainly worth noting.  So the next smart step will be to make the SmartCar very fuel efficient and perhaps to lower emissions?

(I think this has been addressed below a bit by now as well.)

In Spain, you can rent a Smart Car from Pepecar, with publicity from the same rental on it, for as low as €3 a day. It is an incredible deal for cash strapped students visiting a city.
Oops, spelling check on last line of my first post on this topic: "mseey" was supposeed to be "messy."

Hey, it's tough to be posting a comment when one's kids are clamouring for attention!

Life goes on.....

The diesel Smart Car consumes 3.9  l/100km urban,
3.4 mixed
I was about to say "What they need is a diesel version."

I remember seeing a lot of them when I was living in Germany. They look almost like toys, but we will see more solutions similar to the Smart in the future as energy prices climb.

The first step is for consumers to reduce the number of tanks on the road. Then we'll feel safer driving "glorified scooters".

Face it, it's pretty intimidating to drive a tiny car, when you're being bullied by tanks driven by angry, impatient young guys.

My wife and I now have more than 200,000 km on our Golf Diesel TDI. At 5.5 l/100 km vs. 4.5 l/100 km (about a 20% savings), that would have been a savings of 2,000 l over the lifetime of the vehicle (2,100+ Euro at current diesel prices). It's not exactly a gimmick.
The 'smart car' is a joke.  For 30k you get a glorified scooter that consumes over 4.5 liters per 100 km. The Golf diesel I used to own consumed 5.5 liters per 100 km.
You should expect more from a liter of diesel however -- it has a denser concentration of energy than gasoline. Offhand, I think the energy per unit volume for diesel is to gasoline as that of gasoline is to ethanol.

Does somebody have a chart handy?

Apparently the diesel version is not available in the US.  But 3.7 L/100km is still nothing to get excited about.  It's less than 40% the car that a Golf is (i.e. two seater, with small trunk) but it consumes two-thirds the fuel.  Why would anybody buy it for that insane price?  Even with $3 gas/diesel the Golf is still an affordable choice (to buy and operate) that has utility.
It is only 40% of the car if you actually use all four seats for a great deal of the time. Some with a big family may do so but have a look the next time you drive down the road how many cars have only one occupant. If you do not have children then the extra seats are just an expensive encumbrance most of the time and 50% extra on the fuel which here in the UK is the equivalent of  $6.85/US gallon is not a trivial matter.

I have no idea why they are so expensive in the US but I bought mine here two years ago at the equivalent of $13,000. For the two occupants they are considerably more spacious than a Golf. 0 - 60 mph in 15 seconds may not be anyone's idea of a sports car but is lively enough if you want it for transport and not to prove your sexual virility.

The upright  seating position is a fair bit higher that a Golf and I don't think many people feel intimidated, at least in UK traffic conditions. We do however have less urban assault vehicles on the road. However small they may look from the outside, from the inside they feel like you are driving a moderate size European saloon car because the space immediately around you is about the same. Only when you look over your shoulder and notice the car stops 60cm behind your head or lean forward and notice there is very little car in front of the bottom of the windscreen do you realise you are in a very small car.

The luggage space is small but it easily takes a week's food shopping or suitcases for a weekend trip for two. With only the driver in you can fold down the passenger seat and pile quite a lot in. I have brought home an insulated 300 litre hot water tank in mine.

The ability to park head on into the kerb means that you can nearly always find a parking place in the crowded cities laid out hundreds of years ago for horse traffic that are common in Europe.

In the UK the annual tax disc is free for the basic diesel version and £40 for the petrol version against £175 for a most SUV's. They are also exempt from the £5 a day congestion charge in the centre of London.

The diesel version can be converted to run on pure vegetable oil with a small diesel tank for starting. The petrol version can be converted to run on liquefied petroleum gas (largely butane and propane) that is available in the UK at about half the price of petrol or diesel.

Some of these reasons may not apply to the US at present but as peak oil strikes, giving up the idea that vehicles such as the Smart Car are a joke will be one of the least uncomfortable adjustments you may have to make.

Try driving one. I think you will be surprised.

Close enough for government work.  Ethanol 73,000 BTUs
                                                         Diesel   140,000 BTUs
              Per gallon                          Gasoline 125,000 BTU"s
The Smart is not a joke, at least on its own terms. It was never meant to be a high fuel efficiency auto - the VW Lupo and Audi A2 were larger, and much more fuel efficient.

The Smart was meant to be a hip urban vehicle, with a number of urban advantages - especially in terms of finding space to park it, in looking interesting, and offering a more cargo space than anything with two wheels. There was much discussion originally of simply returning a Smart to the dealer, and having a new style/color scheme done cheaply in an afternoon.

Actually, the Smart was pretty much a perfect example of an inexpensive disposable consumer product when conceived, somewhat like a disposable camera. It is very ironic that this vehicle seems to have environmental virtues attached to it in the U.S. To my knowledge, it never has had that aura in Germany - cool, practical, unusual, cheap, a money loser, sure - environmentally friendly? Not really. But driving past a dealer near the factory where they are made in France, the glass tower filled with them is pretty neat.

Thanks for the clarification as to the motivation for this product.  Something as small as the 'smart car' should be electric powered.  As for parking space, in Europe (especially Germany) you can get almost anywhere by public transit.  If one needs downtown parking space in Germany then one is not really trying.
Well, one of the largest single groups of users of Smartcars I have seen are home care nurses making their rounds. Germany has a Pflegeversicherung system - call it insurance/care for those older people needing help which is not directly medical - cutting toenails, dealing with washing/cleaning such as teeth brushing, bathing, changing clothes, and so on, along with making sure they are receiving and using medications, or checking how they are doing in terms of treatment - to give just the tiniest examples of what is involved. I don't see this group of people using public transit, if only because of the amount of time that would be lost waiting for a train/bus, instead of dealing with their clients.

As a quick note about fuel economy - the Smart will never be very fuel efficent in terms of aerodynamics, if only due to its height. As for its weight, that is in part because of its fairly decent crash safety, which is one of the things that Mercedes considers important in general in terms of its image.

multiplying around London like rabbits.

Built in Bangalore.  Range about 40 miles.

They don't pay congestion charge and they get 4 hours free parking in the Borough of Westminster (ie the West End of London-- think Manhattan Midtown).

Biggest problem is it would not be legal to string a recharging cord across the sidewalk to power them.  However that is what owners must be doing (because Londoners don't have garages).

In my corner of the woods (central Europe) the Smart goes for over $20K and is bought or leased strictly by corporations as an urban transport option which doubles as an ultra-cute mobile billboard. They get plenty of attention on the street and most are set up in corporate colors, with logos etc. All kinds of companies from headhunters to office supply vendors use them. I even have a photo of a police Smart car which is pretty funny.
How many cars in the U.S. get 52 plus mpg?  Off the top, I'd say the Prius and the Honda Insight.  That gas mileage is hardly a joke, especially for a non hybrid. Also, I should think they would be quite handy to drive around in an urban environment. I'll stick with my Prius  but I'd be sorely tempted to get one a Smart Car if it were a hybrid or pure electric.  

I have a high tolerance for risk, but my wife is the opposite as she thinks the Prius is pushing the envelope on safety and still fears SUVs. So I guess it's not in the cards, regardless of the motive  source.  

Good point.

I still think we need to focus primarily on the forms of transportation which are active -- walking and biking.

Total re-ordering of the way we live is possible, it also takes plenty of energy and imagination, which is a significant part of why we are so resisant to the change.

Our imaginations are pretty bound right now, and I see this as the biggest part of our problem.

The more we move toward truly Smart Cars and especially to walking and biking as normal daily human transportation, the more our imaginations can be freed up to make even more changes.

I know that when I committed to riding cargo trikes and pedicabs six years ago or so, that freed my imagination up to understand just how bound we are to  completely self-destructive ways of moving around and getting food and other goods.

We are bound to these ways so much that we cannot imagine how they are 1) optional -- not necessary; 2) in place to make loads of money for specific interests; 3) a sure way to destroy our health and the viability of the planet we live on.

So the smart car is undoubtedly a good thing, as are a number of other smartly designed vehicles.  If we move enough in the direction we need to go, that movement itself can open up newer insights amoung more people, and so we can move further in the directions we need to go.

The question seems to be whether or not we will make positive changes or get further sucked into resource war and so ignore the real crisis which needs concerted effort -- our overstressed and rapidly changing habitat.

Today I volunteered with my daughter to help clean up after the Twin Cities Marathon, and I was appalled at the amount of wasted energy and materials were involved in the event:  rows of cars mand SUVs lined up on the freeways and streets surrounding the endpoint of the event -- not to mention in many other places.  There were tons of garbage in the form of discarded drink bottles and cans and food wrappers and such.  There were vendors hawking all kinds of totally absurd trinkets and materials to be ingested in place of food.  There were bands blaring music through huge amplifiers, big-screen displays of pooped-out runners coming into the finish line, and thousands upon thousands of people there to "take it all in."

Fun in a way, but also rather bizarre when one copnsiders what kind of energy and materials go into such events without a thought -- and that is crucial to keep people consuming: Without....A....Thought.

This is normal and to be expected as an entitlement.  Anyone who suggests otherwise is insane or evil or both,

Our imaginations are bound and so we are bound to the Establishment which exists by "despoiling the earth and filling people with goodies merely to make money." (Sorry, there's that Douglas quote again.)

Let's keep creating creative disequilibrium, folks!  In the way we walk as well as in the way we talk!

I'll stick to my Prius right now, 51MPG right now. And I do use all the seats pretty often - I routinely go around with the trunk and read seat full of stuff, and at times like this weekend, have it packed full of stuff. I have not tried it yet, but it appears to have enough room to camp out in it in a sleeping bag.
Is the key with the Prius the highway/city driving mix?

My understanding is you get a huge pickup in fuel economy if you do a lot of city driving, but not if you do a lot of highway driving (although the drag coefficient should be pretty low).

In Europe we have high performance diesels which get c. 50mpg (even on a (smaller) US gallon).  A small Vauxhall Corsa (GM) would certainly get that.

Actually, the Prius does better in highway driving. It is a difficult thing to consider. If you just run it on a perfectly flat road with no wind then I'd guess the best mileage is at between 50 and 70 mph. Where it gets complicated is that no road is perfectly flat and road surfaces differ in quality and in city driving you have lots of stop signs and red lights. Much of the benefit of a Prius comes because of its great ability to switch the engine on and off and to store and recover a small amount of energy with a battery. If you drive it like a sports car you'll get much worse mileage than if you drive it like a sailboat.

On a route that I know well going over a moderate hill (about a 1,500 foot change in elevation) I can go for an extended distance just coasting and sometimes running off the battery. Also, on the freeway I can significantly increase my mileage by running up close behind a large SUV and letting them block the wind for me.

It sounds like that that there are 2 keys:

  • at a constant speed, the Prius shuts its engine off (a hybrid diesel wouldn't get the same savings due to the idling efficiency of a diesel)

  • the drag coefficient of a Prius is low

Thanks for the info.  In the UK, there wouldn't be many chances to 'highway cruise' like that, usually the traffic is such that one is always changing lanes, accelerating or decelerating.

They are a lot more expensive here than the Corolla.  About £16k for a new one (aka USD $28k or so).  Hopefully that will come down, in time.

I've averaged 50 generally, but my current commute has me down to 47.5 (not a big difference to anyone but a perfectionist).

What's killing me now is roads on my route to work with high speed limits and poorly timed frequent signals.  If all you do is get up to speed and then stop, even the regenerative braking is small help.

FWIW, I rambled about Prius mileage on my page and got lots of other folk's stories:

(wait, I read all the way down and see that you were already there ;-)
Me too. I have run into very few situations where the Prius is not adequate to meet my hauling needs. I can also put my bicyle inside without taking off the wheel. This is the most practical car I have ever owned, especially when you consider the gas mileage.
 A Prius is basically a Corolla?  Safety shouldn't be too big a problem.

Are the best performers the biggest and heaviest vehicles on the road? Not at all.   Among the safest cars are the midsize imports, like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.   Or consider the extraordinary performance of some subcompacts, like the Volkswagen Jetta.   Drivers of the tiny Jetta die at a rate of just forty-seven per million, which is in the same range as drivers of the five-thousand-pound Chevrolet Suburban and almost half that of popular S.U.V. models like the Ford Explorer or the GMC Jimmy.   In a head-on crash, an Explorer or a Suburban would crush a Jetta or a Camry.   But, clearly, the drivers of Camrys and Jettas are finding a way to avoid head-on crashes with Explorers and Suburbans.   The benefits of being nimble--of being in an automobile that's capable of staying out of trouble--are in many cases greater than the benefits of being big.  

I'd be sorely tempted to get one a Smart Car if it were a hybrid or pure electric.

Your wish is granted  

120 miles per charge and 90mph top speed.
Sure does ..

Makes more sense to buy lightly
used SUVs that nobody wants and
pay for the gas .. that's a lot of
years of motoring for the price
differnetial ..

Triff ..

The smart car needs to be electric, Ideal for the big city.

a bit smaller than a SMART, but not much.  Built in Bangalore.  They give a figure of 600mpg (I am sceptical) but if you can arrange to recharge it at night, (in the UK when nuclear power is the main source of kilowatts), then you could be on a virtually carbon-free transportation system.

US auto safety rules might well kill it in the USA.  

Guys, you are all wrong about the price.  The price you are quoting is the current cost of a Smart car converted by Zap!  The reason it is so expensive is they import the cars and convert them to U.S. standards and then need to turn a profit off of them.  When Daimler Chrysler release the Smart here next year, they will not cost $30,000.  There would be no market for them at that price.  They will be closer to $10K or so.  

Yes, the Smart car is a joke at $30K, but that's not how much it's going to cost!  For those on a budget who cannot afford a $20K hybrid, the smart might be an economical choice.  Toyota is also coming out with a mini car like the Smart that they will be releasing here as well!  Check it out!

On a side note, I wish people would take the time to do some research before just trashing something.  With all due respect, anyone who thinks a Smart would be sold for $30K directly from the manufacturer is not using basic common sense.  At that price it would not be worth even offering the vehicle.  The reason DC is bringing it over is because Zap! has been converting them and against all odds selling them at that price.  

Here's a quote from the company that will be distributing the cars:

"UnitedAuto Chairman Roger Penske remarked, "We are thrilled with the opportunity to represent the Smart brand in the United States and Puerto Rico. Through our international diversification, we've seen the benefits the Smart brand provides in Europe. We believe the U.S. market will embrace the Smart vehicle with its exceptional fuel economy, environmentally friendly features, and advantageous price point. We look forward to a successful launch of this vehicle over the next several years."

That does not sound like they are going to be selling it for anywhere near $30K.  

A Smart costs about 9000 euro in the Netherlands, and gets about 21.5 km/l (about 54 mpg) It's a two seater.

A better buy is the Citroen C1, a french car with (surprisingly) a toyota petrol engine. There is also a diesel engine available. Fuel economy for the petrol engine is the same as the Smart, it's a 4 seater and slightly cheaper (8500 euro in the Netherlands)

A Prius will get you 23.5 km/l, about 59 mpg, which will save you 150 euro per year in gas in the Netherlands (less if gas is cheaper). But it is 20.000 euro more expensive, excluding a battery pack swap.

Lessons learned?

  • Hybrids are dead,
  • Small cars will do,
  • No new technology needed.
  • Peak Oil solved

(The last one is a joke ;-)
Source (in Dutch) is here
I'm not sure it's fair to say hybrids are dead.  If you want to compare how a hybrid does in an extremely small size then you need to look at the manual Honda Insight.  If you drive conservatively you can get upwards of 70 or 80 MPG.  

You are correct in that smaller cars do a lot to reduce gasoline consumption.  My Suzuki Swift (Geo Metro) gets 45+ MPG (actual calculated at fill up) and it is the 4 cylinder version.  That is hybrid territory and it's not even a diesel.  So, I agree that hybrids are a bit overrated.  But then again a Toyota Prius is a lot heavier and larger and gets the same gas mileage.  So, as a luxury, for those who can afford them, I believe hybrids have a role to play.  

In the long run we're all going to be running EVs anyway or taking public transportation, so hybrid technology should prove to be a useful bridge.  Not to mention if we combine all the fuel saving techniques (smaller/lighter car, hybrid, diesel) I expect we could end up with some designs which average well over 100 MPG.  

Doing 50 mpg is not spectacular, from a technology point of view. That technology was already available some 30 years ago.

People are willing to buy a hybrid for 25k, and justify it with 'fuel economy'. You can get the same kind of mileage by just buying a smaller car. Not really small in size, they are actually quite comfortable, but in weight and engine displacement.

A small car costs you about half or less. If it was the money you worry about, this just doesn't add up. If you want a prius to compete on price with a C1, then oil has to be well over 300$ a barrel. It just doesn't add up.

And even then, there are much easier, much cheaper alternatives than buying a prius. The average westerner drives less than 10 miles to work. That's bike-able. Or use a moped. Or if you commute longer, car pooling is nearly unbeatable.

I really don't think that gas prices are going to be a problem for a very, very long time.

Peak-Oilers usually reason along the lines that there is going to be a 'hard stop' in the near future. I don't think so. It will be slow and very uneventfull, almost boring. People will just choose how much money they want to spend on gas and take the necessary steps. It will play out over many years, maybe even decades.

The problem with your reasoning is that as demand rises, if there isn't supply there to meet that demand, price has to rise.

In an industry with long lead times, high fixed costs, and relatively price inelastic consumption, price swings are dramatic.  

The former is true on the supply side because it takes a big, sustained increase in the price of oil before there is more exploration activity, tar sands development, coal to oil etc.

On the demand side, 2/3rd US demand is transport which is highly price inelastic.  People still have to go to work, people still have to fly, goods still have to be delivered.  The whole US economy is built around space.  The greatest productivity revolution in the last 15 years has been WalMart and the Big Box ilk, and that depends on space.

The US is not configured geographically for public transport.  Nor does it have the rail infrastructure to massively increase freight transport.  (just a comparative number: rail freight is 10% of all UK freight movements, just 10% in the country which invented the railway).

So again the short run price elasticity of demand is very low (-0.1 estimated).  Medium term it is much higher (-0.5 est.) however the income effect also cuts in: as incomes are higher, people have more cars and drive them more, live further away from work, etc.

So the outlook is very much for volatile prices-- it takes big moves in the price, to cause changes in demand and supply.

Rereading that, not entirely clear.

Put it this way:

if you believe net new oil supplies are about to stop (I don't, at least not tomorrow but maybe 20 years out)


the price response when that happens is going to be pretty dramatic.  $150/bl oil if not $200/bl oil.  Because demand will keep trying to rise (economic growth, especially in China) and nothing to supply it.


my own view is that alternative oil then becomes attractive.  Tar sands, Venezualan oil sands, coal to oil, gas to liquids, oil shale, etc.

So we have a world of $150/bl oil, and lots of new sources coming onstream.  (not to mention Compressed Natural Gas, LPG, etc.).

$150/bl oil is something like $5/gal to the US consumer (in Europe, the taxes mean the jump is much less significant).  Goodbye SUVs and hello motorbikes (as you rightly point out).

(the problem being we will then drown in our own CO2 via uncontrollable global warming.  A much more present and certain threat, to me, than Peak Oil).

When time goes by, price elasticity improves. Nothing new here, the US is where Europe and Japan where 30 years ago.

The good part is: It will happen and rather smoothly. because the average american is no different from the average european or japanese. The average car is something like 7 years old. That means that in only a few years it will be replaced with a modern type. When prices are high, that will be a fuel economic car. Without any economic pain. It would have been replaced anyway in a few years.

To put it bluntly: where is the problem?

About hybrids:
Say we are 5 years down the road. By then, it is clear there is a problem. Suppose you need to buy a new car. Are you going to commit 35k in an SUV, 25k in a prius or do you say: What the heck, I am going to give up one of the family cars and carpool to work?

About public transport:
It is true that building a railroad network is freakishly expensive and it will never happen anymore. But setting up an autobus-based public transport system is virtually free. Especially in a country like the US where free enterprise seems to be the lifeblood of people.

More interesting is the math: Say you have a depletion of a moderate 3.5%. That means that in 20 years half of all car manufacturere will chapter 11, give or take a few. That means: From now on: every year a car manufacturer will go under. Let's make the list.

The economy is where the issue is.

Well, some would say that even at current prices gas is already a "problem".  So, five years down the line, say fuel is even $4, not really that much higher than it is now (it was quite a bit upwards of $3 a couple months back in my area).  Even at that level there will be people who consider a hybrid to be a worthwhile buy.  

I don't really understand the false choices you keep offering as evidence that hybrids are worthless.  Yes, some will choose to take public transportation.  The trolley lot near my house is now almost always full, whereas before (a year or two back) it was never more than 1/2 full.  At the same time I see quite a few Priuses and other hybrids on the road.  Not everyone is in the same situation, and furthermore not everyone is the same, so not surprisingly people will make different choices.  

Well, I don't really disagree with you about 50 MPG being not that exceptional technologically.  But I do disagree about the value of hybrids.  The biggest reason is: Since when do people buy cars based on the bare economics?  If they did, we'd all be driving around in Geo Metros and similar small econoboxes.  In the end, all a car really has to do is get you from point A to point B, and if we were looking at it from an economic standpoint we'd want the cheapest vehicle which could do that, both in terms of upfront cost and then future costs (cost of fuel for example).  

But that's just not how things work.  That's why people are driving around in $30K-$50K SUVs and sports cars.  People operate in ways that are frankly pretty dumb for materialistic and status reasons.  The guys who want to show off by buying an expensive car may buy a hybrid, but they're never going to be willing to put aside their pride and buy a cheap commuter car.  

Personally, the thought of even spending $20K on a car turns my stomach.  It's not so much a question of whether I could afford it, but rather it being something I would never do.  You're talking to the right person about price, as I purchased by Geo Metro for $2000, and even if I have to have the engine rebuilt eventually I'll still be money ahead over a brand new car.  

I don't really understand why you are mentioning your belief that Peak Oil will be a slow and measured decline, as I don't see how that is relevant to whether a small car or a hybrid makes more sense to own.  Both save gas, just in different ways.  I also think this is a bit of a false choice as there is nothing stopping car manufacturers from making small cars that are also hybrids, and surely over time there will be cheaper hybrids than the current Prius (there already are hybrids which cost less than the Prius).  

Frank, Robert 'The Winner Take All Society'

Layard, Richard 'The Economics of Happiness'

(Diamond, Jared 'the Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee')

human beings compete via status objects.  This is the human version of the Chimpanzee male status rivalry game.  In ancient Maya times, it was which town had a higher pyramid.

There is a lot of evidence a happier society is a more equal one.  People measure their happiness and success relative to those around them.

Conversely, economic progress depends on inequality, different rewards and returns, driven entrepreneurs trying to make money.

it's a permanent tension. No one has solved it.  Studies widely show Americans are not unhappy, but are not happier than they were in the early 1960s, despite a doubling of per capita income.

Hybrids are just at the beginning of their learning curve, petrol engines are well down it.

The plug in hybrid, when it comes, will give 100mpg.

Hybrid has a permanent cost disadvantage over a single propulsion type car.

There will be a role for both.

Interesting enough nobody has mentioned the Loremo AG:

petrol engine (not a hybid)
Standard version will get 157mpg 0-60 20s (20hp), GT version 87mpg (50hp) 0-60 9s.

Doesn't look too small either. Lightweigh composite/honeycomb design circa 450Kg, 4 seater.Production due to start 2008ish.


Sorry, it's deisel not petrol!! Should have spotted that also sorry America:

"We are surprised to notice a large response to the Loremo from the US. Because of the difficult and uncertain legal conditions in the US we are unable to offer the Loremo in a compliant US version in the year 2009. If the Loremo succeeds and the US demand proves to be economically viable, we will immediately commence work on the US-compliant version."


If you can buy a car for 10k US$ which run 50+ mpg, nobody is going to buy an expensive toy like the loremo. Especially if price is the factor that competes. Do the math, it doesn't add up.

Actually is is slated to retail at 11,000 euros or £8500.
which is very cheap (for us). Which should come in at around $55,000 in 2009 when $5 = 1 euro:-)


So, why are people driving around in Hummer H2s or in any sort of "luxury" brand automobiles?  Price is not the only deciding factor period.