Small comes to play.

What happens when a MINI Cooper S collides with a Chevy Tahoe?

Dr. Sheldon Cooper would respond that it’s a simple matter of physics. And Dr. Cooper would be right. Getting t-boned in an accident is not the best position. But it’s also a reminder that, if you drive like an ass, your car’s size can be a disadvantage. Today’s scientific lesson is “center of gravity.”

Today’s unscientific lesson is MINI’s are full of awesome. Link via MotoringFile.

A MINI is more fun to drive.

At one point I considered buying a Prius. I even put down a (refundable) deposit to reserve a soon-to-arrive car. Then I did some research while I waited and came to this realization stated concisely by Reihan Salam:

Consider the eco-conscious automobile par excellence, the Toyota Prius. As it turns out, manufacturing the Prius’s battery is extraordinarily carbon-intensive. Paying off this carbon debt through fuel savings will take 46,000 miles, according to Wired. Only after 100,000 miles would the Prius catch up with carbon savings offered by a ten-year-old Toyota Tercel. And the Prius would never catch up with a 1994 Geo Metro XFi.

I’ve driven approximately 80,000 miles since the beginning of 1999. I’m on my third car. Knowing my driving and buying pattern, the Prius makes no sense from a “green” perspective.

I wasn’t primarily trying to go green. I wanted the excellent MPG. The numerous (anecdotal) reports of much-lower-than-advertised MPG results convinced me that the extra cost was not worth the risk.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

UPDATE: This reader dissent to Andrew Sullivan’s original post makes useful points. In my case, only the “46,000 miles” argument was relevant since I bought a new MINI instead of a ten-year-old Tercel. It’s also possible that I didn’t take a long-enough view into the future. Fair points.

I still love my MINI more than I ever would’ve loved a Prius.

The demise of SUVs is likely but not inevitable.

The obvious:

The sale of new SUVs and pickup trucks has dropped precipitously in recent months amid soaring gas prices and a weakening economy: SUV sales for the month of April alone fell 32.3 percent from a year earlier and small car sales rose 18.6 percent. This fundamental shift comes against a backdrop of relentless gas increases, and growing concerns over the environment and US oil consumption, according to auto analysts and car dealers.

Incentives matter. The balance between fuel cost and fuel economy is an incentive. Demand for fuel is relatively inelastic, since we don’t seem to be driving less. But demand for more fuel efficient cars is elastic. The late-1970s demonstrated this. I doubt that this apparent shift in consumer behavior surprises anyone.

I have a hard time accepting this, though:

“The SUV craze was a bubble and now it is bursting,” said George Hoffer, an economics professor at Virginia Commonwealth University whose research focuses on the automotive industry. “It’s an irrational vehicle. It’ll never come back.”

I expect to see that quote in every 2008 article on SUVs and gas prices. But from an economist? That’s too much. Under what assumptions is it an irrational vehicle? All contexts for all buyers? Some contexts for some buyers?

Suppose a new car buyer gets a significant incentive on an SUV. She considers her decision under the following conditions:

This is a superficial analysis that assumes all other factors (i.e. car price) are equal. If that is the proper set of assumptions and the choice is incentive 1, is the SUV an irrational vehicle?

Of course, all other factors are not equal. The price of the two cars will likely be different. The price of gas might be $8 per gallon in five years. The options available will probably be different. The safety features may be different. Her needs for those 6,000 miles could tilt to one or the other. The buyer’s annual income could be $15 million instead of $15 thousand. And so on, with any number of possible deviations from some universal evaluation that an SUV is automatically irrational. All tastes and preferences are subjective, and non-monetary criteria factor into decisions. What are Jane Doe’s tastes and preferences? Does John Doe possess the same tastes and preferences?

It’s certainly possible – and I hope it’s the case – that the author quoted Mr. Hoffer out of context here, that some qualifier from his statements is missing. As it is presented in the article, though, it’s indefensible.

Via the MINI-enthusiast site MotoringFile.

Post Script: A commenter on the MotoringFile entry makes the common, uninformed mistake regarding oil company profits.

Last year, Exxon/Mobil made a $40 BILLION profit. The biggest profit ever, by any company, in the entire history of the world. $40 BILLION. In a year that was considered by many (US speaking) to be on the edge of a recession. In a year that millions of Americans were hurting.

Wouldn’t $20 Billion have been enough? No? $30 Billion? How much is enough? What about shaving a few dollars here and there in the interests of what’s best for Americans? Naw. What about some gov’t cap? Isn’t price fixing sort of illegal?

It continues, but you get the gist. To consider the facts in context rather than screaming “Like, OMG, $40 BILLION!!1!!!!1!!”, read this specifically and this generally.

Think Small

Topics at Rolling Doughnut have been serious lately, so I want to shake it up just a bit and do a little fun, personal blogging.

Since it first re-appeared in 2002, I’ve been obsessed with the MINI Cooper. (Do the pictures below give away the outcome of my story?) I almost bought one in ’02 when I was looking for a new car. I wasn’t quite ready to jump in at the time, which turns out to be good since early models had a high risk of problems. I didn’t account for that when I decided against the MINI. The six-week wait for delivery decided it, since I needed a car I could drive off the lot immediately.

In 2007, the cars had improved significantly in build quality. And the six-week wait didn’t matter.

I began looking at car options in early 2006, but never felt compelled to make the leap until I came back to considering the MINI. The ’06 models were nice, but MINI intended to release an updated Cooper for the 2007 model year, the first model developed under BMW leadership. The looming changes convinced me to wait. Okay, being slightly indecisive, it convinced me to wait and wait and wait. And wait. Ask Danielle. In September, I finally placed my order for a Laser Blue 2007 MINI Cooper S. Behold:

I love small cars, but the ability to custom order (almost) the exact car I wanted is the MINI’s biggest selling point. Aside from my dream color – the orange-ish maroon Nightfire Red, which explains its appeal – being an exclusive color¹ to the base Cooper, I picked everything and only what I wanted. I made one minor mistake in not adding Xenon headlights, but that was my mistake, not MINI’s imposition of “any color you want as long as it’s black”. Looking at any other car, I had the choice of Package 1 or… Package 1. (I discount Package 2, even though most car makers splurge and offer that much choice, because Package 2 in every instance includes leather seats. I’m not interested.) I looked at an Altima, since my brother likes his, but if I wanted to add heated seats, it added $7,000 to the car because it upgraded everything to the premium selections. Why? Don’t list that option separately if it is impossible to purchase that option separately. MINI gets this right.

Since I took delivery two weeks ago, I haven’t stopped smiling every time I drive my MINI. I enjoyed my Volkswagens, but I remember how much fun it is to drive a small car. The MINI is the best small car I’ve driven. It’s quick and corners well. It doesn’t have much cargo space, as we learned when we bought a vacuum cleaner, but it makes driving fun again. That’s what I want.

¹ Laser Blue is an exclusive color to the turbo Cooper S. I bought the turbo-powered S for the better throttle response, not the extra horsepower. If the throttle of the Cooper was quicker, the slower 0-60 time would’ve been fine. I’m not racing so I don’t care.