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The Quest for the Perfect Car

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The Quest for the Perfect Car

By Sarene Marshall, The Nature Conservancy

Topping the list of most common marital disagreements are usually things like money and children. But if the list were derived from my household, it would include cars and light bulbs.

I’ll leave the “great light bulb debate” for another day, but, with the Detroit Auto Show wrapping up recently and other events previewing models to come in 2012, it seems timely to explore my family’s struggle to find the perfect car.

It’s not surprising that my husband and I – like most men and women – come to many purchases, including car-buying, with different preferences and priorities. True, our situation may be made more complex by our vocations and interests.

My husband’s an engineer who works with other (mostly male) defense engineers. He also has a strong weekend warrior streak, so he wants a vehicle that has power (to tow things) and space (for 2x4s or a pressure washer). And he has to be willing to be seen driving it around other guys.

Given that I spend my working days fighting climate change, I’m looking for something that lessens our family carbon footprint. This means we’re drawn to different segments of the auto market, although, with two small kids we have to feed, clothe and eventually put through college, we both would like to reduce what we spend – on the car and the gas to power it.

Try as we might to find a compromise, few vehicles currently hit the mark. Hybrid SUVs get about 30 miles per gallon (mpg), combined city and highway, but that’s low compared with ultra-fuel-efficient Toyota Priuses (55 mpg), and electric Nissan Leafs or Chevy Volts. And the best-selling vehicle in America – the Ford F-series pick-up truck (which certainly provides power, space and macho cred) gets an appalling 14 mpg combined – bad both for the wallet and the planet.

Although marketers in other industries have found ways to satisfy both men and women with the same product (think: action-adventure movie starring Brad Pitt), there’s still some room for improvement in the car department. But hope may be on the way, thanks to rising fuel economy standards that would be good all around.

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7:14PM PST on Mar 1, 2012

One that goes telepathically without the use of any finite resource would fit the bill!

8:11AM PST on Feb 15, 2012


3:03AM PST on Feb 14, 2012


2:52AM PST on Feb 11, 2012

Here in the Philippines the population has only really been exposed to mass car ownership since the marcos revolution. The roads are over-crowded with cars, and scooters, accompanied by corrupt traffic cops. Anywher in teh country one can gt local door to door transport in motorcycle side cars, or rent a car, van, truck or public transport "Jeepney" reasonable, and for long distances teh best family car is an air conditioned bus. In Manila, gridlocked traffic every day fosters the use of the very ugly but practical elevated, air conditioned railway system, which beats a car to any general destination in time saved and money spent. I note that in many european countries public trasnport is available almost anywhere.

2:44AM PST on Feb 11, 2012

The "perfect car"--I'm happy with one that gets me where I need to go!!

2:37AM PST on Feb 11, 2012

Rather than having to wait for the batteries to be charged we should just have a machine that can swap new ones for old, it may take a minute or two and may even be quicker than filling a tank. I would love to see formula 1 adopt electric vehicles, that would be very good for innovation.

11:21PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

Thanks for the article.

11:04PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

And maybe cars are not the answer at all.

10:32PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

I guess that questing sometimes means waiting.

10:22PM PST on Feb 10, 2012


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