2018-05-03 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

What should I drive?

Jeff Hogan—Editor Jeff Hogan—Editor It strikes me as odd that auto manufacturers seem hell-bent to be the first to win the race in the not so distant future to put us all in vehicles many consumers have little interest to get behind the wheel of.

I have no desire to drive a battery-powered electric vehicle, and have even less desire to put my life and those of my loved ones in the trust of an autonomous vehicle. I’m not there yet. The danger is no less for pedestrians. In March, a man was struck and killed while he crossed a street by an autonomous vehicle operated by ride sharing service Uber outside Phoenix. Uber quickly responded by removing self-driving cars from the roads.

Good call.

My brother works for one of the Big Three, so we frequently talk “shop” when we get together — especially now that my wife and I are looking to replace a vehicle we currently have under lease. I quiz him about the good, bad and the ugly of the vehicles his company produces in an effort to weed out problem vehicles as we consider getting into a SUV. That would leave us with one car and one SUV.

I’m not alone in my query why there’s so much interest by car companies to go autonomous, because of dozens and dozens of people I’ve spoken to maybe only a handful like the idea of driverless vehicles. It’s one thing to let a vehicle parallel park or brake itself to avoid a rear-end collision, but quite another to let the vehicle drive while headed on a congested I-75 to a Tiger game.

I can appreciate that many people prefer a SUV or pickup truck to a compact coup or a sedan, but recent news by Ford that by 2020 almost 90 percent of its portfolio in North America will be trucks, utilities and commercial vehicles was shocking nonetheless. Given declining consumer demand and product profitability, the company has chosen not to invest in next generations of once popular sedans and instead will transition to two vehicles — the

Mustang and the Focus Active crossover coming out next year.

So just as Henry

Ford used to say that customers could buy a

Model T in any color they liked so long as it was black, soon you’ll be able to buy any Ford car you want, provided it’s a Mustang. Or a Focus.

Profit margins are typically fatter on trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, so Ford is making less profit when it sells cars, even if it sells a lot of them.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has done the same, essentially exiting the car market other than a couple of Dodge models. The company’s U.S. plants will focus solely on producing Jeep SUVs and Ram pickup trucks, as it ended production of the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart models. General Motors too is banking on continued hot sales of SUVs and pickups.

With gas prices recently flirting at $3 per gallon, it makes me wonder if the Big Three are setting themselves up for another fall should geo-political circumstances change and suddenly dealership lots are full of less fuel efficient vehicles in the face of high gas prices — leaving the market wide open again to German, Japanese and Korean companies that didn’t abandon car production.

Until next time, be well and I’ll see you down the road.

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