Car Guy

Unwanted Exotics

Government is now forcing automakers to build cars no one wants. How long before it forces car buyers to buy them?

By 9.12.13

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Let's raise a glass to the Unwanted Exotic.

It is very low production -- and very high cost -- and thus, rarely seen. Like a Bugatti Veyron.

If we were talking Bugattis, there would waiting lists; people wrangling and wheedling to get their hands on one by any means -- no matter the cost.

But there is no trouble finding the Unwanted Exotic -- and (trust me) you won't pay full sticker. In fact, some are downright bargains… well, depending on your point of view.

There is the Honda Fit electric car. You can drive one (though not very far) for the low, low rate of $259 a month. It is very exotic. Honda has only found homes for about 83 of them so far this year. This is just a bit below the hoped-for target of just over 1,000 annually (2,100 over 24 months). No doubt it has something to do with the fact that you can drive the same vehicle -- without the electric motor (and so, much farther) for about $100 less per month.

GM is having similar problems with its electrified exotic, the Chevy Volt. For some impenetrable reason, it languishes unloved -- and unsold.

GM has had to idle the plant where they're made. Six-plus months worth of inventory has stacked up -- and the end of the calendar year is only about four months away. That means a lot of "new" 2013s are going to end up as last year's leftovers before they've even taken the plastic covers off of the seats. GM keeps cutting the price -- most recently by about $5,000 (transferring the balance to its other customers) but still, an insufficient number of rubes are sufficiently enthused.

Quit? Go back to the drawing board? Either option would seem to be a reasonable thing to do. Nah.

Double down!

Make more of them. Damn the torpedoes -- full speed ahead!

If the definition of insanity is, indeed, repeating the same action over and over and over -- and expecting a different result -- then the car industry is palpably insane. No, wait. I am not being fair. The car industry is not insane. It is merely being puppeteered -- dancing on strings, the strings controlled by someone else.

It's the government that's crazy. Or perhaps, crazy like a fox. If the object of this exercise is not to find a way to reduce the cost of driving but rather to increase it. Check this out:

California -- the biggest single market for cars in the U.S. -- along with nine others -- has set quotas for Unwanted Exotics. Fifteen percent of all cars sold in these states must be of the electrified variety by 2025. This a great deal more than the 80-odd electric Fits Honda has sold so far. And please, no eructations about the Great Success (cue Borat voice) of Tesla. With a base price of $70,000 -- $100k-plus for the one the papers like to gabble about that can (in theory) go almost as far on a full charge as a $15,000 economy car with a quarter-full tank of gas -- volume production of the Tesla is as likely as volume production of BMW M5s. Teslas are expensive toys -- but unlike BMW M5s, the expense is financed by you and me and millions of our fellow tax-cattle.

California et al. have enacted production quotas that will compel each major car company to manufacture tens of thousands of electric cars each year. That is, they'll be required to make more electric exotics in one year than the sum total of all of them produced to date.

Else punitive fines.

To be passed on, in one form or another, to buyers of cars that pull their own weight like the 2014 Toyota Corolla I’m just back from test driving in San Diego.

This cost-shifting is necessary because, of course, these is no means of compelling people to buy Unwanted Exotics.

Make the car companies build them, yes.

But then what?

Bailey Woods of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) told Bloomberg News the other day: "They are essentially forcing vehicles to be built and delivered to dealers who are forced to sell them."

Amend that. Forced to try to sell them.

Unless of course they plan to put guns to people's heads. And these days, that's not entirely unlikely. A coiffed and suited thug named Roland Hwang from the National Resources Defense Council -- which is not per se the government but might as well be -- couches his demands for state-directed violence thusly: "Both a market push and a market pull are needed."

Just once, I'd like to see a reporter ask a person such as this Hwang character: And what happens if someone decides to push back?

What if my kid's lemonade is sour and no one wants to buy it. Shall I give my neighbors -- shall I give Hwang -- a push?

Coiffed and suited thugs speak softly -- but carry a very big stick. Or have others in their service who do the stick-carrying (and using) on their behalf. Thus, the major car companies will do what they must and manufacture vehicles for which there is no real market. They will be made -- and then they will sit. Vast fleets of build ’em-or-else electric cars will be cranked out and then it will be up to the dealers to figure out a way to get rid of them that doesn't involve selling them at a (dirty word, children close your eyes) profit.

So long as they produce no emissions (well, that is, at the tailpipe; hush up about the emissions produced by electric utility plants, the toxic effluents associated with manufacturing hundreds of pounds of batteries) and go places (though not distant places) without burning any gas (just a lot of dollars), then bully. Make more! We demand it -- even if there's obviously no real demand for such animals.

This -- to a government no-goodnik (or a cartel capitalist) -- is enlightened policy.

And it may indeed serve a real purpose. Not ours, of course. Because this level of stupidity usually isn't. Guys like Hwang aren't dummies. They're players.

And they're playing us.

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About the Author

Eric Peters is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.