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Why We Should Pay People to Drive Hybrids

Driving back from Vermont today I was considering how strange it is that automotive technology is so primitive.  If all the other familiar technologies in our lives had stopped at the maturity level of gas powered cars, we would be travelling home for the holidays in a stagecoach, listening to the IDP live by candlelight, and at home on hand-cranked wax phonographs. Yet the gas cylinder powered automobile engine remains largely unchanged, although in some cases it is more fuel efficient.  Computers became common-place because they promise to make us able to communicate more efficiently and quickly and cheaply, airplanes became common because they promise to get us more quickly from point A to B, and electric lights became common because who could resist the idea of man’s desire to achieve more, later, longer hours, a triumph over the sun itself.  So why do cars remain so deeply rooted in technology that is in-efficient, dangerous, polluting, and more than a century old? It’s because the people trying to propose options, whatever they may be, have never managed to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”  If the option is a slower electric car that costs more to run and requires frequent recharges, there’s really “nothing in it for me”.  If it’s a hybrid car that still uses some gas, isn’t particularly large or attractive, and (again) costs more to buy than would be recouped from the gas savings, such an option also fails to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”
So, to encourage more development of infrastructure for and social acceptance of alternatively fueled vehicles, there is only one answer – tell people “what’s in it for them”.  While a small minority of the population (most readers of this blog included) may be willing to take actions that have no direct bneneficial consequence for oursleves, if we sit around waiting for the rest of society to cop the same attitude we’re going to be buried under a mountain of crappy weather and plastic bags.
My proposal would be, for a period of twelve months give a 100% tax deduction to anyone who purchases any mass-produced alternatively fueled car.  In those twelve months, enough early adopters and “rich people” would buy the expensive vehicles that an infrastructure would be forced to come into existence.  Following that twelve-month period, the 100% tax deduction should continue for a three-year period, and in addition a ten-percent additional energy tax should be added to the cost of every gasoline powered automobile. This combination of incentive and dis-incentive would quickly make everyone feel that there was “something in it for them” and would lead to a rapid increase in vehicle technology, of the same sort we see in the fields of communications and computing.

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posted October 5, 2008 at 11:07 pm

Everyone would be buying a car if a 100% tax deduction was offered. We wouldn’t have to depend on the rich and early adopters.
Also we would drastically cut tax revenues which we need at the moment.
We will also have more cars on the road. Energy efficient or not do we really need that?
In Europe they have higher government regulations that are requiring vehicles to meet certain environmental standards. As always we Americans are behind.
Government regulation seems like a better option. No loss of tax revenue would be required.
Car companies are already inventing products to meet the European regulations so America can easily join in the demand.
The higher the demand. The higher the incentive to create more efficient models.
Getting the money for infrastructure will not be a problem because government regulation will foster the market.
The tax dis-incentive for gas is a great idea.
Also as Americans we have to at some point begin to realize that we are living in a greater world which requires a little more responsibility on our part. (and i do believe there are non-buddhist out there who do and take part in making the change.)
It does take time to change our world view but it’s possible and government mandates have a way of helping in the process. It has in the past.

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posted October 6, 2008 at 9:06 am
Here’s a link for a free 1 month magazine to scientific american – Earth 3.0 issue

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posted October 6, 2008 at 10:48 am

Maybe it’s better to use miles per gallon as the qualifier (as proposed in the Obama energy plan), since a lot of gas cars still get better MPG than some hybrids.
This way, people driving the Escalade hybrid don’t get the tax break (since it’s only 20mpg), and less wealthy people who can’t afford hybrids still get encouragement in buying small/efficient cars.
Off the subject, but for anyone that hasn’t seen the all-electric Tesla Roadster:

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posted October 6, 2008 at 3:04 pm

I don’t know, something about encouraging masses of people to buy cars doesn’t feel like the right direction to me. How about tax incentives for people who get rid of their cars? Or tax incentives for investing in mass transit?

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Jerry Kolber

posted October 7, 2008 at 7:49 am

Tony – excellent point about MPG however my point is more about getting entirely away from fuels that require digging into the earth and moving as quickly as possible towards solar, hydro, and wind-derived solutions.
Golikewater – my point also is that getting people to give up their cars and use mass transit is a noble ideal but far from the reality of anything you can expect from most Americans whose lives are built around easy access to private, anytime travel (i.e. non-city dwellers). Barring a major cataclysm or total and fast re-engineering of the entire American suburban experience, the best bet is to try to get us into alternately fueled vehicles as a first step, no?

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posted October 7, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Government Regulation has never solved anything. More of it NEVER helps, it just costs more money.

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Greg Zwahlen

posted October 7, 2008 at 1:37 pm

Wall Street has been saying exactly that for years. So they got less regulation, and we see where that got us.

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posted October 7, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Government regulation that may have helped along the way.
Please check out.
The New Deal of 1933 and 1935
The Glass – Steagall Act 1933
The Fourteenth Amendment
The Nineteenth Amendment
The Civil Rights Act of 1964
Brown Vs Board of Ed
Roe vs Wade

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