Since my blog post last month about the imminent demise of my old mommy-car stationwagon, millions of Midlife Bat Mitzvah readers have been clamoring to know what new car I wll be buying.
Well, okay, maybe two MBM readers made polite inquiries. But this has been an interesting thought process, so I figured I’d write about it.
I clearly want to get as environmentally benign a car as possible. (Yes, I know someone will say that going carless is the most environmentally benign option. But I do want a car. And after 17 years with my current car, I feel I’ve earned a new one.)
A Prius is the obvious choice, perhaps the new plug-in Prius hybrid that Toyota is just starting to sell. It’s a safe choice. Nearly every other driver here in this bluest-of-blue-states Bay Area has a Prius. There are probably five on our block alone. My neighbors have one. My brother has one. Plus every car I’ve owned as an adult has been a Toyota, and they’ve all been sturdy and reliable.
But then there’s the Chevy Volt.
The Volt can travel up to thirty-five miles on its electric battery, without burning an ounce of gas!
My daily commute is only about six miles round trip. I could recharge the car at night in our driveway and go for weeks, maybe months, without visiting a gas station. And for longer trips, the Volt switches seamlessly into hybrid mode like a Prius. So there are no restrictions on how far I could drive. Averaging the no-gas battery driving and the hybrid driving, the EPA estimates that the Volt gets something like 60 miles per gallon. (Battery driving uses the energy equivalent of 93 miles per gallon; hybrid mode gets around 37 miles per gallon.)
The Volt represents the future. It’s the Detroit we want to see — innovative, environmentally conscious, forward-thinking. Of course I want to encourage and support that trend. BUT….
It’s an American car.
This is where the thought process gets weird and interesting. In my parents’ generation, it was considered unthinkable to buy a car that wasn’t American. To me, it’s unthinkable on a gut level to buy a car that is American.
I bought my first car in 1978, the height of the oil crisis. Remember lines queued around the block to buy gas? Jimmy Carter wearing sweaters in the White House to save fuel? Japanese cars were small and cool. American cars were big gas hogs. And American cars were lemons — we heard all sorts of disaster stories about American cars falling apart after a couple of years, while Toyotas and Datsuns and Hondas just kept going and going.
So on a purely emotional level, there is a big fierce grizzly bear that rears up and growls and makes me stop short when I think of the “Chevy” part of “Chevy Volt.”
But then there is other emotional baggage too.
I have never been someone who bought a car on emotion. I’ve always been practical, down-to-earth. No shiny sports car to cater to my inner supermodel, no BMW for status, no Hummer for… well, why would anyone of my gender want a Hummer anyway? I bought useful sedans with no frills. No leather seats, no upgraded stereos, no moon roofs. Basically, I wanted a machine that would get me from Point A to Point B as safely, cheaply and efficiently as possible.
But now I have this emotional response of deep-in-the-chest fear when I think about buying the Volt.
And then I have another emotional response when I think about buying a Prius! It’s the safe, cheaper choice. But it feels so… boring!
Maybe if I lived in Texas, buying a Prius would be a statement of visionary nonconformity. Here in the Bay Area, it’s like owning a piece of Ikea furniture. Yawn. Another Prius on the street? How will I be able to remember which house is mine?
For the first time in my life, I have all these feelings roiling around about cars. Fear of Detroit. Desire to be in the green forefront.
And that’s on top of actual practical considerations. The Volt is about $10,000 more expensive than a plug-in Prius would be. The Volt has a bucket seat in back, so it can only hold four people. The Volt has a tiny trunk because of its battery.
Sounds like I should get a Prius.
But… shoot! I want a Volt!
Now if only I could get over this spasm of grizzly-bear terror at the prospect of buying American, I could perhaps buy a car.