Friday, March 20, 2009

Short-Term Thinking

I was reading in the newspaper this week (yes, I do still get the dinosaur print version delivered to my house!) that sales of hybrid vehicles have plummeted in the past few months in response to the gas price drop. Of course, sales of everything have dropped, but hybrids are down significantly more. I wonder if this isn't a reflection of a natural tendency to see the world from a short-term view. Do we really think gas prices will never go up again? Weren't there other reasons to buy a hybrid in the first place?

I grew up in the days of the large American gas-guzzling stationwagon. When the gas prices spiked, everyone wanted smaller, gas-efficient foreign cars. Apparently, we tend to have short memories though because, in time, many families retreated back to the bigger cars. Eventually, the school pickup lines were filled once again with modern day gas-guzzlers - SUVs and minivans. Some were American, some were foreign, but very few of them had much to say in terms of efficiency. Then, along came the hybrids. Most families I know still have an SUV or minivan in the garage, but I was starting to see a shift - at least for the second car.

I have to admit that I still drive an SUV - and, no, it isn't a hybrid. I justify it two different ways - 1) I truly do use the three rows of seats and/or large trunk space on a regular basis for hauling children, dogs, sports equipment, etc. and 2) I use the 4 wheel drive capability for regular trips to the mountains. I've considered a hybrid, but given that I'm happy with my current car, buying another one seems like one of the less earth-friendly things I could do so I'm just staying where I am for now.

When the time does come for a new car, however, I'm hoping I'll be influenced by more than just the current price of gas. I'm also hoping that the car manufacturers, not exactly known for their flexibility, will still be stuck on the ever-so-slightly-greener path they've chosen for long enough to give consumers a chance to embrace it. With a little time and experience, they might even find a way to make hybrids more affordable. Let's give new alternatives a chance to succeed before we dismiss them.

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