It’s sunday, and the tired vultures who lurk over car lots are resting up for the monday morning sales meeting/berating and another eighty hour week. Time to try to figure out why the average car in these United States is now 11 years old. Yea, I know the industry is drooling all over them selves at the prospect that this will be a 14 million unit year. Says something about how low they’ve set there sights… There’s over 200 million licensed 4 wheelers in the U.S. today, and just getting back to a normal 10 year replacement schedule would yield sales of over 20 million a year. Heck, the automakers haven’t got anywhere near the capacity to build that many units anymore.

So I pre-shopped the web… Looking for something that gets at least 30 MPG highway and will pull a modest 1000 pound trailer. GM has one option left- by some strange occurrence the Chevy Cruise is the only Chevy car left that’s even rated to tow a trailer, and it’s good for a thousand pounds.¬† Yup, the bigger Malibus and Impalas ain’t even rated to tow trailers anymore, and I suspect sooner or later some GM exec will catch on to the Cruze’s trailer towing nonconformity and put a stop to it in hopes of forcing us to buy a more profitable gas guzzling SUV or pickup. Ford is even worse, requiring an expensive upgrade to a Taurus to tow anything. The may be hope at Mopar/Fiat though- the new Alfa based Dart is rated for a thousand pounds, and MSRP for the base model undercuts the cruise by a few hundred dollars at $17k. In “imports”, the Corolla is rated for an impressive 1500 pounds and has an equally impressive MSRP of just over $16k. The every ready to tow VW TDIs are still rated for 1000 pounds, but if you read the manual for their Euro twins you’ll find them rated for 3300 pounds(!) with a braked trailer. I’ve seen an older VW Jetta diesel towbaring an even heavier Audi diesel, and the only down side was that the MPG was probably dragged down to only 30 or so.

On to the window shopping… Does anybody even stock these price leaders? Now I should post the proper warning that I live in a new car desert where dealers are happy to dump off lease vehicles for about the same 20% off of MSRP as the lease company or major corporation paid for them new. There’s no auto plants near here too, so no steady flow of automaker employees buying a new one every year with their 22% employee discount and dragging the prices down. There are typically 18% “supplier employee” discounts too, and as a Ralston-Purina retiree I supposed to be eligible. Should be interesting to walk into the local dealerships with my “supplier discount” PIN number and price a new car for the same price as the local dealers are demanding for 50,000 mile used cars…

So to the interwebs, where Chevy does a pretty good job of finding me a couple base Cruzes within an hours drive with manual transmission for around $17.5k… Not bad. Ford falls flat on their face, best they can find is at $22k Escape 40 miles away in Brookings. Most of the Ford dealers out here don’t have their inventories on the web…. Massive fail, tempts me to dump my Ford stock. Mopar/Fiat doesn’t do any better, and Toyota’s online presence can’t even find me a dealer. VW shows the nearest dealer, 70 miles away, has a few TDI automatics starting at $24k MSRP and no stick shifts. But the dealer in Mankato, a bit over a hundred miles away, has a few stick shift TDIs starring at $22k.

So time to seek some “ground truth”… Do they even have these vehicles on the ground? Found the Cruses as advertised, though buried behind rows of pickups and SUVs. The local Ford dealer in Marshall looks ready to throw in the towel after a fire, with only a handful of cars period. Amongst that handful was a 2013 Escape that looked suspiciously like a Euro Focus C-Max, with no window sticker. I imagine it’ll be around $30k. The Chevy dealer in Marshall has the Mopar franchise too, and had a Dart optioned up to $22k but little else but SUVs and pickups. Toyota still hasn’t told me where to buy a Toyota and I already knew the VW inventory status, so no point in riding to Keloland or ‘Kato.

The conclusion: GM and Mopar have a solid base hits but not home runs with the $17k or so Cruze and Dart, and you can actually buy one. For $5k more you can have a VW with a 40 MPG diesel instead of a 30 MPG gasser, but that puts the payout at somewhere past 100k miles… But if fuel prices rise and the Euro weakens further, that price gap could close. If I were buying today I’d pop for the Cruze or the Dart, but if I could get a new VW TDI for $20k I’d be right there with cash $$$… Even though my 2003 TDI has only 110k on the odo.

Next time I’ll go new bike shopping… More fun!