Eric Peters: The compliance car

By Eric Peters

There’s a new model out you may not have heard about – the compliance car.

It’s a car that, for one reason or another, almost no one is willing to buy – and so must be given away at a loss.

Well, that part isn’t new.

From the Edsel to the Pacer to the Aztek, there have been errors of judgment – and marketing or design/manufacturing problems – that led to automotive belly flops. Cars that just didn’t do well. It happens.

But it wasn’t intentional.

That is the distinction between a belly flop like the Aztek – and a compliance car. The latter – the compliance car – is a car designed to fail. A car they know ahead of time won’t sell, that they’ll have to give away at a loss.

And they build it anyway.

And continue to build it.

Here’s the latest for-instance: The Fiat 500e. It is a Fiat 500 that’s been Aztek-ized (or Pacer’d, if you prefer) via the removal of its nothing-wrong-with-it engine and transmission, with a lots-wrong-with-them electric motor and battery pack taking their place.

Now, instead of a car that stickers for $14,995 to start, averages about 30 MPG – and which can travel 300-plus miles on 10.5 gallons of fuel that can be replenished in less than five minutes, you’ve got a vehicle that stickers for $32,795 that can maybe go 87 miles before it conks out and needs to be recharged for several hours.

But don’t worry! Fiat includes ePass – the use of a free loaner 500 (the gas-powered one) when the electric one conks out.

Two – for the price of three!

Teeth beginning to ache yet?

So, naturally, the question occurs . . . why? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give away every third 500 they build? It would probably end up costing them less – and would certainly be less embarrassing.

Which brings us back to the title of this rant. The 500e and the many others just like it (another being the latest iteration of Volkswagen’s eGolf) are compliance cars. Purposely built as economic throw-aways, designed solely to comply with the “zero emissions” fatwas coming out of Washington and state capitals (California, particularly) that insist a certain number of these things will be built each year.

Whether they sell is not considered relevant.

In the minds of the people behind these fatwas, such grimy considerations are of no interest. What interests the – as Orwell styled them – beetle-like men (and, lately, women. . .  kind of) who occupy the cubicles within the bureaucracies that issue the fatwas is that “zero emissions” electric cars shall replace conventional cars.

No matter how much they cost us.

And so they are built. And then, they sit.

Finally, they are given away.

Fiat, for example, will lease you a 500e for $69 a month, with no money down, for 36 months. (My phone costs me $45 per month – and its battery lasts longer.)

That works out to $2,484 to  drive a 500e every day (briefly) for the next three years.

Still no takers for the pitiful little car.

Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne openly admits that each 500e costs his company $14,000 to get rid of – and yet his company continues to build more of them.

Marchionne is many things but an imbecile isn’t one of them. He builds the 500e because he must. Not because of market demand – but because of government demands. He knows he will not be allowed to sell any cars at all unless he builds a certain number of electric lemons.

The fatwas only specify that he build them. Not that he actually sell them.

And so he does – and doesn’t.

As do – and don’t – the others.

VW, for example, just revealed the latest iteration of its eGolf, which – like the electrified version of the 500 – costs about twice what you’d spend on the gas-engined version and only goes about a fourth as far.

SONY DSC

No doubt, lines are forming even now.

GM “sold” three of its electric Cadillacs, the ELR, during the last couple of months. It’d look better if they just paid lot boys to drive them to the Hood and leave them there with the windows down and the keys on the seat.

But then, the boys in the Hood are more discriminating. They’ll jack an Escalade instead.

This baying at the moon in a meat suit insanity is going to get worse, too. The automotive press is mostly unwilling to note that the emperor not only has no clothes, he’s manually pleasuring himself in front of the kids. I just finished reading through a review of the 500e (here, if you can stomach it) published by a hack at Edmunds.com – an advertorial/press kit recycler that was once, a long time ago, a decent source for information about cars – in which not a mention was made of either the 500e’s range or the time it takes to recharge one or the economic imbecility of spending $32,795 to convert a $14,995 car to electricity.

What would be the upside, friend Edmund? We’re saving gas – of which there is plenty – but hemorrhaging money, which is finite (for most people, certainly those worried about the cost of gasoline) as well as time – also finite – and meanwhile rendering the car’s range much more finite and thus, the car much less useful for the purpose people generally buy a car for – which is to !$%&!! blankety-blank get somewhere and then (ideally) be able to turn around and go back. Without a three-hour intermission.

But the car press – like the press in general – is guilty of bumping uglies with the powers-that-be instead of telling it like it is. They have egged-on this mess by never questioning the wisdom let alone the rightness of such a thing as a compliance car.

Thirty years ago, guys like Brock Yates (RIP, good buddy) would have been all over this. I guess now it’s up to me.

 

 

Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at ericpetersautos.com.

 

 

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