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Why I Haven't Bought A New Car

By Sid of Stone Marmot

June 13, 2008

I drive a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup truck. It has over 130,000 miles on it. I have kept this vehicle two years longer than any other vehicle I've ever owned. Why? Why haven't I bought a new vehicle? Quite simply because:

I haven't seen a single vehicle in the United States in the past few years that I would want to buy!

My Ranger is meeting my needs in every way except one: Fuel economy. All the automobile manufacturers seem to be concentrating on improving the fuel economy of either tiny little passenger cars or gigantic gas-guzzling monsters. They seem to be putting little effort into improving the fuel efficiency of practical vehicles.

I am very concerned about fuel economy. But I also need cargo capacity. I originally bought my Ranger because it was the most fuel efficient vehicle on the market at the time that had the cargo capacity I needed. It apparently still is, since there has been no improvement in this category in 9 years. So why change if my present vehicle is still working?

In the last six months, I have hauled eight rain barrels, eight 4x8 foot sheets of fiberglass insulation, a number of sheets of plywood, an number of 2x4s and other wood, PVC pipe, bushes, potting soil, and other building and gardening materials. I've had to haul musical instrument gear on a number of occasions. I have also slept in my vehicle many times on camping trips (I have a cover over the back of my pickup). Better than half the time I drive my vehicle I'm either hauling a load not suited for passenger vehicles or intend to camp in it.

Note that I don't need power. Rarely do I ever have a load over 400 pounds, which is less that the weight of three typical passengers. More typically, the weight of my cargo is less than 150 pounds, the weight of a typical passenger. In other words, my weight hauling needs can be met by a typical passenger car. But not my volume and size hauling needs. I need height, length, and width. Plus much of this cargo, like bushes and fiberglass and dirt, you would not want to put in a passenger vehicle. The Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma are two vehicles that meet these volume needs.

Wouldn't a Ford F-150 meet these needs? NO!! The F-150 is a relative gas hog and it is so big that it doesn't fit in my garage. If fact, I used to own a 1993 Dodge Caravan. In 1999, I considered replacing my 1993 with a 1999 Caravan, but the new Caravans grew so much on the outside since 1993 that the new Caravans no longer fit in my garage. Besides, the same stuff you wouldn't want to put in a passenger vehicle I didn't like carrying in the van.

I suspect I am not the only person with this problem. Remember, as one manufacturer used to advertise for many years, the top selling car in the U.S. was a pickup truck. Many contractors (plumbers, carpenters, etc.) drive pickups. Many also have volume needs but not much need for hauling weight. Plus, for contractors, fuel costs eat directly into profits.

I was always told that the surest way to have a successful business is to find a hole in the marketplace and aggressively fill it. There is presently a big gaping hole in the automotive marketplace: A practical fuel efficient cargo vehicle. By practical, I mean affordable without a lot of fluff.

You can make money on practical vehicles. When the Dodge Caravan first came out, it didn't have a lot of frills. But it met a need and sold a lot of vehicles, making Chrysler a lot of money and spawning a lot of copycats.

This fuel economy improvement can be made in many ways. An obvious way is with hybrid technology. Ford and Toyota are ideally positioned to do this, as Ford could move its Escape hybrid drivetrain into the Ranger and Toyota its Prius drivetrain into the Tacoma. Both moves would probably result in vehicles getting between 30 to 35 miles per gallon. A front wheel drive pickup may actually be good, considering how easy pickups tend to lose rear traction. It could also be met with a modern diesel.

Ford really dropped the ball a few years ago when they first came out with their hybrid technology. A hybrid Ranger would have given them complete dominance of the truck market. Instead, they put the technology in an unpopular vehicle. There are reasons the Escape was never that popular. It is an oversized passenger car with little cargo capacity. From my size measurements, I could probably fit more in a Prius than the Escape, though the Escape would be easier to load.

So, wake up people and quit banging heads competing for the same markets! Start filling some of the holes!

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