Tuesday, April 14, 2009

T-Bone ForTwo

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has just issued a report with the stunningly expected conclusion that small cars are less safe than large ones. Shocking. It appears that however much the feds think they can issue coercive mandates to the auto industry they are having a hard time repealing an inconvenient truth known as the Conservation of Momentum. Mass x Velocity equals Mass x Velocity is not just a good idea. It's the Law. And it is inviolate, unassailable, and entirely immune to the quivering high dudgeon of progressives and their relentlessly Procrustean regulatory handmaidens.

One of the Institute's cases in point is the Mercedes built Smart ForTwo. It's about half the size of an old VW Bug but yet it passes all currently relevant crash resistance regulations. No doubt this is due in large part to Daimler-Benz's stellar engineering expertise but not even those perfectionist worthies labor under the illusion that the ForTwo, or its assorted teensy brethren, can come out anything but second best in a tangle with one of Mercedes hulking 2.5 ton autobahn-burners. All of this is of course, er, crashingly obvious to anyone with a greater awareness of physics than the average three year-old or the Democratic Senate leadership. And permit me to humbly apologize to the brighter toddlers out there for the comparison.

During the late unpleasantness, defined by progressives as anything done anywhere anytime for any reason whatsoever by the Bush administration, sundry prog. pundits styled themselves as being part of the "reality based community". This rhetorically risible rodomontade revved to the redline in the consideration of any Bush effort to wed idealism to the promotion of policy objectives. The very mention of such shop-worn concepts as morality, patriotism, duty, or democracy elicited responses varying from eye-rolling snickering to brutally mocking derision. Bush, and anyone who even faintly acknowledged the importance of the aforementioned, were un-sophisticated, un-nuanced, hayseed boobs--conservative Clem Caddidlehoppers.

Well the reality-based community seems to the entity courting boobery when confronting actual realities such as the laws of physics. We must must must only sell cars that achieve wildly improved fuel economy and simultaneously we must must must make them as safe as a presidential limo in putative smashups. Any vehicular product not possessing both these entirely contradictory attributes is tarred as a death-trap and prima facie evidence of gross moral turpitude and/or criminal negligence on the part of the manufacturer.

Now it might in fact be barely technically possible to construct a vehicle with the size and fuel efficiency of the the Smart Car and the safety of its 450SEL big brother. What it would not be is commercially palatable. A vehicle, any vehicle of any size, as inherently safe as big Mercedes products are, will inevitably cost as much to manufacture. In the case of the small car it might even cost considerably more to build in similar crashability. No one, not even the most obsessively green car loather will be induced to pay 70 grand for something the size of a Smart Car even if it got 300 miles per gallon and could be launched Thelma & Louise style off Dead Horse Point without the occupants suffering so much as a widdle boo-boo.

Back in the real, the really real, world small cars command prices that do not now and never will allow them to be built and sold for prices similar to large luxury sedans regardless of their capabilities. Not going to happen no matter how noisy the indignant stamping of progressive feet becomes. Even the Smart Car pushes the envelope to the extreme. It sells for prices that will buy much larger but still smallish sedans with very acceptable levels of fit, finish, safety and reasonable levels of efficiency. In addition they are far better suited to the usages and exigencies of being driven on U.S highways and byways. Traveling across the country in a Smart Car is possible but will be more trial than trip. Compared to a Smart ForTwo a bottom-end Hyundai Accent is a luxury car and it sells for many thousands less.

These realities matter little to the progressive political classes who, now having the whip hand, seem determined to use the automobile as an unwilling instrument of social change. Whether they can summon up enough cultural muscle to force consumers into buying tiny expensive high-mileage vehicles that are inherently less safe than larger ones remains to be seen. The only hope in this whole scenario is that the UAW has enough political muscle left to get the gummint to lay off Detroit lest the companies crater entirely and take the union's life blood with them into oblivion.

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