Economy sounds like a very objective word. It’s to do with numbers and we all agree what they mean, don’t we?
If we assume a person drives for fifty years of their life, is it cheaper to buy a long-lived car or to drive a fuel-efficient but short-lived mayfly? Whilst numbers can be applied to both scenarios, it is really a value judgement about which set we prefer.
In a simple example, I paid £150 (Irish pounds) for a jacket in 1997 and I still have it. The annual cost has been £8.33 per year so far. I expect I will still have it in another decade as long as I keep the kilos off. The annual cost can only fall. In the meantime I bought another jacket of lower quality which needed adjustment. It’s about six years old and fit for very little now. The annual cost of that financial disaster is £12 per year.
Turning to another case, I am often told I should stop paying for repairs to my bike’s chain set. This works out at about £100 every two years. I paid £100 for the bike in 2004 and have replaced the chains four times since then. Total cost: £500 or £45 per year. Some (including the mechanic) suggested replacement of the bike. If so, then I would have spent at least another £400 on a bike and one further replacement of the chain set. Total cost £300 plus £400 plus £ 100 or £72 per year.
So, we see that there are economic arguments against buying a cheap jacket and disposing of a bike to get a new one. What isn’t factored into this is the qualitative. You could argue I would enjoy riding a lighter, less rusty bike. And you could argue that having new jackets is nicer than having an old one (I have several, in fact, of various ages). So here the qualitative argument could trump the quantitative. Actually, qualitatively I prefer the old jacket and am very much happier with a bike I don’t have to worry about.
This is car website so let’s turn to cars and our opening question. If a person were to buy a car like a Bristol twice in their life (at £140,000) they would spend £5,600 per year plus fuel. Fuel is up to them so I discount it. If they bought a new mini-car every seven years they’d pay £57,000 or £1140 per year over fifty years (I assumed the car cost £8,000].
Here one can say that the mini-car buyer has saved quite a lot of money and the case is unarguable. Or is it? We can muddy the waters now by bringing the qualitative into the equation. The Bristol owner will get through two cars, or use about 3500 kilos of material, at a minimum. The mini car buyer will use seven cars at about 5600 kilos of material over the course of the five decades. The mini car buyer thus uses more material and energy than the owner of the two Bristols.
I consider the fuel consumption to be equivalent; many mini car owners drive long distances which is why they choose light fuel-sipping cars. Nobody commutes in a Bristol and if they do, please write and tell us. What we see here is that while the mini-car owner can point to clear savings in annual costs, they have externalised those savings to the tune of nearly 2500 kg of material consumed. They are also burdening the road more with their extra miles.
The Bristol owner, far from being a planet-destroying plutocrat (though they might be) is in this regard, selflessly taking on the burden of resource conservation and also channelling their money to labour costs. The mini car buyer is basically paying for the amortisation of machines and tools. The labour on a Clio is about 16 hours whereas the labour needed to make a Bristol or its modern equivalent must be vastly higher. I might guess at about 200 to 500 hours.
What I haven’t considered is the case of the person who buys a cheaper but still-durable car like a Volvo 240. But in the battle between plutocratic durability and economy car credentials, the case is not as clear as one would think at first glance and the issue is not the money but values.