Do you want horsepower or mpg?
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News.
American consumers seem confused these days.
The price of gasoline has gone down almost 40 cents a gallon in the past few months, but no one wants to take credit.
And the automobile companies are promoting high-mileage cars and all sorts of electric cars.
With slightly less fanfare, they also are introducing vehicles with huge amounts of horsepower.
If both are successful, consumers are schizophrenic.
The next breakthrough will be a vehicle with 700 hp that gets 40 mpg.
Actually, there are quite a few high-horsepower vehicles with fuel economy pushing 30 mpg on the highway. We can thank the computer for making all of this possible. Without the computer we wouldn't be able to build engines with such amazingly low emissions.
We are so used to smooth-running, low-emission vehicles with performance the way we want that we forget they were impossible just a couple of decades ago.
When emissions regulations and corporate average fuel economy requirements were introduced, auto companies didn't know what to do, and the results were dismal. With the introduction of the computer, everything changed. Thank goodness.
Today we produce vehicles in every shape and size for American consumers. With the wild swings in the price of gasoline, it must be a nightmare for marketing executives trying to promote a vehicle Americans want to buy. If gasoline had stayed at around $4 or more a gallon, buying habits would definitely change over the long haul.
But if the consumer isn't convinced that fuel is going to remain expensive -- after seeing gasoline prices drop almost overnight -- it would surprise me to see any permanent change in buying preferences. Americans will quickly go back to their old buying habits, and the industry will have customers with radically different tastes.
As fuel costs rise and fall, it's hard for American consumers to gauge how long prices will remain stable.
That must be a marketing nightmare. And every auto dealer is trying to figure out what sort of inventory to stock. It's going to take a crystal ball to make sense of it.
And the minute you've got it right, fuel prices will swing the other way and everyone will be out of kilter.
It's a good thing most manufacturers have a big product mix. They're going to need it.
You can reach Keith Crain at email@example.com.