Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Spirit is Willing, but the Budget is Weak

Much ado now over rapidly rising oil prices and, by extension, gas prices. A brief rundown of Drudge headlines yesterday and today focuses on oil having reached a record $139 on Friday, with $150 per barrel not far off (July 4??). Ford is already in reaction mode and and will lower production on trucks and SUVs while focusing on models with higher fuel economies. GMC has come up with what it terms a "hybrid" version of its humongous Yukon. That takes it up to a whopping 20-22 estimated MPG (from, probably, 6 or 7?). Well, I have news for GMC: our wonderful minivan that we purchased last year specifically so we could accommodate our family vacations in style gets 20-22 MPG on the open highway, and it still cost me nearly $70 to fill the tank on the return trip. That was two weekends ago when I was scandalized to find prices of $4.39 per gallon on the I-5 corridor at Lebec. Already that seems like the good ol' days compared to what my local Shell is going for as of today: $4.49 for the cheap stuff.

All this by way of saying that I need to have some serious discussions with my bosses about making the telecommute option more the norm than the exception.

In that respect, I've been "going green" for several months now. It started with Mrs. Woody's illness last summer and has more or less continued into this year. I've been rationalizing staying home due to hideous project deadlines that suffer whenever I take 45 minutes out of my morning to drive the 22 miles into the office. So, that, coupled with early morning meetings every few days means that I prefer to work from my couch.

It comes to this: with gas prices where they stand and are projected to go in the immediate future, I need to be seriously considering alternative forms of transportation.

I jokingly informed Mrs. Woody one day that I would consider getting a Vespa like my father before me. A noble experiment, that. He got the thing while I was in Guatemala and Mom sent me pictures of the results of that experiment. Dad was already recovering from gall bladder surgery that summer (back before they started doing those arthroscopically) and had about six inches of incision that simply refused to heal over. Add to that a spill that Dad had taken on the Vespa with the resulting abrasions, and Dad suddenly looked like the poster boy for a hospital cadaver study program. Mrs. Woody knows this story well, and has seen the photos. She unjokingly nixed the idea. I really don't blame her. I'm no more likely to be riding a Vespa any time soon than I am to be visiting the Space Station.

The heck of it is, there's hope on the distant horizon. Many folks are going in for the hybrids. My boss is among them. He had ordered his back several months ago and has been driving it for a few months now. He told us last week that with gas prices where they were a week ago (the good ol' days!) he is now paying about as much per week for gas as he had been last year (during the Revolution!) when driving his pickup to work every day. At some point he's bound to be in a loss position even with the hybrid now that gas prices are flirting with the $5.00 level. In the meantime, my own gas "champ" (our ageing Saturn) is driveway-bound because I haven't had time to take it in for servicing.

Besides the hybrids, Honda has announced its hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Should start leasing here in Southern Cal this summer. The trick there is fuel availability. We'd have to live in Irvine to even qualify for this initial release. I'm also unsure what the fuel pricing/economy is at this point, not to mention overall availability of fueling stations. RINO-in-Chief Schwarzenegger is nowhere near to delivering on his "hydrogen corridor" and seems unlikely to arrive there before he leaves the Governor's mansion in 2010. We have a few stations dotting the landscape here and there, but the nearest one to me is not in a terribly convenient place. Economy, economy, economy. (Same as "location, location, location" in real estate terms.)

For my invisible money, the vehicles to watch are the electrics. Battery technology has improved now to the point that one company (which I found via Dave Barry, of all people) boasts of a vehicle design that would drive 2,500 miles using what they call "hot-swap" technology. It's patented! (It would have to be.) This model, which is inflatable, won't be in production until 2010 at the earliest. (Could it be that they're waiting for Schwarzenegger to leave office, too?)

One that I've been watching for a few years now is the Tango. Developed by Commuter Cars Corp., this is a car that has been well thought out and executed. The problem, again, is production. In their case they make no bones about the fact that it essentially boils down to investment money. It's a classic Catch-22; investors don't want to put out the money required for production (the company claims it needs tens of millions for start-up) unless they see some market interest. The market won't rise to the bait unless they know they can get one for production prices. Leaving deposits with a company that may go out business while holding your cash (even in a trust, which is CCC's solution) doesn't sit well with too many people, especially in today's economy. This is a car I would buy in a heart-beat if it ever came to within spitting distance of my personal budget. It's that good.

Europe, meanwhile, is making it's Smart Car available stateside finally. Apparently they're not so upset with our capitalistic vices that they mind taking our capitalistic money. All to the good, I guess, except that the darn things still run on petrol and petrol is becoming increasingly expensive. The downside here is driving around in a car that got pretty thoroughly roughed up in a Tom Hanks movie. Also, 2008 EPA ratings of 34-41 MPG are on par with most hybrids that look more like normal cars today.

I really want to get an electric for my commuting, but I fear that production models are far enough away that it may not happen before I retire. This is a pity, because this is definitely one commuter who wouldn't mind going green.

When I absolutely have to commute, that is.

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