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By now, I’ve talked about a few microcars. Most of them were foreign, and all of them were made decades ago. Historically, microcars just haven’t caught on very well in US markets. After lean times in World War II, Americans tended to go for the big, buff cars. That trend has more or less carried us through to 2000. The age of the SUV came and (kind of) went, with GMC management so certain they would profit forever from the gas-guzzlers that their motto was “our future’s so bright we’ve gotta wear shades.” Well, our future might be a little brighter because of the hole in the ozone, but fuel efficiency is getting to be more important for consumers.
That’s what Toyota is banking on, at least, with their unveiling of the 2011 Scion iQ at the New York Auto Show. The car (which has been selling under a different name and slightly different specs in Japan for a few years now) stands at 120 inches long with a wheelbase just under 79 inches. It boasts a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine that is expected to get about 100 horsepower. The car fits “3+1” people, which apparently means a couple regular-sized adults, a child, and a pet goldfish. If you get creative, I’m sure you can squeeze four (very friendly) people in it.
One important feature has drawn people to bigger cars for years: safety. We assume that we’re safe behind the wheels of humongous SUVs, and for the most part we’re right. But the Scion iQ promises to deliver on that front, too. The car boasts ten airbags, ABS panic control brakes, stability and traction control, and electronic steering.
Even with the iQ’s small size, don’t expect the legendary mpgs of the car’s predecessors; Toyota says it expects the car to get in the upper thirties. With mileages increasing on cars across the board, we’ll have to see if that’s enough to be competitive. You can expect the car to start below $15,000, with some estimates coming in around $12k. The car will be available in the US in early 2011.
Does this signal a comeback of the microcar in the US? If nothing else, this car sounds like it will offer some creature comforts and safety in a small package, which might help American consumers understand that bigger isn’t necessarily better.
As you may have noticed, I’m a girl. And as a girl, I tend to read Cosmopolitan magazine. Maybe I’m hoping for the perfect no-work hairstyle. Or maybe great advice on how to wear skinny jeans and not look like a goofball. Anyways, Cosmo is kind of a girl thing.
But Cosmo does include worthwhile, conscientious articles that are fun to read. In the most recent April issue, Cosmo had an article called “Rethink Your Green Routine.” There was advice about shopping for groceries, taking showers, and what to do with your appliances when they’re not in use (unplug them!).
What surprised me was Cosmo’s advice on buying a new car. The author said that instead of buying a new hybrid or energy-efficient car, it makes more environmental sense to buy a used, fuel-efficient car if you’re only going to be driving it for a few years.
To be honest, this took me aback. I thought, “How could they be recommending we drive our old clunkers around? How can that be better for the environment?” So I decided to look into it a bit.
This article gives lots of numbers about how much it takes to make cars converted to oil and energy units and all kinds of things. But what I got out of it is that the average car uses about 10% of the energy used in its lifetime during its construction. That number seems to be about right, although here’s a place that said about 20%. Even so, the energy used to produce a car decreases as technology improves.
I can buy that; it certainly takes energy to gather materials, ship them, and turn them into something worthwhile. But does it really make more sense to buy an old car rather than get a more efficient one?
Well, that’s where Cosmo’s advice gets more specific. They say if you’re looking for a new car to last you more than five years, to spring for a fun hybrid or small, fuel-efficient little car (or maybe that gorgeous Porsche…assuming they put it into production). But if you’re looking just to get around for the next few years, then it makes more sense to get a car that’s already made.
Really, this all comes down to using what we already have. The cars on the road have one thing going for them: they’re already there. We don’t have to put more energy into producing them. Funnily enough, eBay is a powerhouse in the reusing field (take a look at this article). I have to admit that in the race to be green, we tend to overlook the solutions that are right in front of us.
And as far as cars go? Maybe it means getting a few more miles out of that Tercel. Or keeping that old Malibu going for a couple more years. There are a million ways to skin a cat, and greening up our cars is no exception.