When I returned from a mother-daughter trip to Europe this month, I was pleased to see an article in the New York Times proclaiming that the Ford F150 pickup truck remains the top selling vehicle in the United States. The Times’ Sunday Magazine, which was devoted to pop culture, lists the F150 as a country’s most popular ride.
The popularity does not transcend to Europe. In the eight days I was in France and Hungry, I did not see the first place F150. Sure there were plenty of Ford Focuses — and lots of new C-max hybrids but no Ford pickups. For decades Europeans have preferred those smaller and more gas efficient cars and trucks. And it’s no wonder, gas prices hovering between $9 and $10 a gallon. One could only imagine what would happen here if we’re forced to lay out that much money at the gas pump. Major elections has hinged on gas prices. Not that long ago, in the days of rationing and OPEC bullying, there were long lines, fist fights and protests. But to Europeans those hefty prices have been a way of life for decades. And they have adjusted their lifestyle so a big chunk of their income is not going to global gas companies.
The parking lot at the main train station in Amsterdam is a multilayered structure filled with thousands of bikes whose owners have hopped aboard a high-speed train to get to their destination. In Italy, priority parking spaces are reserved for electric cars. When I was jogging in Paris, I saw a large motorcade of heads of state arriving at a city building for reception. Not a black, tinted window Suburban in sight. These dignitaries were escorted by motorcycles and their vehicles of choice was the modest Citroen.
Even the large oil-producing countries, such as Norway, don’t give their drivers a break. A gallon of gas there goes for $9.97 and the oil profits are earmarked for free college tuition for Norway students and for improvement to its infrastructure. Even with those high gas prices, Norway is ranked the second happiest country in the world, according to a recent report by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. By contract, United States, with its great wealth and comparably low taxes and gas prices, was ranked 16th.
We are making strides here with more gas efficient cars and trucks. Ford his rolled out it’s electric Focus which costs the equivalent of 1 gallon of gas per 100 miles. The C-Max Hybrid and the Hybrid Fusion each average 43 miles per gallon. And the ever popular Ford pickup? With the eco-boost engine it now gets 21 miles per gallon, with better towing and torque features.
During my 20 year tenure at Sunrise Ford, I have also noticed the difference. In the mid-1990s we were selling five trucks for every car sold. Now we sell twice as many cars a month as F150s. 20 years ago, Expeditions were a top seller. Now we sell less than a handful a month.
Still, it has taken a long time for Americans — and the US automobile industry — to come to grips that we need to curtail our use of fuel. The “drill baby drill” sentiment is still strong — even though the oil drilled in the United States will be exported globally to the highest bidder and will do nothing to bring gas prices down here. Politician still try to use gas prices as a reason to elect them or conversely not to elect their opponent. And, of course, the F150 truck is still an American icon.
But I am optimistic that the American public is becoming more attuned to the need to conserve our fossil fuels. Few now debate whether climate change is real and more are now saying what can be done about it. Government regulation, hopefully, will force industries and power companies to clean up their mess. And as a car dealer, I am glad that the feds have forced car makers to make more fuel efficient vehicles.
Will we ever change to be more like the Europeans — with their tiny cars, extensive network of high-speed trains, jammed subways and urban bike paths? I doubt it. As a Ford dealer, I still want the Ford F150 to remain our country’s best-selling vehicle. But maybe, just maybe I will live long enough to see it get 50 miles per gallon. That, indeed, would make it very European. Nothing would make me prouder than seeing our Ford pickups buzzing through the streets of Paris.