Friday, August 11, 2006

A Ramble on Personal Transportation and Emissions

I'm feeling better today after suffering my first migraine attack since moving to California. Another fantasy shattered. Another nail in the coffin of impermanence.

So, I started responding to emails and got involved again with a thread about the best option for a personal vehicle. I've been in a friendly debate with friends about bio-diesel vs a new Prius (Al Gore's advice) vs keeping my own car 'til the wheels fall off.

It seems clear to me that people driving in cars (or using other modes of transportation utilizing internal combustion) contribute to emissions. I see that when I buy a Prius or Insight or whatever, my personal contribution will go down. This is true when I decide to ride my bike or walk to do errands as well and my car sits idly in the driveway. The "emissions life" of my car remains the same no matter which particular person drives it. The optimal strategy seems to be to sell the car to a reckless driver who will crash the car beyond repair within the first mile of driving it while not injuring himself/herself or someone else in the process, and the gas tank is almost empty when I sell it. Then he/she realizes that they don't want a dangerous personal emitter either and pledge to use public transportation for the rest of their life. This would seem to meet the most needs for the most people. (except the insurance company!) 1994 Nissan Quest for sale. 140,000 miles. Gently falling apart. $3000 or best offer. Terrible drivers only need apply. No gasoline included.

I was impressed recently when my car had to be inspected under the CA emissions standards, which are much stricter than NM. My car, although it is almost 14 years old, emits a fraction of the allowed standard. This stimulates slightly less guilt.

Recently I saw "Who Killed the Electric Car". A sad and poignant tale of how the Powers that Be seem locked in an egocentric struggle to focus the most wealth on the least folks at the greatest cost to the most folks. Fun fact to know and tell: The average person drives an average of only 29 miles each day. I reckon this about the range of a golf cart. http://www.sonyclassics.com/whokilledtheelectriccar/

There are kits available to convert many cars to Lithium Ion batteries now. The guy who developed the Li battery is quite a character. He's one of the stars of the movie. Amazing he hasn't been disappeared. One of his early breakthrough batteries was bought lock, stock, and barrel by GM and was never seen from again, allegedly for use in the Electric Car of the movie title, R. I. P.

If the rest of my van was not so completely falling apart, piece by piece, I would consider that option. Apparently the ideal vehicle for conversion is a Chevy S-10 pickup.

Meanwhile, my personal goal is 15 gallons a month or less. At almost $3.30 a gallon, it still a significant dent in the wallet. And gas remains cheaper in the US than most markets. In Holland, gas is about $7/gallon. The biggest exception, our friends to the south in Venezuela who enjoy gas for less than 15 cents a gallon, as of March 2005. (http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/global_gasprices/)

I recently "ran the numbers" on my personal car ownership costs, including gas, maintenance, insurance, et. al. Sometimes I wonder if I could save money by renting a car once a week, or even taking a taxi any place I didn't want to walk. This would not decrease my personal emissions, however, except I might become more efficient. I was astonished to see that I have spent $65,000 in auto related expenses since I started keeping records about 10 years ago. This does not include gas expenses for 7 of the years. Adding an average of $1000/year makes for $72000. The van has 140000 miles on it. I'm guessing the other cars I've owned (driven by my kids) contributed another 50,000 miles. Round it up to 200000 miles. Makes the cost per mile about .36/mi.

Still works out cheaper to own a car. Economies of scale, I reckon. And global warming is one apparent cost of the relatively cheap convenience we enjoy. A curse on our grandchildren, and ourselves if the Buddhists are right about reincarnation.

In Singapore, a "license" to own a car is about $100,000. Public transportation works quite well there.


GloballyWarmly,

Jim

1 comment:

Duen said...

Dear Jim,

You might want to look at the following report:

"Dust to Dust" Automotive Energy Report although at 450 pages, I don't think you will want to read every word.

Several months ago, I contacted the author:
Art Spinella
President
CNW Marketing Research, Inc

requesting advice on the best time to replace my 1990 Toyota Corolla, and he was exceptionally kind to do a computer analysis and determined the present cost of operating my vehicle at $.38/mile.

In contrast, according to Spinella, the cost of running a Prius is about $3.30/mile!

See Dust in the Wind: Hybrids' Total Energy Cost for a critique of Spinelli's claims.

One of the principal reasons why the Prius is so expensive to operate over its lifetime is because it is a relatively new design, and many of the parts used in it are unique to the car, and even to a particular model year. Thus the cost of these parts is very high, because the research has not yet been amortized (You have to pay all those engineers to design these limited production run parts, which is very, very expensive). The cost of repairing an early model Prius is going to be high because of the rarity of the parts, and may be impossible in 10 years. Hence the high operating cost.

You might want to wait before buying, unless you have the money to be an innovator or early adopter (I am using Gladwell's terminology in his book "The Tipping Point")

On the other hand, it is unclear to me how the numbers will change if we are at Peak Oil, which might result in $10/gallon gasoline in the US by the end of the decade.