Perverting Conservation

Getting “buy-in” from an industry is crucial when attempting to regulate in favor of consumer protection or environmentalism. If the industry fundamentally does not accept the values embodied in the effort, it finds ways around it. After all, these companies have the brightest lawyers and engineers on their side, and if some public policy is supposed to do X, they’ll find a way to make it do Y.

A case in point is the popularity of hybrid cars and the conservation of fuel. Luxury car companies have found a way to pervert them from energy-saving devices to gas guzzlers with the patina of conservation. Just check out this article on the Lexus LS 600h. Lawrence Ulrich reports:

…You can actually park that terrific gas-only Lexus in the garage and have $30,000 to buy a Prius hybrid, with cash left over. Save the LS for special occasions and run errands in the Toyota at more than double the mileage. While Lexus plays the hybrid game, it’s the Prius that takes care of business.


  1. TheJerrylander

    The guys over at Top Gear (not that they are any authority on anything green) were commenting on that during their last season. Well, lugging around all that extra weight has to have consequences.

    A good diesel should beat the hybrids on fuel-economy anyways.

  2. Argonaut

    That’s not a “luxury car company” – that’s Toyota. Toyota makes 4WD tortoise killers, rich people’s leather-seated marital aids, and the Prius. Thank the deity that they saw a market for the Prius where the Big 3 (I mean Big 2; oops, I mean American Manufacturers) did not. And, as they say, when CAFE standards were first proposed, Japan called a meeting of its engineers and Detroit called a meeting of its lawyers.

    You’re never going to get corporate buy-in if it involves altruism.

  3. Re TheJerrylander

    “A good diesel should beat the hybrids on fuel-economy anyways.”

    Not true for city driving. The hybrid is designed with regenerative breaking so that when it decelerates to a stop at a signal or stop sign, some of the kinetic energy is used to recharge the batteries. In a gas or diesel only vehicle, the kinetic energy is totally lost during deceleration.

  4. It’s not entirely clear from this whether you realize that Lexus is a division of Toyota. It’s their luxury car division, and the hybrid technology used in the Lexus is the same as the Prius.

    Otherwise, you’re right on about how some car companies are using hybrid technology to boost horsepower rather than to increase gas mileage.

  5. TheJerrylander

    I was looking at the combined figures.
    It is true that you lose braking energy in regular vehicles, but there are also micro (or soft) hybrids which recoup that energy without lugging around the extra electric engine. Thus, an efficient diesel, e.g. the BMW 118d, which features this technology along with start-stop automatic, is, and that is just my little European opinion, probably the better stop gap before the introduction of greener technology (it gets fuel eco figures in town that are in the ballpark of the Prius).
    While I have to give the Prius credit for raising awareness, it is still somewhat half-baked in its current form (and I usually am a Toyota fanboy ;)). Make it a plug-in hybrid (which Toyota is in the process of doing), give it a diesel engine (which won’t be happening because of the US market) and stop thinking of it as the ultimate way to safe the Earth (applies in case you are a celebrity :p) .

    But then I am probably biased due to prior affiliation 😉

  6. bigTom

    As a new Prius owner, I think that car is a bit more revolutionary than JerryLander lets on. True, Diesels get better milage than gas, and you could use a diesel instead of spark-ignition motor in a hybrid. (The
    other variant HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition, would be
    yet more efficient -and might be capatible with hybrid as well).

    The thing that the hybrid does is get us halfway to a primarily electric car. I.E. by beefing up the batteries for plug in (-add a photvoltaic roof if you like), you can start marching down the road
    to very much less (for average usage) fuel comsumption. This is the only
    realistic way to break our oil dependence.

    But Chris’s basic point is valid. A lot of cars are being advertised as “hybrid”, but are making only minor usage of the electric component (usually to boost peak acceleration). So the
    term is being abused by marketing types, and in the process a lot
    of people are getting the misimpression that hybrids are a fraud.

    * Three types of internal compression engines:
    (1) spark-plug ignition. Fuel is injected at high volume low pressure, at high pressure spark ignites the fuel. Efficiency is low
    because compression is limited by need to avoid pre-ignition. Pollution is low because the fuel/air mixture has time to become well mixed before ignition.
    (2) diesel. High compression. Fuel is injected at high pressure, when the gas in the cyllinder is hot enough to immediately ignite the fuel. Hard to make clean because the fuel burns before it can be well mixed with the air.
    (3) HCCI. Best of both. Fuel is added at low pressure/temperature. Near minimum volume compression heating ignites the fuel-air mixture.
    Can be both clean and efficient. Requires very good control of operating conditions to work properly.

  7. You’re never going to get corporate buy-in if it involves altruism.

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with this, I feel it tends to get thrown about as an unquestioned article of faith. Is there any science about corporate bodies to substantiate the ‘never’ there?


  8. That is a fact of law, not science.

    Corporate decisionmakers are free to indulge in altruism only to the degree they can justify it to their bean-counters and lawyers, who in turn will be relied on to justify it to the shareholders. The shareholders are legally entitled to, and will not hesitate to, sue said corporation for breach of fiduciary responsibility if they feel the corporation’s altruism negatively impacted their share prices.

    And that’s QUARTERLY share prices.

    I cannot cite the cases offhand, but maximizing shareholder value is, in the eyes of the law, the first and primary responsibility of any public corporation, to the exclusion of all else except adherence to other laws.
    That is settled case law. Deviates do so at their own grave risk.


  9. This is a late post and maybe no one will ever see it, but I can’t control myself from responding to Chris Hoofnagles ridiculous thesis that we must have industry “buy in” to the values of the citizenry lest we get bamboozled cause after all they got all the smart guys.

    Nonsense. Corporations have but one value and I cannot believe someone who holds himself out to be a consumer advocate would pretend otherwise.

    Auto companies will pretend to embrace our values and, absent strict regulation and compliance monitoring, they will circumvent them as in your example because that’s where the money is.

    If it were more profitable to build Prii, they’d profess the very same value and they’d build them.

    As it is, they know that a large number of people (though a tiny percentage), have unprecedented cash to spend on a status vehicle, so that’s what they’re going to make.

    If they truly “bought in” to the values of those who attempt to regulate them, it would make no difference whatsoever. They would still build what their marketing department say’s will sell.

    Did we wait for them to “buy in” to seatbelts? CAFE standards? 5mph bumpers? Catalytic convertors?

    Did we wait for the polluting industries to “buy in” to emission controls and waste containment?

    The list goes on and on. In a utopian world, corporations “buy in” to the values of society. In the real world, “buying in” had better be a hard cold investment decision that pays off in a quarter or two, or heads will roll.

    So forget your appeasement. You wouldn’t expect your dog to “buy in” to not chasing your cat. You have to train him out of what comes naturally.

    By doing what is profitable, environment be damned, corporations are just doing what comes naturally; making profits and covering their legal asses. So let’s train them. Let’s give them an excuse to do the right thing without risking shareholder lawsuits over short term profits. Regulate them properly and enforce environmental laws.

    Oh, and if you want to solve the problem of corporatism once and for all, support public campaign financing, prohibit corporate campaign contributions, and restrict lobbying expenditures.

    All change for the good will flow from that. Nothing will be accomplished without it.

  10. Oh, and if you want to solve the problem of corporatism once and for all, support public campaign financing, prohibit corporate campaign contributions, and restrict lobbying expenditures.

    What? And muzzle them? Free speech and all that rot, you know. Don’t corporations have rights to influence public policy and make their voices heard?

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