US Cash for Clunker program

When I heard about the existance of the Cash for Clunker program, it seemed like a reasonable approach to start stimulating the economy and to get some potential benefits for the environment. After hearing a few of the details, I thought perhaps there is room for improvement. Mr. Obama suggested that if there’s a better idea, then use it no matter what the source. So here are a few ideas to improve the program, for what their worth.

When the “clunkers” are submitted in exchange for a $3500 or $4500 rebate, depending on gas mileage improvement over the clunker, (4 and 10 mpg improvement respectively), a black liquid is poured into the engine of the clunker to render it useless, never to be driven again. However, there may be many Americans, (or for the border states, perhaps even people in Mexico) who are driving even less efficient cars than the one’s being turned in, and who simply don’t have the resources to be able to purchase something more efficient. I understand the concept of disabling older less efficient cars to get them off the road, I’m just not so sure that we couldn’t do even better. Why not let them have a chance to exchange for something more efficient than theirs.

For example, someone may have an old Corolla or Chevette or other 4 cylinder model that may not be worth much as a trade-in. If they buy a new hybrid, they are still eligible for the $4500 rebate. But their previous car may have been much more efficient than many other cars still on the road. If we truly care about the environment, why not keep those cars turned in which are still reasonably efficient and make them available for people who drive even less efficient vehicles. Then disable the worst ones so they don’t end up back on the road.

Secondly, one of the things we need to begin doing is changing our concept of transportation to a concept of mobility.  We know that smaller cars, on the whole, are lighter and more efficient. We know that size and weight does matter in terms of energy consumption, and CO2, resource usage (steel, plastics, etc.) and also require more energy in the recycling process after the fact. Sometimes we do things simply because we are accustomed to doing them. Our parents drove larger cars so we also drive larger cars. We don’t necessarily need them but we are comfortable with them. Once we shift our thinking we become familiar with a new way, (i.e. driving smaller vehicles), we start learning about other benefits like easier parking, manuverability in tight spaces and even better efficiency than newer vehicles of the same size as our older ones, and our children also learn a new way of thinking. If you’re going to provide incentives, why not give incentives for reducing size as well.

Thirdly, I gather that the incentive is partly environmental and partly to stimulate the economy. Otherwise, giving $3500 for only a 4 mpg improvement doesn’t make much sense. Why not make the whole stimulus based on building a sustainable economy rather than just a robust economy and set the requirement much higher for the $3500 to say 8 mpg and only $2000 for 4 mpg. Then give an extra $1000 if they reduce the size of the vehicle as well.

As for myself, none of these suggestions will benefit me because I live in Canada. I’m one of those individuals who’s caught in the middle of vehicle purchases. When I last bought a vehicle, the environment wasn’t at the top of my list of issues. I went from a smaller cars initially to a 6 cylinder vehicle because I wanted something quieter for the highway and I still have this size vehicle. Even though it’s relatively efficient, I have changed many of my driving habits, e.g. I car-pool when I can, do more phone meetings rather than face to face and I am also very aware that most of the time my car is empty and just carrying extra weight so I make many less unnecessary trips. Still when I change vehicles, I know that I’ll be looking for something smaller and with a four cyclinder, hybrid or electric powerplant. Most are quieter than the older vehicles I used to drive, so sound quality is not a good reason anymore, and like many of us, we just don’t have the need for a larger vehicle once our children leave the nest or have their own transportation.

As always, ideas are for sharing. If you like these ideas, share them with someone who can make a difference by e-mailing them or through your favorite sharing site by clicking on the share button and feel free to comment.

All the best,
Garth Schmalenberg
Phone: 416-919-6598

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