Through a recent analysis of traffic patterns in the mid-West, kind of mid-South, kind of mid-Southwest, I've concluded that this country is on the cusp of another War between the States, Civil War 2.0 if you will. Yes, you read this correctly. Based on the tinkering with the EPA regulations and the updating of the CAFE standards through 2015 by our peerless legislators in Washington, D.C., while not imminent, a potentially serious conflict is just over the horizon. The sole question is whether it can be averted. Color me with a glass half-empty.
What, you might ask, could trigger the repeat of such a horrific chapter in American history? What could the conflation of the automotive industry and federal regulations have to do with a Civil War 2.0? Ah, the answer is at once simple and complex: Pickup trucks.
Yes indeed, the plain vanilla as well as the fully loaded pickups are the key. Like 76 trombones, Ford Tough F-150's, Like a Rock Chevy's and Ram Tough Dodges will lead the big parade. The various Honda's, Nissan's and Toyota's follow close behind. The research is ongoing, only anecdotal at this juncture, but a preliminary conclusion is inescapable, simply unavoidable. The day will come, sooner rather than later, when pickup owners will unite, rise up and say in a chorus that will echo from sea to shining sea: "NOOO. We will not give up our trucks. Never. You cannot legislate away our right to have pickup trucks. We draw a line in the sand. Here we make our stand. Our cause is grand. Strike up the band." No fife and drums for these hardy, intrepid souls, men and women alike.
While traveling to through Missouri and Oklahoma recently on pilgrimage with one of my daughters to college in Texas, I looked over on I-44 and noticed a couple of pickups and then some more. In order to accelerate the passage of time (yes, I realize that such is impossible), I began counting the number of vehicles that passed between pickups. I did this for two hours. My daughter confirmed her suspicion that her dad may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nevertheless, my scientific mission was a 'go'. The results were well past surprising as you will see.
The largest number of vehicles between pickups was 22. The next largest was 14, then 10 (twice). Other than those four anomolies, the numbers were much lower. Mind you this was on an intersate highway, not on some two-lane back road goin' noplace. Multiple times I spied two and even three of the ubiquitous trucks close together like a pack and in one instance, there were four. There were GMC's, Ford's, Chevy's, Dodge's, Toyota's, Nissan's and Honda's. I even saw an old Datsun for you folks who remember when Nissan wasn't Nissan. And for you guys from the '60's, I'm certain I saw a Ford Ranchero. Or was it a Chevy El Camino? After distilling the data, my conclusion was that pickup trucks accounted for about 20% of the vehicles on the road. One in five? Surely not, I thought. It must be just on this highway, perhaps only in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. But no, the trend continued down I-35 all the way to the Fort Worth/Dallas Metroplex--even in the metropolitan areas. Moreover, after flying home the next day and hopping on I-55 for a 2-hour trip south, lo and behold the data collected in Oklahoma and Texas were consistent with those as I closed in on the Bootheel of Missouri (where they love me, where they know me, where the show me--thanks, Sara Evans). Eureka! The evidence had clearly entered the realm of empirical.
So, to the thrust of the hypothesis; as per the norm, one of the left arms of the Federal Government doesn't know what one of the right arms is doing. What an octopus the government has morphed into or even multiple decapi (de' cuh pie)(if that's not a word it should be). In this case, eight isn't enough. You see, the EPA has its mileage standards and the NHTSA has promulagatd the CAFE standards. Don't you just love government acronyms? Do you think there's an Acronym Czar? In any event, the CAFE standards are as much as 10 MPG higher than the EPA ratings. As far as I can tell, the way all of this will devolve between now and 2015 won't affect pickup truck owners--IF the average MPG for the national fleet of light trucks conforms with the CAFE standards. That is an enormous 'IF'. In translating the laws and digging through like an archeologist, it appears that the manufacturers must collectively manufacture a sufficient number of 'green', light trucks that get high enough mileage to offset the red, white, black and blue trucks that only get 15-22 miles per gallon. R-i-i-i-i-ght. That will be top priority for the drawing boards. Uh huh. Which company will blink first and build trucks for the weekend cowboy and cityfied high school kids? And what about the EPA standards? Hell, I may have this all wrong, because it's impossible to sort through all of the government mumbo jumbo and I'm a damn lawyer. Any of the Washington bureaucracies, including the Federal Aviation Administration for all we know, may revise the definition of 'light truck' between now and then. Brewers do it with beer all the time.
So, cutting through all this, where are a great majority of the pickup trucks licensed in this country? Exclude Southern California because it will either be broke or under water when a major earthquake occurs. Exlcude Florida because with the mess Governor Crist has made of the property insurance market, one hurricane will wipe it out as well. That leaves mostly the red states. Or are they blue? I can never get that straight, so let's just call them a nice shade of violet. Whatever they're called, if the gubment attempts to enforce these standards, thereby depriving truck buyers of their inalienable right to a nice extended cab, multi-purpose, 4X4 pickup, I'm thinking all hell will break loose. Texan's won't go easily. Oklahoman's have been through the Dust Bowl and are tough. Missourians will rise up and declare "Show Me". Arizonan's and Michiganders, Dakotans and Mississippians, Coloradoans and Carolinians, Kentuckians and Wyoming cowboys among others will just say "No". And when Congress addresses this uprising with the 'Red Neck Roundup Law' declaring all used pickups to be 'clunkers', the confiscatory language will require seizure and destruction--of the vehicle and gun racks where applicable. Hoo boy. Civil War 2.0. And it will be about states' rights just like the first one. But it won't just be some southern states. General Robert E. Lee is rolling over in his grave, whistling for Traveler and gittin' ready to rumble.