Milwaukee is a large enough market to put on a pretty substantial auto show. My goal in attending this weekend was to find a hybrid or high-efficiency diesel. I like the idea of supporting new technologies that might one day help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What a great way to take a look at the latest innovations, I thought. Everything will be in one place. Given the press and ads we’ve seen lately, there was no doubt in my mind that the selection would be outstanding.
Boy was I wrong.
My current vehicle is a Toyota Highlander hybrid. I loved it when I brought it home four years ago. On average, I get about 30 percent better mileage than the average SUV. If I’m careful with how I drive (the on-board computer provides real-time feedback) I can easily rival a Mini Cooper in miles per gallon. Pretty cool in my book. Four years later, 2010 Highlander hybrid technology is essentially the same. Disappointing.
I could get a Toyota Prius, a car that has advanced. It’s too small for my business needs. Honda and Nissan offer less. Ford licenses the Toyota platform and puts it into a vehicle not nearly as nice as the Highlander, so nothing much there. Mazda, Subaru, Hyundai offer nothing. GM and Chrysler…well their advertising and public relations efforts talk a good story. Suffice it to say that no one drove away from the show in a Chevy Volt.
Audi is making a bunch of noise about their A3 with the TDI diesel. It delivers 42 on the highway. Order today, and you might be able to get one in three months. Or, maybe not. Volkswagen boasts the same engine, but only in the Jetta, not a very practical business car for me. At a base price of $50,000 plus, you can get a Touareg with the diesel and mediocre mileage. That just doesn’t fit the bill.
I looked at all the mileage stickers as I walked around, hundreds of them. Based on hip-shot math, I would guess that the average mileage at the show was mid 20s at best. Kind of pathetic in the mind of someone who can remember the Arab Oil Embargo.
I walked away with no clear solution and one conclusion: Americans talk a good game on reducing our dependence on oil from somewhere else, but we aren’t really interested in doing anything about it. The car companies have realized that and are responding accordingly.