Monday, November 23, 2009

Dismal science?

We all could save more emissions than we do. I expect, for instance, if I cut my satellite TV and book-buying habits down, and undertook one or two other economies, I could afford the payments on a Toyota Prius, and poop-can my 12 year old Escort station wagon, saving between 10 and 20 mpg.

Actually, the Prius would be the wrong move.

Let me explain:

For a good deal less, I could buy my wife a Chevy Aveo, and save even more gas -- simply because she drives a Nissan Frontier pick-em-up truck, which, although pretty good for a pick-up, is far worse a guzzler than my modest "shop teacher" wagon with all the tools in the back, and the up-to-date oil change stickers.

This is the paradox of fuel efficiency -- you can save more emissions by switching from a moderate guzzler like the Nissan, which gets 19 mpg for an EPA highway mileage estimate, albeit a bit more the the way Aimee drives, to a moderate saver like the Aveo which gets 34 mpg, than you can from switching from a moderate saver like the Escort to an efficient saver like the Prius.

At today's prices, neither switch pays for itself. The cost of owning the Aveo is about $160/month plus gas savings, the Prius about $300/month. It would take much more savings in gas, or a cheaper price, for even the Aveo to pay for itself. However, if, as is likely the Nissan becomes in need of more frequent repairs, the Aveo might make out.

And if I had enough money to buy the Prius? I'd buy some more insulation for my house instead. I'd save more emissions that way.

This is the sort of calculation that makes romantic environmentalists, and Toyota marketers, mad. If you are purely a moralist and like your rights and wrongs in black and white, having someone tell you that you'd save more emissions by buying a more modest, less holier than thou, vehicle, is not what you want to hear.

But the numbers speak for themselves.

I've only been thinking about this because I just put about $1,000 into the Nissan and am not done yet. And I quite like the Aveo. It won't do me any good though. Aimee likes the Honda Fit. She likes all that funky storage room. I promised her one last year, but we got the secondhand Escort instead because it was a nice deal at only $1,200 from another UC prof (thank you Barry).

Now switching from the Nissan to another secondhand Escort as nice as this one?

Such a deal.

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