Thursday 26 May 2022

Assuming others' ends

Columns like this are so depressing. 

The writer is a senior fellow at Otago University. 

She thinks that people buy SUVs because they care about status. And so banning them for townies wouldn't have much cost. 

Let's leave aside all of the other boneheadedness about measures targeting emissions already covered by the ETS. Look more closely about how she treats other peoples' utility functions. Rather than try to think through why people make the choices they make, given the constraints they face, she just figures they're bad people. 

The problem is, the average engine size of our cars grew steadily between 2000 and 2010, and stayed steady between 2010 and 2020. This decade has to be the one where engines get smaller.

But our obsession with large cars continues to grow. The Ford Ranger has been the most popular new car in New Zealand for the past couple of years.

Globally, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) grew from 16% of new car sales in 2010 to 45% of new car sales in 2021.

SUVs were the second largest contributor to the increase in global carbon emissions from 2010 to 2018 – bigger than either heavy industry or aviation. If SUVs were a country, they would be the seventh biggest emitter in the world.

There is no need for massive SUVs in an urban setting and they are too often used as a status symbol rather than a workhorse.

When you're this dismissive of the goals that other people are trying to achieve through their choices, you will fundamentally misdiagnose problems and push interventions that do harm. 

We bought a new car in November - first time we ever bought new. 

Here are the objectives we wished to fulfil. They're ours. And they're none of her damned business. But they have nothing to do with status:

  1. It doesn't have to be a dedicated 7-seater, but it has to be able to seat at least 6 comfortably when my parents are again able to visit. When they visit, they're here for a couple of months, and it is great. If we don't have ability for them to come along with us in the car while they're here, we'd need a second car, or they'd have to rent one for a long period while here. 
  2. It has to be reliable.
  3. It should be reasonably fuel efficient. I'm not made of money. 
  4. It should have a decent safety rating. 
  5. It has to actually be available to purchase, and not "wait for 2 years and we might deliver you one."
  6. It shouldn't be a pig to drive and should handle reasonably well.
  7. It has to be able to get up Bidwell Street - so it can't be too wide or one of us will wind up losing a mirror. Wellington is full of goat tracks. And the parking garages sure aren't built for anything North American sized. 
Our former solution to that set of constraints was a 2008 Honda Odyssey that we bought in 2014 on moving to Wellington. It had about 60,000 km on it when we bought it. It was great - loved that car, even though the GPS would occasionally yell at me in Japanese because it thought I was about to drive into the ocean off the coast of a map of Japan. And the clock was set to the time in Japan and could not be changed - it updated by satellite. 

Relatively fuel efficient, perfect size, decent power to get up hills, and reliable until we got it to about 180,000 km. Then it wasn't. 

The older Japan-import second-hand Odysseys were low-slung and handled like a hatchback. You'd never know you were driving a van. 

The new Odysseys after maybe 2015 were built like a van: much higher, and reported to be pigs on fuel. 

Looked at the Honda CR-V, but the third row was just too small for our needs and ruined the luggage capacity when down. Otherwise great little machine. 

Looked at some Toyota hybrids. The RAV-4s don't have a third row and would be too small for one. The next size up looked fine, but perhaps a bit too big, and unless you wanted a bottom-of-the-range one without any of the conveniences, it would be at least an 18 month wait. And our Odyssey was due for replacement. And we were driving to Christchurch for the summer in a few weeks. Waiting would suck. 

Looked longingly at the Subaru Outbacks, but no third row.

Test drive a Mazda CX-9. Beautiful. But too big. Felt like driving a boat. And it would be scratched all to hell navigating it around Wellington and parking lots. 

Asked about a CX-8 - bit smaller, and a diesel that's cheaper to run. Narrower so a bit less comfortable but less scary through town, shorter but mainly through reductions in the nose rather than cabin capacity. There was one in Kapiti so we headed up. Last one in the country this side of Auckland. Drove beautifully. And cameras all over the place so way the heck safer than our old Odyssey. So we bought it. 

We've averaged about 8.5 litres per hundred kilometres on mainly around-town runabout. The government's own website has total vehicle costs of ownership on this diesel as being comparable to a bunch of 5-seater hybrid SUVs. And to show how little the government understands of families' needs, you can toggle car type on their comparison website, but you can't select for 7 seats. You have to hunt around, or just know which vehicles can handle 6-7 passengers. 

What happens if I run that comparison website to compare the most cost-effective people-mover, the Honda Odyssey, with the SUV Jen Purdie thinks I bought for status?


The CX-8 diesel is in fact the best buy for an optional-7-seater that you mostly use as a people-mover. Even the top-end one is more cost effective than the Odyssey. 

Nothing to do with status. 

Everything to do with optimisation subject to our particularistic constraints that are invisible and unknowable to the likes of Jen Purdie at Otago University. And everyone has their own set of constraints against which they're optimising, and their own preferences, none of which are visible to Purdie, or to MfE, or to the Minister. 

And why a new car this time? 

Not prestige. Policy risk.

I would have gone with a used one again if I didn't worry that this ridiculous government would start banning imports. Before, it was safe to buy a car with 60k km on it and trust that you'd be able to buy another great one with 60k km on it once the one you had had run its course. Now, that strategy has a lot of policy risk. By the time I'd be ready to replace that car, decent chance used imports would have been banned and that they'd have committed some kind of obscenity against the new car market. So best to buy new, so it can last longer. 

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