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The Green Life: Mr. Green: Why Can't I Buy a Super-Efficient Car?

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June 20, 2013

Mr. Green: Why Can't I Buy a Super-Efficient Car?

Mr. Green is Bob SchildgenHey Mr. Green,

Looking through the Internet I find cars that have very high gas mileage, but many that aren’t allowed to be sold here in the United States. Shouldn’t they be? Doesn't high gas mileage equate to better vehicles for the environment?

—Robert, in Rochester, New York 

There are several reasons these efficient cars don’t get to hitch a ride across the oceans on those gigantic ships. Many fail to meet strict U.S. emission standards and “safety, bumper, and theft prevention standards,” as the Department of Homeland Security itself puts it. Therefore, the cost of the modifications needed to qualify can make it difficult for these fuel-saving automobiles to compete.

Marketing challenges also play a part in curtailing imports of efficient cars, because size does matter to Americans. Despite rising gas prices, the U.S. public remains backward in its car preferences, infatuated by bigger, more powerful vehicles that get crappy mileage. This makes foreign manufacturers understandably reluctant to try convincing us blockheads to try their smaller, more sensible, more economical rides.

A third factor is more strictly economic in nature. If a given country’s currency is too strong, then American consumers tend to shun imports because they have to fork over more dollars to get them. This means that foreign manufacturers may have to lower their prices to the point where their small cars become unprofitable. Honda was actually losing money on some of its small exports last year because the Yen was strong.

Well, yeah, Robert, I’d love to share a conspiracy theory here, like the old one about the how the evil automakers won’t sell a 100-mile-per-gallon fueling system stashed in a underground vault below Detroit because they’re in cahoots with the evil oil companies to push more evil gasoline. But alas, as the great William of Occam taught us so very long ago, you’ll most likely get the best answers if you start with the simplest questions. --Bob Schildgen

Got a question? Ask Mr. Green!


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