Thursday, July 31, 2008

Reasons to Be Car Free in DC #7: I Can't Afford It

Well, so much for all the altruistic reasons for not wanting to own a car. This is purely a personal reason and I'm sure many people like me secretly know this is the real reason that they don't own cars. I'm car free for many reasons and one is the expense of owning one. The direct and collateral costs of car ownership are daunting to me.

Talking to folks about this issue will always lead to more than a few who can't afford to live WITHOUT a car. They don't live near public transit, need a car to get to groceries or food, are taking care of kids or relatives, whatever. I get that. This is about people who can't afford to live WITH a car.

If I were to forced to buy a car today, say if my employer relocated me to Manhattan, Kansas, or Houston TX, Phoenix AZ, or some other place where driving is pretty much a necessity, what would I buy? Well, there's the dream car of the Hollywood set, the Prius. Then there's the Euro import, Smart Car and finally, my dream car, the Honda FCX, a real live hydrogen car. Insurance and registration costs notwithstanding, how much would each set me back?

Well, the Prius is pretty recognizable these days. Needs no introduction. Kelly Blue Book puts the cost of a new standard 4-door Prius at $23,583. It gets 48 miles per gallon in the city. Not bad!

The Smart fortwo (yes, the model is the "fortwo") is TINY, even though it's slightly larger than the European version. I haven't seen any on Mt Pleasant yet, but there must be a dozen or so spread out across the city. Surprisingly, clocks in at only 33mpg in the city. KBB lists the 2-door hatch back at $12,235.

Then, my baby. I love this thing. A pure hydrogen fuel cell driven car. Hydrogen is the fuel, which in turn powers the cells, which in turn create clean electricity, which runs the motor. No exhaust. The only byproduct is water. It's almost unbelievable. There is no pure mile per gallon equivalent, but Honda and the EPA estimate that the FCX Clarity is comparable to 74mpg. Honda has started leasing them nationally. The range is 280 miles per tank, not so different from some gas powered cars. We have a hydrogen fueling station in DC. It's on Benning Road NE at a Shell station (I really hate Shell, so that's a problem). The next closest stations are at Fort Belvior in Virginia and Newark, DE. Then there's the cost. Honda "hopes" to produce a Clarity for less than $100,000 within a few years. Until then, it's not for sale. Even if it were, they'd have to be $300,000-$500,000 per car for Honda to turn a profit. Right now, leases are $600 per month. That effectively puts me out of the race, but maybe it will supplant the Prius as the Hollywood favorite (supposedly Jack Nicholson has one).

So, all that goes to say I still can't afford a car I potentially would want to drive (sorry Smart fortwo and Prius). But, that's still good enough reason for me not to own one.