End of the Road:Clean-burning Cars Ignite Fight Within Dealers’ Ranks

Man Running from Car - © Carbusters

Man Running from Car - © Carbusters

When Monty King called around his Oregon Vehicle Dealers Association in recent months to gather opinions on Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s strong-arm push for clean car rules, he found the unexpected.

The dealers weren’t necessarily opposed.

“The overwhelming response was, `We like clean air, too,’ ” said King, who works in Salem as president of the auto group. The dealers also said, ” `we don’t see it’s that big of a deal.’ ”

Though some auto dealers had furiously battled Kulongoski’s plan in the Legislature and had sued the state when the governor went ahead anyway, the industry, it turns out, is not a monolith of opposition as Kulongoski’s plan proceeds.

Joseph McKinney, CEO of Eugene’s Oregon Roads Inc., points out the difference in opinion within his own business sector. And McKinney – admittedly a breed apart from many dealers – is enthusiastic about the governor’s plan.

The governor’s order will require that all cars sold in Oregon meet California’s famously tough auto emissions standards the same year the Golden State’s new rules take effect: 2009. They require auto- makers to cut car emissions by 25 percent and SUV and heavy truck emissions by 18 percent.

Opponents say the rules will raise the price of new cars, thus reducing sales, and many argue that the changes won’t do much to reduce overall air pollution.

The state is rushing to institute the plan by late December, so the rules will be in place for the 2009 model year. If Oregon’s plan advances, the Washington Legislature already decided that the northern state will follow suit, which will create what activists call a clean car corridor from Canada to Mexico.

Hoping to stop those dominoes from falling, another Oregon auto manufacturer’s group and four Oregon car dealers squared off with
the state’s attorneys on Nov. 7 in Marion County Circuit Court. Both sides asked for summary judgment.

Now they’re all awaiting a ruling by Judge Mary Mertens James that will decide whether Kulongoski can go ahead – or, conversely, that the governor’s new rules are unconstitutional.

Fault lines:
The clean car drive has proven a dicey issue for a few of Oregon’s new and also used dealer associations.

The Oregon Auto Dealers Association, which represents 200 franchise new car dealers in the state, didn’t join the lawsuit because doing so wouldn’t have reflected the views of the organization’s total membership, said Greg Remensperger, association executive vice president.

“We represent all of the dealers in the state of Oregon,” he said. “The majority of them are of the same mind, but not everyone is.”
The 57-year-old Oregon Independent Auto Dealers Association also has its dissenters, said McKinney, Eugene’s iconoclastic dealer and an OIADA member. The organization sent out a message urging members to let the governor know that the clean cars initiative was the work of “environmental extremists,” McKinney said.

“(But) it was not a message from the OIADA,” McKinney said. “It was from one of the members on their board: a used car guy, a broker in Portland.”

Four car dealers – from Coos Bay, Wilsonville and Portland – joined the national Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers to oppose Kulongoski’s plan in court. The dealers are Coos Bay Toyota, Suburban Ford, the Don Rasmussen Company and Ron Tonkin.

Medford-based dealer Sid DeBoer, chairman and CEO of Lithia Motors Inc., did not join the lawsuit but said he doesn’t support the governor’s efforts. Lithia is one of the largest full-service new vehicle retailers in the United States, with 89 stores and 179 franchises in 12 states, with total revenue of $2.75 billion in 2004. DeBoer believes that the new-car requirements won’t be effective in cleaning up the air, an assertion disputed by supporters of the rules.

“We’ve been encouraging him to support an increase in the gas tax,” DeBoer said of the governor, “to encourage people to buy more economical cars and also to improve our highways in Oregon so people aren’t stalled in traffic burning gas needlessly and emitting both carbon dioxide gases and polluted gases by not getting where they need to go.”

“Lithia’s totally for having clean air. We’re an Oregon company. I was born here and raised here. But this is foolishness,” he said.
None of the auto dealers based in Eugene-Springfield is on the plaintiff’s list, and that’s significant, McKinney said.
“Dealers are good neighbors. Dealers are not the big, bad guys up on a hill that you might think. They have to operate in their community.”

Joseph McKinney of Oregon Roads Inc., based in Eugene, agrees he’s not the typical auto dealer — he’s an activist who sings in the Eugene Peace Choir. But he says many new and used car dealers in Oregon support the proposed emissions standards: “It’s the future of the car business.”

McKinney, meanwhile, has linked arms with Oregon State Public Interest Research Group activists to promote the technologies the governor’s plan eventually would require.

His Eugene-based Oregon Roads Corporation does $12 million in sales a year leasing fleets of cars and trucks to businesses across the United States. Still, McKinney is not your standard auto dealer.

He’s a self-described “leftist” who has campaigned for increases in the minimum wage because he believes in a “trickle up” theory. He sings in the Eugene Peace Choir. He’s been arrested at the Pentagon.
But he says he’s not the only dealer who supports clean cars.

“It’s the future of the car business,” he said. “The new car dealers I
talk to; they’d prefer clean air. They’re not opposing progress.”
The dealers and manufacturers bringing the lawsuit contend, however, that the clean car standards will add “thousands” of dollars to the price of a vehicle, reduce the demand for new cars and make a sizable dent in their revenues.

McKinney, on the other hand, says the evidence in the marketplace proves the reverse.

Hybrid cars are hot commodities, he said. They burn gas, but they also run on electricity part of the time, so they’re cleaner. They also get upward of 50 mpg.

Chuck Gittere, fleet sales manager for the Eugene-Springfield based Kendall auto group, said he can sell “as many as Honda will let us have.”

“Demand is really high,” he said. “We don’t have any Civic hybrids in stock. Toyota is sold out also.”

Manufacturers are responding. This week, Toyota announced plans to boost production to 600,000 hybrids a year by 2008. In September, Ford said it would ramp up to produce 250,000 hybrids per year in 2010. Both are 10-fold increases.

Hybrids are in such short supply that they retain their value, McKinney said. “Right now the (Toyota) Prius has the best resale value of any car on the street,” he said.

Two-year-old Prius hybrids sell for only $2,000 less than their new price. Other cars can lose upward of $10,000 of their value during the same period, McKinney said.

“Dealers profit selling hybrids,” he said. “There are lists of people for these hybrid cars. People pay list price for hybrids when, on the other hand, there’s a $5,000 rebate on a ’05 Ford Explorer.”

Front Page Article: Eugene Register-Guard, by Diane Dietz
Published: Saturday, November 19, 2005

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23 Responses

  1. There is no such thing as a “clean car.” Nature operates on a dust-to-dust basis, and cars — even the “best” cars — are insane in those terms. Cars-first transportation was a capitalist pipe-dream. It is wildly unsustainable. Every day we waste giving credence to those who imply that the American arrangement has any future is a day we collaborate in planetary social collapse.

    • I agree that the American car based transportation model is unsustainable. How Americans may transition to a more sustainable model, given the way we’ve built our cities and towns, is what my co-author and I address in our book.

  2. “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    Green cars are definitely a lie of car manufacturers to keep on making money whatever is the social and environmental costs.

    • At the point of time in the industrial revolution when cars were first developed, one could not fathom the negative consequences. At this time in the USA, recommending the decommissioning of roads, exponentially increasing fuel taxes and incentivizing smaller and slower village vehicles is not at all “the same kind of thinking”.

      Green cars are an example of hype. It’s an over-promise and the manufacturers will under-deliver. But modes of transportation, including mass transit and greener cars, are less harmful. Don’t we need to take steps in the right direction? How best can we transition to the sustainable society of the future?

      The End of the Road is about changing Americans, not just changing cars. If our proposals were more extreme they would be dismissed.

      I’ve been an environmentalist for over 30 years. I’m not interested in complaining and criticizing without offering a popular solution. I’m want results.

      • Joseph, your proposals are extreme, while also being accommodationist and self-serving/money-grubbing. That’s why they’re worse than silly. You’re proposing the same scale of a political fight it would take to get truly radical, yet all for a quixotic scheme that sounds like social engineering in the bad sense.

        We need urban reconstruction for rail and walking, not an attempt to squander reform energies on yet another way to use cars.

        People know trains are an alternative, and that they have been suppressed. We need to talk and fight straight, not sideways.

  3. And what about car-sharing?

  4. P.S. De-carring streets and bridges is a great idea. Letting electric cars remain on “de-commissioned” streets is way different than that, though. A 1,000-pound car is as much a mortal threat to bicycle riders as an SUV.

  5. I wonder why you see our proposals as money-grubbing; you have no evidence. I think the innovataion going on, esp among younger people, inventing new ways to transport us is amazing. We have a company in town (Arcimoto, we have no ownership or investment) doing tremendously creative work. Its sad it took this long.

    As for rail and walking and biking, to me that is a great dream, but why I say I am not totally anti-cars is a bit different than Joseph’s reasons. He is interested in getting there step by step, which I agree is a must. But though I am a working professional, I keep thinking that (not to be sexist) for a mom to have complete biking as main transport, even with busses and mass transit and good rail, well its a total luxury for her in most of our cities as they exist now. I think we think about it backwards; we carpool very much of the time, but how can a mother do her work and be there for her kids, take them to doctors, dentists, physical therapy (my son), and sports/arts which of course the schools no longer pay for so only those with the time and money can afford them; how can she commit to a bike all day? I would LOVE to do that, for my own health’s sake, as well as being a better neighbor to all. When my life is my own again my husband and I intend to move much closer to town, into the flats, where we can live a low or no car lifestyle. A far healthier way to live, among all the other moral imperatives, and I crave it.

    Joseph and I are looking at how to get from point A to point B. You can spend your energy on a total revolution and I think that;s great; we are looking at it stepwise. If every family could reduce their carbon emissions and DEBT by owning a small EV right now, well that would be 50% wouldn’t it. That’s a pretty big step. It is NOT the only step, nor the end. Its a beginning. And as for mortal threats to bikes; in our city (Eugene) and in Portland we have cared enough to invest big time in bike lanes. The community is constantly in dialogue and being educated about how to interact with bikes; we have lots of free classes on how bikes can drive more safely in the city, and the issue gets a huge amount of press. We do have accidents, but far fewer. And I can’t agree that a “slow moving 1,000 lb. car is AS MUCH a threat to a biker as a huge SUV.” You speak in very general terms. The danger is there, but where we live car drivers are very sensitive to it, and kids getting their licenses get a year or two of that blast of sensibility in their ears. Its more a way of life here. That’s no consolation when someone dies of course, but its not nothing.

    • Evidence? Who said anything about evidence? Perhaps thou dost protest too much?

      The evidence, however, does exist, now that you mention it: Joseph makes money by selling/leasing cars, doesn’t he?

      Meanwhile, I understand what you think and what you prefer and what your diagnosis of what’s best is.

      I strongly disagree with it, for reasons I’ve already stated.

      Meanwhile, nice excuses for the extreme inherent danger of cars operating around bikes. Beautiful stuff.

  6. We are, by the way, all for car-sharing and discuss that in the book, as you will see.

  7. Mr. Dawson, Joseph does NOT sell any electric cars at all. He writes from an insiders perspective on the auto industry. Yes he has made money off of selliing cars but he has a rare reputation as an ethical leasing agent and dealer, well documented in our state. THAT is evidence. a) I wish that you would wait to read the rest of the book, and b) I do not see why this cannot be a civil converstion. You insist upon insults. I don’t see where that gets you. We are, in our own way, on your side. No warfare needed.

    You do not seem to reply on the merits of what we are saying. So far you don’t trust anything we say because of Joseph’s profession, not our arguments. You do not reply to my observations about our two Oregon cities working hard all the time to make it better and safer for bikes, with statistics of accidents down. If we cannot have a respectful discussion, well we are too busy at work. I genuinely thank you for your interest and hope you do wish to continue the discussion.

  8. So, Joseph has no hopes to make money from the scheme you’re both promoting in your book? That strikes me as implausible.

    We’re not on the same side, actually. I oppose the continued promotion of cars-first transportation. You favor its perpetuation.

    You can pretend that your scheme suggests something else, but it does not.

    We also disagree on how best to oppose a grave threat to both the nation and the human future. I say state what is needed and fight for it. You say take baby steps and stay silent about what’s ultimately needed.

    This is an old schism in social reform efforts, going all the way back to abolitionism.

    Meanwhile, I will certainly read your book and may cite it as a good illustration of how monolithic our cars-first system is, how it cows even well-meaning would-be critics into essentially non-critical positions.

    I wish you all the best on the personal level. I simply think you’re trying to squander precious energies on a diversion. That’s a political difference, not a personal one. You ought to realize that you’re entering into politics here, right?

  9. OK, enough for now Mr. Dawson. I entered political life a long time ago and you do not know how to distinguish an insult from an argument. Too bad you don’t see we are on the same side. So only people who think just like you about means, regardless of sharing ends, count as on your side. I have seen so much of that in politics, way, way too much.

    Nope, Joseph hopes soon to retire with an A-list company he has tried his best to run ethically. He wanted to write this book because he is not proud of the product he has been selling, has learned a lot, and is at a time in his life in which he can say it. Be cynical and think you know people’s motivations if you want. That is a sad and disrespectful approach to fellow human beings.

    Use our book as a case in point Mr. Dawson, of those poor folk who try to work within the system. Yup, its an old, old division. i have been on both sides. I know where I stand. I think its too bad you would waste your time trying to shoot down people (us) I still believe are your friends. There are much bigger, much more important targets than us. Why not at least start with the folks who are about to sell us regular sized regular priced (the prices we are used to selling our souls for to be cool) electric vehicles that will continue to promote the worst of globalism? Politics does not necessarily mean fighting. Enough for now, for me, with you. Thanks for the time and energy.

  10. Amy, it seems pretty clear YOU are the one who’s uncomfortable with anybody who holds a different view. You keep saying we’re on the same side. I don’t agree. I realize you’d like opponents of cars to sing your praises. But you’re not really against cars, are you?

    Nuff said, as you say.

    Good luck!

    • Nope, just would prefer to have a dialogue in which a variety of opinions on how to get there from here can find some common ground. As did Andy Singer when he gladly offered to write an essay for our book. You still haven’t replied on the merits, that is what I object to, just character bashing. Bye.

      • What merits, Amy? You want to spend reform efforts creating a massive transformation of local, state, and national transportation infrastructure, all to facilitate small electric vehicles for local commuting plus the same old big vehicles for longer trips.

        That would take just as big a shift in the forces that presently prevail as the shift I propose, which is to emphasize rail and pedestrian infrastructure.

        This is an either-or choice, whether you want to admit that or not. Creating your system on any meaningful scale would require precisely the same amount of political and material energy as a return to rail and pedestrian-first living would. Your plan would complete tear up existing towns, and would also require immense changes in people’s personal habits.

        Of course, the much more likely scenario is that your project is really just another marginal way for a few already-green folks to feel like gestures are enough, that having a mini-car is changing the world, even when it’s a 1% reality.

        And I’ve attacked nobody’s character, despite your perceptions. I’ve pointed out that your co-author makes money selling cars and is proposing to extend, rather than end, that planet-and-person-killing business. Perhaps he won’t seek to profit from your proposed plan, should anybody ever adopt it. Either way, it’s objectively an suspicious reality, and something any critical reader of your book will want to ponder.

  11. P.S. This is a dialogue of diverse opinions. Why did you assume you have the right to be perceived as a friend by those of us who really are against cars? You’re not really against cars, are you?

  12. Rights? Who said anything about rights?

    Anyway, you are right, folks who are car-busters are more likely to dislike our plan than perhaps anyone. We knew that. Though we have had support from the likes of Andy Singer and Marko Thull. Not agreement, support. And I do take your point that either method will take a huge amount of energy, money, political capital. So I can see why you say its an either/or there. But I don’t see it that way, I simply see it as a stepwise path to getting rid of IC cars. And I wish we could be car-free, maybe I don’t understand how that is possible or likely within the time frame we need massive carbon reduction. I am interested in what we could do right NOW. Our city is spending money fixing up roads that could have been spent on Greenways. That was something that could happen right NOW and we still hope our city listens in the future. I don’t want to see families left with one small ev and one large IC car. But by getting out of debt with a small ev, and the ease of plugging it in at home, we could sooner shift our “need” for one larger car that will go longer and further to a larger EV as our “other car.”

    You call it social engineering; we call it changing hearts and minds (no force or engineering there.) I would like to be totally against cars, but as I wrote, I do not see it happening in a world as large and complex as we have created. The “merits” I had hoped you would respond to include my point about how families (and still mothers, even working ones like me) mostly live. So no, I am not against cars. And I do worry about the carbon emission costs of making even ev’s. But its kind of like the abortion issue. No one I know is really pro-abortion, any more than people are “pro-divorce.” One hopes these things don’t need to happen. But sometimes they do. And need or not, people WILL do them. People will not stop driving cars, I just don’t see it. Our villages, as Joseph and I call them, are not old time villages with a few blocks to walk. We DO agree and seriously join you in the demand for mass transit and rail. But there is a system here, and those are not answers to everything, as bicycles are not, much as I personally wish they were.

    So I tell you what I told a friend who wanted to run for governor and wanted me on his team. He had the name appeal and loyalty throughout the state, but his approach to funding would not get him there. Very pure, very admirable. But I have only one life to live, I am not a spring chicken, and I refuse to put my energy into a greater good that is, to me, an impossible goal. That said, I honestly respect all of you who are against cars period and willing to work for that. We offer an appeal we think will work, and to us its no baby step. 50% carbon reduction or elimination is not a baby step.

    Actually, I am sorry for taking offense, I appreciate your continued investment in the dialogue. I am a first time published author, though a long time writer. It is hard not to defend one’s baby, but I am learning, and you are helping me get less defensive.

  13. Here’s the thing, though, Amy: If people don’t stop driving cars, this society and this planet is in deep, deep trouble, is it not? Indeed, nature is going to force people to stop driving cars. So, the issue is how soon we start telling ourselves the truth about that.

    Opposing IC cars is not the same thing as opposing cars, as you know.

    And cars are not the only source of carbon emissions, as you also know.

    Personally, I think peak oil and energy use is a more immediate problem than climate change, but it’s not one or the other there.

    Smaller cars certainly have a role to play. But I am afraid we need to get radical sooner rather than later, and I think many people, even in the USA, already sense that.

    Good luck, though! I hope you get more dialogue and readers.

    • “I am afraid we need to get radical sooner rather than later,”

      I unfortunately completely have to agree… Very nice to read your talk. I guess I feel somehow in between. I really dislike cars, but I’m not sure about the best way to get rid of them as quick as possible. I don’t believe in green cars and everything, but I would like to come back to the idea of car-sharing.
      I see it as a way to make quick changes, but at the same time it is still about cars… Probably one part of the solution to allow more pro-active policies in favor of public transports and bikes…

  14. Thanks Michael. I do hope you are not our only reader too, though you are a discerning one and I appreciate the dialogue; don’t go away, and don’t stop disagreeing if you must (not that you would 😉 This blog is a bit odd re readers as we are only published on it once a week, and there is plenty for CarBusters readers, who have to be pretty serious thinkers to be part of such a magazine’s readers, to respond to and think about. I have uploadeed our entire blog on our own website: http://www.greenhorsepower.com, though I am not finished adding in the images. And our book will be out in hard copy within a month. So we do hope for a larger forum soon. We have not advertised our own blog yet as I am trying to finish loading it first. But I don’t mind letting you and other readers know its there, and you are welcome to see it. Its not in its final, polished form yet but any day now. Who knows, maybe its our hearts and minds that will change during the dialogue.

  15. Cars certainly aren’t going to disappear overnight, barring a true collapse of the economy and/or the fuel supply. But it seems very likely to me that we are only going to get one more chance to make our urbanized order truly sustainable. I’m all in favor of using every available way of downsizing and sharing cars as we go. I simply think we can’t afford to pretend that such steps are the goal in themselves. People aren’t stupid, and resources are finite. We need to be honest about the state of the world, before it’s too late.

  16. Michael, Bart, I swear to you by my children’s future that the steps we are proposing are not, as you say Michael, “the goal in themselves.” Not at all. Not one bit. I wish for a car free life, and am old enough to be close to able to move where I can make that happen; my husband and I plan on it when we are empty nesters (but still young enough to walk, bike, and be true participants of our community.) Our book is seriously about what we see as an urgent “missing link” in our systemic thinking about how to get to that place.

    So am I against cars after all? Only in my dreams. I cannot see it a practical reality for families and people who cannot afford to live or move close to their work. So we work on our city and state and national politics to make busses, carsharing, mass transit come to them. In the meantime. consider a “village vehicle.” Get out of the debt that contributes to this mess and lowers quality of life, and lowers carbon emissions. But don’t stop there. We have to work hard for the even bigger changes. Neither Joseph nor I have been shy of that hard, more “revolutionary” if you will, work. Joseph was in the trenches in almost every possible way as a younger man, prior to family and owning a businesss. I am currently still in them, working on state and local politics (specifically and generally, this book is only one small piece of what I do and without pay too, and as for the book, its not going to make any money!) to the detriment of my profession most of the time. But its for my kids; we are out of time to preserve it all for them. We are not rich and cannot really afford the time I put in as an activist. I would wait til my children are grown etc. and put my family’s health first, but I find we can no longer wait, that is a luxury long past. In these ways, I am with you.

    Small EV’s are NOT the goal, not hardly. But they are the missing link no one talks about or believes in, and they won’t be a viable alternative til we seriously rethink infrastructure. What pains Joseph and me is that even while we spend all this transportation stimulous money on “shovel-ready” projects, perhaps well intended, is not at all well thought out. We are wasting infrastructure money by the millions of dollars investing in a recreation of the past, only we think big ev’s with lots of charging stations is a huge change. It isn’t.

    You can read more on our blog, http://www.greenhorsepower.wordpress.com, where the whole book is up. I am still adding the images to the second half, but you can see where we are going because the entire book is there.

    I’d love to see Joseph give a TED lecture on this topic. He is amazing: articulate, passionate, and a great deal of expertise, especially in how we let the corporate and gov powers mislead us by playing hide the pennies under which cup, like the magic trick. Its all a big distraction. Hey I am not anti gov either, but a proper, healthy critic of it, even when “my own’ are in power. I am waiting to see the changes I voted for, but I am sympathetic to the mess wrought by the last 8 years. Some of the choices being made right now are really disappointingto me. I am sure to you all too. Just voting is no longer an option, we are way past that. People have to fight with all they have for what they believe in.

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