The Government Now Wants ToTax YOU For Gas Consumption! Time and again in our environmental column, we've railed about how absurd and unfair it is of the government to mandate the corporate average fuel economy of vehicles made by new car manufacturers. Known as CAFE, we've long called for the government to get out of the business of telling car makers what to build. Safety is one thing, but dictating how much gas mileage a vehicle gets is something else entirely. . . It wasn't all that long ago that the federal government didn't lose any sleep over how crappy a car's gas mileage was. What became known as CAFE was an idea which spread its roots in the 1970s, then vaulted into sacred cow status by the 1990s.CAFE has kept manufacturers from building plenty of very cool vehicles simply because they can't balance them with enough gas miser cars on the other end. CAFE jeopardized the entire Viper project, keeps the new Hemi out of more vehicles, and generally makes life miserable for all of us. If CAFE weren't around, Ford would be building SOHC 429 Mustangs, Chrysler would be stuffing their upcoming 600 horse 426-style Hemis into anything they could, and the new GTOs would have 455s with twin turbos. CAFE's been a pain in the arse since it was introduced,forcing automakers to build cars they can't sell in order to build cars they can sell. It's a balancing act - the gas guzzlers mustbe counter-balanced with fuel squeezers. There's a big problem with CAFE, however, that's being caused by all you stupid consumers out there. In short,you're not buying what you're supposed to be buying. The feds have a perfect idea of what you need, and despite their best efforts to ram that perfect vehicle down your throat, you're still not buying the damn things. Let's face it, we're obviously all morons. It's kinda like when mom sat you down at the table at a big feast. Spread before you on the table is a wide variety of food, in both healthy and unhealthy varieties. Sitting in the middle of the table is a big chocolate cake that's got your name written all over it. Obviously, you want the cake, but, being that this isn't your first time at the rodeo, you're aware you must eat some turkey, some green beans, some mashed taters, things like that, before you get cake. Well, the feds have made sure there are plenty of lima beans on the table, along with broccoli and soy burgers, but you idiots are still gobbling down the cake without paying attention to the veggies. Guess what? Just like mom, the feds are now looking for ways to smack you upside the head and make you eat those stinkin' lima beans or you can't have any cake. If none of that made any sense, keep reading and it will become clear. The idea behind CAFE was flawed from the outset and still is. Just because a company builds a car mandated by the government, there's no law on the books that mandates the consumer must buy it.. We live in a relatively free society (getting less free by the month), so you're allowed to buy whatever automobile you choose, provided you can make the payments and afford the insuranse. Despite all those 40 mpg microcars available, too many of us 'aren't buying them. CAFE was pushed through with the "if you build it, they will buy" mentality: There's a good reason there aren't any drive-thru fast food joints selling asparagus sprouts or movie studios making flicks about the manufacturing of aluminum foil - the public doesn't want stuff like that. You've gotta' make a product that people want or you're not going to stay in business long. Well, get ready to develop a taste for asparagus on a bun, because the feds are thinking again and that's not a good thing. What's being pondered now is something called HAFE, which stands for "Household Average Fuel Economy." Basically, this would shift the burden of meeting fuel efficiency numbers from the auto makers to the auto buyers. Manufacturers would be free to make whatever cars they want (like we believe that) and you would be free to buy whatever you wanted provided you could meet the federally mandated HAFE rating that your particular household is supposed to uphold. Not getting it yet? Allow us to make this more simple, HAFE would work much the same way CAFE has worked, only you're now the target, not Ford or DaimlerChrysler. For example, the feds take a look at your family, how many kids you have, how far you drive to work, things like that, then they decide your vehicles must average 35 mpg. If you have a full size pickup and a sport ute, that's not going to happen. To balance the sport ute, you'll be forced to buy a micro car. Furthermore, you must drive that micro car an equal or greater amount than the larger vehicle to satisfy the mandate that you average 35 mpg. Possession isn't enough under HAFE, the average must be actually met or you're going to get slammed, and that's what makes this seemingly unthinkable situation entirely possible - this could be the biggest free money grab ever dreamed up by the feds. The formula laid out by the feds for calculating your HAFE is painfully over simplified to keep you from being scared to death. Quoting an article on the subject by Automotive News editorialist Edward Lapham, "If you own an SUV that gets about 20 mpg, a mid-sized convertible that gets about 30 mpg, and a compact sedan that gets about 40 mpg, and you drive them all about the same distance in a year, your HAFE would be 30 mpg." That is simple, but how many average people own three cars? Many collectors have a lot more than three, many average people are fortunate to have one. If you have a garage full of Road Runners and Barracudas with two modern vehicles for transportation you're screwed. If you own only one car to do everything that sucker better be a total fuel miser. Then there's the complicated matter of factoring in motorcycles, mopeds, and what happens if your kids ride their bikes to school instead of having you drive them? Does that count for points toward zero emission credits? None of that's really been worked out yet. So why does this seem overly scary to us? Because the feds have been enforcing CAFE by imposing fines on automotive manufacturers. They make the mileage figures or pay the feds big bucks. Since politicians are becoming slightly more inclined not to impose tax increases, it's politically easier to say their imposing fines. Let's say the feds inform you that your household should achieve an overall rating of 25 mpg, but, by year's end, you've failed miserably and only managed to get 18 mpg. That's when the feds send you a tax penalty for being a gross polluter and not doing your part. You're not being taxed unfairly, you're being penalized for not following the rules. Got that? If your personal fleet doesn't get the mileage numbers laid down, you're going to get a notice in the mail informing you how much you owe to make amends for your evil doing. This is a tasty proposition for those in Washington because it guarantees an entirely new way of rounding up cash. It's also something that's appealing because those it will affect the most are the very wealthy,who generally have gas hogs and nothing but gas hogs. Sticking them with big fines simply because they choose not to drive an '87 Yugo is easy because, hey, they have all the money anyway, right? Where's the harm in that? There are a lot of things not factored into the whole HAFE equation yet. What if you're a single guy who needs a big Dodge dually to get your work done and the truck also doubles as your daily transportation? What if you're a single gal with only a Mustang convertible for daily transport? That's 'gonna' cost you too. Theoretically, Harley guys would do pretty well under this plan. Would we be allowed to buy surplus unused HAFE credits from the next door neighbors who only have a Hyundai? The big corporations buy unused pollution credits from other manufacturers to make their quotas, so that would seem fair to us, but, none of that's been worked out yet. We doubt they'll extend that same "courtesy" to the average consumer. All of which goes to prove that a politician with time on his (or her) hands is a dangerous thing. If the government can figure out a way to impose fines just because you choose to buy transportation that's practical for your particular needs or desires, they're going to do it. This is the first step in that direction. The feds have thrown the spaghetti against the wall and are watching to see if it will stick. If there's no great public outcry as this HAFE idea moves forward, watch for it to come reality. Needless to say, if you own a fleet of muscle cars, or even just one, the price of buying the car itself may be the least of your worries. Under HAFE, you'd be taxed or penalized financially every year just for having the thing in your garage - think of it as a perpetual car note. Think it can't happen? Do you think people back in the 1960s would've thought the government could mandate what your hair spray is made of? Call your senator now and let them know HAFE is no way to get reelected. There is one great consistency with politicians on both sides of the aisle - the overwhelming desire to hold onto their jobs. Power to them is more important than money. Let's keep HAFE from getting out of the basement, and while you have your representative's ear, let 'em know that CAFE is downright stupid and needs to be thrown away. Let the free enterprise system run without restrictions. That's what our founding fathers intended and that's the way it ought to be.