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Aaron Turpen

Aaron Turpen: New Car Dealerships Are Going to Die Kicking and Screaming

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images
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By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer
Cowboy State Daily

Last month, I wrote about how car dealerships, in particular dealerships selling new cars, are going to find peace with the dodo bird as the world changes around them. My opinion returned a lot of commentary. Unlike most of the things I write here, the commentary was largely non-political.

To summarize, the dealership model I foresee coming in the near future will be more about service and a lot less about sales. Dealers will have small inventories of various vehicle models from their respective brands. These will be “demo” models meant only for test driving and tire-kicking purposes.

Customers will then order their vehicle and have it delivered when it’s ready. Which, for about a third or so of customers right now, is how their new car purchase works: custom order, wait for the factory to build it, then take delivery.

That big change in dealerships will come thanks to the earlier restrictions of the pandemic, our current supply chain woes, and the length of time it’s going to take to recover from both.

Not surprisingly, I’m not the only one who thinks this new dealership model is what’s to come. Jim Farley, CEO of Ford Motor Company, held an investor’s earning’s call and explained the company’s plans moving forward.

Farley’s vision is to see dealerships acting almost exactly as I outlined: small inventories, online ordering, delivery or pickup by the customer after the build. Ford is restricting that model to its electric vehicle division, for now, but that division is expected to make up about a third of Ford’s overall manufacturing inside the next five years.

And to make sure that’s possible, Ford has already met its goal of securing battery and other technology components ahead of time, so it won’t face dearths of availability later.

Dealerships, for their part, aren’t helping themselves by taking advantage of current inventory lows and high demand for the few vehicles that are available.

Price gouging is a more common practice than most manufacturers will admit to and recent surveys have shown that consumers are not pleased at all.

Those who do buy, because they have no choice and need the car, are paying the added fees, but are overwhelmingly saying that they won’t be going back to that dealership.

Worse yet, those “flipping” vehicles by selling them to customers (often straw purchasers who are in on the deal) and then reselling them for big profits are about to see deep punishment from automakers like Ford and GM for doing so.

Ford has threatened to limit dealership stock if they’re caught flipping or gouging while GM has said they’ll drop warranties for high-demand vehicles sold and resold within 12 months.

Whatever is being done, though, the damage is already there. Dealerships were already on shaky ground with many consumers who despise the high-pressure sales tactics and the funneling system of negotiations during the purchase process.

Customers are now given more reason to see car dealers as on par with Washington politicians with these new shenanigans.

Dealerships in today’s connected, social markets should be depending on solid reputations and trustworthiness as top marketing strategies. Instead, they are going for the quick buck and destroying those attributes in the process.

So we’ll see the traditional dealership model crumble. And quickly.

Consumer demand, manufacturers seeing competitive advantage in more consolidated purchasing processes, and dealership consolidation through buyouts will all lead to a sales model that is nothing like what we have now.

We may also see the worst of the franchised dealerships begin fading out as franchise agreements fail to renew.

That will just leave us with used car sales. Which, frankly, probably are overdue for a similar overhaul, but which will likely remain intact. Letting consumers still have a favorite kicking post and cliche to make jokes about.

Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.


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Aaron Turpen: Traditional Car Dealership Is Dead; Consumers Now Have Advantage

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Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
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By Aaron Turpen
Cowboy State Daily automotive writer

For years now, we’ve seen the car dealership change as trends and technology came and went. But the traditional “walk in, kick the tires, sit down for the sales pitch, haggle, and sign the paperwork” model hasn’t changed that much from the consumer’s side.

Yes, electronic titling, easier access to loans, and other changes on the back end have come to speed up the process, but the basic here-to-there for most consumers isn’t much different now than it was in the 1960s.

But that’s about to change. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when.

Tesla

The first indication that all was not right in the dealership model was when Tesla began attempting to sell cars directly to consumers and met up with state-enforced roadblocks.

These dealership franchising and territory laws, mostly set up as protectionist schemes for existing new car dealers, showed that the status quo was so entrenched it’d become the law.

Trying to buck that trend, Tesla worked around the laws by going to states that didn’t have them or those that had loopholes it could exploit in selling direct to consumers via delivery.

This has worked, to a point, but is on shaky ground as dealer groups (often with the backing of car manufacturers) push to close those loopholes.

Yet Tesla’s efforts did have a payoff that even Elon Musk probably didn’t expect: consumers now know why they can’t buy a car on Amazon or get their cars directly from the manufacturer. Many had been under the assumption that manufacturers “owned” the dealerships they sell from. That ignorance was shattered for many.

Pandemic

Then came the pandemic. With COVID lockdowns and the resulting manufacturing slow-downs and logistical gluts, dealership lots have become nearly vacant of new vehicles to sell. Nationally in 2021, almost a third of new car buyers purchased their vehicle on order via a dealership and waited for it to be delivered.

Previously, that number had been in the single digit percentages. Usually for special order only options or models. Now even common vehicles like family crossovers and small pickup trucks are “backorder” items that must be build-to-order purchased instead of after kicking the tires and taking the traditional test drive.

Logistical slowdowns are likely to continue for some time as manufacturers scramble to fill backorders and suppliers run overtime to attempt to get parts and components to them.

Most in the industry assume we have at least another year or more of low dealership inventory. Which means even more consumers will be buying sight unseen via the ordering process. Probably well over half again this year.

Tea Leaves

What does that mean for the industry?

It means the dealership model is dying. Consumers are getting used to maybe not test driving the exact model they want or getting to kick tires and fiddle with knobs and buttons while mulling over options packages.

Dealerships are adapting to this new model by streamlining their “online ordering” systems for both consumers and salespeople.

Seeing these changes happening, it’s easy to imagine a near-future where dealerships no longer keep large parking lots of inventory to cover every model and various trim levels for them.

Perhaps the dealer will only keep the mainstream “middle-ground” trim and the highest trim on hand for consumers to touch and feel, but then fill most purchases via order instead.

Salesperson

The salesperson, who has become less and less important to the process as the Internet more heavily informs consumers of what’s available, may become more of an order manager and fulfiller in the future.

We already know that the majority of new car buyers who come onto a sales lot already know what vehicle they want and don’t need to be convinced.

Salespeople have largely been trained to guide potential buyers towards an option that is physically available for purchase rather than whatever the buyer had in mind.

With the pandemic, that has become even more important to dealerships for immediate sales, but consumers are clearly happy to buck that attempt and wait for an order instead.

It’s unlikely that laws will change to push dealerships out of their current  semi-monopolistic role in selling vehicles.

Unless a concerted push by consumers and manufacturers to remove the middle man from the sales (and its liabilities) process were to happen, dealerships can expect to keep enjoying their current status as the only avenue for new vehicle purchases. Which means the shady practices some are associated with will also continue. But, again, in comes the power of the internet.

Watchdogs

Watching new vehicle sales for the past several months, a clear trend has been happening. Enthusiast and consumer groups for the more must-have models are all over the web and social media.

These groups now often have “watchdog” threads where consumers (and some insiders) post how much markup and what kind of questionable fees some dealerships are adding to those most-wanted models.

One Ford Maverick forum, for example, has several participants photographing the ridiculous markups some dealerships have been putting on the window stickers of that truck. On another, enthusiasts for the Mazda CX-50 have been doing the same for dealership “fees” that are added.

Even the generally bread and butter Chevrolet Equinox has a user group that tracks how long orders are taking to arrive after purchase at various dealerships in a few states.

Consumers Fight Back

Consumers are following this information and acting accordingly. In one example, a person cancelled an order for one vehicle at a dealership with high markups and went 100 miles to another dealership without markups instead.

In another example, a potential buyer walked out of a dealership that refused to remove the added fees and went 30 miles to another that had no fees or markups added. This use of technology is giving consumers an edge and, as it gains popularity, will begin cutting into the bottom line of the less scrupulous dealers in business.

Meanwhile, consumers who did a build-to-order for their vehicle found that they could personalize it in ways they hadn’t considered: like having unusual options and color packages combined. These consumers are touting that personalization on social media. Others are taking note.

We will, eventually, begin to see the role of the dealership lessen in terms of the sales process and increase in terms of the fulfilment side. As more and more consumers become comfortable with the idea of ordering and waiting for their vehicle, dealerships will have to adapt.

Manufacturers have already made it clear that the days of 60 or more days worth of inventory being on car lots are not likely to return. Dealerships will have to adapt to online sales or face the certainty that manufacturers will begin selling online themselves to follow consumer trends.

For consumers, all of these changes will be a good thing, I think. They may take a while to happen, but they’re happening all the same.

Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.


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Aaron Turpen: No, Buying an Electric Car Does Not Make You a Democrat

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By Aaron Turpen, columnist
Cowboy State Daily automotive writer

This is going to burst some bubbles. I know. You’ve probably already come up with a response based purely on the title of this article, but bear with me a little before you type off in all caps at me. It’ll be worth it. I promise good information and bad dad jokes.

I recently was at a family reunion for family I’m married into. I met a bunch of people I didn’t know before and can still only vaguely understand how everyone’s related. For me, that’s hard to wrap my head around as I spent a fair amount of time in Utah as a teenager and learned how everyone there, at some point or another, had a Kevin Bacon with everyone else. No matter how diverse the crowd.

At any rate, during this family reunion, I met with a now-we’re-related guy named Tim. We had a long conversation. Because Tim owns a 1969 Plymouth Road Runner that started life as a drag car and continues its life, under his care and restoration, as a street-legal drag machine. If there’s anything I can carry a conversation at length with, it’s talking about cars.

At some point in that conversation, Tim asked me what is my favorite car that I’ve driven so far this year. A not unusual question for me to be asked, given that what I do for a living means that I daily drive around 100 vehicles every year.

I promptly answered that it was the Ford Mustang Mach-E. He was surprised. After showing some knowledge of what his classic muscle car would have been like stock and asking details about his engine boring and tuning techniques, he was amazed that an electric car would be my favorite. So I explained myself to him. Starting with my corniest vegetable joke.

But back to cars, I chose the Mach-E because it doesn’t just run from zero to sixty in 3.5 seconds, but it’s also a joy to drive. And that, to me, is what matters. I have very few biases when it comes to vehicles. I like trucks, sport utilities, muscle cars, tiny little sports cars, oddly-shaped foreign jobs, school buses, monster trucks, rally racing, off-road beasts, etc. I just like to drive.

Each vehicle has a different appeal and each kind of vehicle and powertrain for that vehicle also has an attraction. I like electrics because they give smooth power delivery. And most have the batteries down the middle of the car, so they tend to have excellent balance and dynamics. I also like the throaty, refined sound of a British V8 and the grunting growl of well-done American muscle.

In short, I like to drive vehicles. This is why I do what I do.

If I’ve learned anything as an American, it’s that politics get into everything in our country. I remember a time when that was not the so much the case, but that time was long ago.

Today, everything becomes political. We worship our divides and the tribal feelings of “we’re better than them” that result. Most of the memes on Facebook and commentary on Twitter are just that: Me vs You.

Being unaffiliated and libertarian in my political view, I’ve often found myself shoved into one group or another based on a comment or a question I pose. Usually by those who don’t see anything beyond elephants and donkeys.

So it is with electric vehicles. We collectively see an EV as either good or evil based purely on how we believe it fits in politics. Which is stupid. Yes, politics get into everything because government eventually gets into everything, but hating the object does nothing to change things.

Just as we don’t hate the soldier for participating in a politically-motivated war we shouldn’t hate the electric car just because some political figure says they are the future. Things change and we can’t always control that change.

Currently, polls are showing that about 60-70 percent of Americans would consider an electric car as their next new car purchase (depending on the poll).

For political affiliation and thoughts, one poll–created by an EV advocacy group but verified independently–asked questions of a cross-section of Americans who are both active voters and in the market for a new car in the next 3 years.

The Zero Emissions Transportation Association (ZETA) polled people nationally back in February with interesting results.

They found that the divide between the two major political parties is wide, with about half of Republicans (49%) saying they support incentives to buy an EV and about 79 percent of Democrats saying that they do.

But 72 percent of unaffiliated independents, which make up the bulk of the voters in the U.S., say that they think incentivizing EVs in some way is a good idea. This means that nearly two thirds of Americans overall are willing to give an EV a chance if the circumstances are right for them.

And unless half of the Republican party is made up of RINOs [insert Cheney joke here], which seems ludicrous, that means that a lot of GOP voters are not only interested in electric cars, but are willing to subsidize them in one way or another.

Then we consider the merits of electric vehicles: they’re simpler, easier to own and maintain, and generally cheaper in the long run. They may or may not be more environmentally upstanding when compared to gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles and they may or may not be “better” in some specific circumstance or other, but for the majority of people the majority of the time, they’re great. Or at least will be soon enough.

An electric car reduces a vehicle with about 30,000 or so parts down to a couple of thousand. Less complexity means less things to break. Fewer moving parts mean fewer things to have to take apart to figure out what went wrong. And cheaper fuel means cheaper operation.

If I know anything about consumers who buy vehicles, it’s that convenience sells. Every time. The more convenient (aka “easier”) the vehicle is to them, the more likely they are to buy it and keep it.

With a large chunk of the maintenance required of a combustion vehicle going away with electrics, that’s a convenience most will be happy with. As for the convenience of fueling, well, most of us can just plug an electric car into our house.

Eventually that will be the norm at apartment complexes as well. And while road trips and other things are a hassle with an EV now, they won’t be for much longer. Infrastructure is rolling out quickly.

So on practical terms, while you may or may not be ready for an electric vehicle right now, you will likely see them as commonplace in your lifetime. And considering one won’t change your political affiliation. I promise.

(Looking back, I didn’t really include much in the way of dad jokes. So what’s black on white on black on white on black on white? A penguin rolling downhill.)


Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.


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Aaron Turpen: Don’t Take Those Gas-Saving Tips Too Seriously, Although Some Have Some Merit

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By Aaron Turpen, automotive columnist for Cowboy State Daily

Memes, clickbait, and other information fodder on the internet are full of “tips” for saving at the pump.

With gas prices being so high, it’s no wonder these are a hot topic and prime targets for getting your attention. But most of those tips are wrong. Some are so far gone, they’re not even fertilizer anymore.

But rather than just debunk the clickbait manure, we should also look at the ones that do have some merit. So here’s a little bit of both.

“Fill up in the early morning when the ground temperature is cold.” This one is hilarious. It plays on the idea that a “gallon” is less than it is when it’s cold. Pumps dispense fuel by volume, so obviously that volume is bigger when the liquid being pumped is cold.

That could be true, if you want to do the physics to figure that out, but it doesn’t apply to fuel. Fuel is stored underground. Where it’s basically always at the same temperature. That’s why your grandparents kept potatoes in the root cellar and your basement is cooler than the rest of your house.

“You should refill the tank when you are down to half.” This one has some merit. Not for the reasons often touted, which include something about gasoline vapors “wasting” fuel by occupying the top area of your tank instead of staying liquid so they can pump into the engine.

Vapors evaporate and eventually return to the liquid state. And the amount we’d be talking about is miniscule compared to the amount of fuel anyway. But, keeping your vehicle’s fuel tank fuller rather than emptier most of the time has other upsides. Namely it keeps your fuel pump from working too hard.

Most fuel pumps are cooled by the fuel around them and if there is no fuel to cool them, they can overheat and wear out early. Plus your fuel lines and injectors will stay cleaner because the junk that gathers in your fuel settles to the bottom of the tank where the pump will start sending it if the tank gets towards empty.

“Don’t fill up at a service station being refilled by a fuel tanker.” This one is an old one and it sticks around because it’s largely true. While most places to fill your tank have particulate filters to keep junk from ending up in your fuel tank, you have no way of knowing how clean or up-to-date those filters are.

The tanker filling the fuel tank below ground is likely stirring up sediment from the bottom as it does so. If the filters aren’t up to the task, that sediment will end up in your car’s fuel tank.

“Fill up on Wednesday. It’s the cheapest day of the week for gas.” Not actually true, though it likely was a few years ago. Before the advent of digital signage that allowed the station to change prices at the press of a few buttons, signs were changed manually.

To avoid looking bad, fuel stations often only changed those signs on Sunday night or early Monday morning when the “new week” would be perceived as a logical time when people would expect price changes.

Often, around Thursday afternoon or night, service stations would then change again to a “weekend rate” when most travel happened, hoping to capitalize on higher traffic. With the advent of more competition on the market and digital signage that can change in seconds, though, that’s no longer the case.

Stations can and often do change prices daily, with fluctuations of a few cents according to various market trends as reasoning. Some gas station chains don’t have immediate control over the price settings, they are updated via satellite or internet at a central location instead.

“Grocery store savings deals can save money at the pump.” This one is true. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, those places that offer savings via membership programs are often the lowest-priced place to get fuel.

Assuming you have the membership points or whatever other requirements are needed. And as with all things, buyer beware. The simple math may say “Oh, I’m saving a lot!” while the longer math may show that the prices paid in the store to get those savings at the pump aren’t actually worth it.

“Fuel system cleaners can improve your fuel economy.” This one is a half-and-half. It’s true if your vehicle is older, as time does cause some buildup in the engine and injection systems that can reduce economy.

In a vehicle that is fairly new and which doesn’t have many miles on it, however, these cleaners won’t be doing much good. As with all things, consider what the manufacturer recommends and what your trusted mechanic says is best for your vehicle. Go with experts. Not some random article on the internet. Even if it was written by me.

“Premium fuel is a rip-off.” This is another grain of salt truism. For most vehicles most of the time, premium fuel is not going to improve fuel economy enough to pay for itself or keep your system “cleaner” than will a lower grade fuel.

There are exceptions. To start with, ethanol fuel, even in a mix like E10 or E15, provides lower fuel economy because of the lower energy density of ethanol versus standard gasoline of the same grade. Ethanol, however, is usually a bit cheaper than is straight gasoline, so the tradeoff is likely worth it.

Next, some vehicles require that premium-grade (91 octane or higher) be used in their engines. This is especially true of performance vehicles, high-pressure engines (such as some Ford Ecoboost and Mazda Skyactiv designs), and many turbo/supercharged luxury models. Most vehicles requiring premium fuel will say so right on their filler port.

There are other fuel saving tips floating around as well. Let us know if you’ve seen any you aren’t sure of. Most of them are probably bunk or half-truths, but there are always a few gems.


Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.

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Aaron Turpen: Would An Electric Car Fit Your Wyoming Lifestyle?

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Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
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By Aaron Turpen, Cowboy State Daily automotive columnist

The question posed in the title is a fun one because most people have a knee-jerk answer for it. Usually not a nice one. But considered on their merits, there are use cases for electric vehicles in Wyoming beyond the golf course and rental scooters downtown.

For whatever reason, many Americans seem to equate electric vehicles with politics. Sure, like everything else, there are some politics involved, but for the most part, an electric vehicle (EV) is just a thing. It’s a tool just like tin foil and a hat are tools. Having either or both may or may not make a statement about you, but in the end, an EV is a tool of transportation.

Even if we derive that EVs are somehow “anti-Wyoming” because Wyoming produces energy, that’s still a short-sighted assumption. Wyoming produces energy and electric cars use energy. In fact, we as a state would stand to make more money because more electrics would mean more energy is required and we are a net producer of that energy.

So lets consider what lifestyles can and could be utilizing an EV soon.

The clearest use case is for commuters. Whether driving 20, 50, or 100 miles on a commute (one way or round trip), an EV means that drive is a whole lot cheaper. Most of the electric vehicles currently on the roads with Wyoming plates are a second or third car for a household and are used primarily to commute either to work or through daily driving needs. The cost difference to drive an electric vehicle daily versus putting gasoline in the average four- or six-cylinder vehicle for the same job can be substantial.

On a commute of 50 miles per day (which is about double the national average), an EV would save someone paying $4 per gallon at the pump a whopping $986 per year. That’s assuming the gasoline car is achieving 35 mpg, which is about 8 mpg higher than the national average right now.

At 250 miles per week, that’s 13,000 miles per year. Those miles divided by 35 equals 371.5 gallons of fuel for $1,486. If gasoline prices somehow drop to the now-dreamy $2.85 per gallon of pre-pandemic days, that’s still $1,059 in fuel.

The average electric vehicle uses about 0.35kWh per mile and the current electricity price in Wyoming is about 11 cents per kWh. Meaning an EV uses about $500 in electricity for that same year. Those savings don’t account for the additional cost savings coming with less maintenance and lower brake wear also associated with electric vehicles.

Given that most electric vehicles now have a range of at least 150 miles per charge and most are well over 200 miles per charge, the “range anxiety” thing is a little overblown.

And the winter “stuck in a snowstorm” scenario making the rounds on the internet has been debunked thoroughly as an EV would actually keep the passengers warm longer than would an idling gasoline vehicle of any size, assuming all other things are equal (amount of fuel/charge and attempted temperature level in the vehicle).

And with no tailpipe emissions, there’s no danger of the tailpipe being clogged as snow piles up, becoming dangerous for the vehicle’s occupants.

The next use-case scenario that makes sense for an electric vehicle in Wyoming are vehicles with fixed mileage requirements. Delivery vehicles and the like, which work on more or less set routes with set parameters for expected mileage each day.

These vehicles are not only predictable for electricity usage and mileage needs, but would also see less maintenance and costs associated with them over time thanks to no requirement for routine oil and filter changes, lower brake wear, and so forth.

Those who routinely use a truck to haul trailers, heavy loads, and so forth are not yet going to find an EV that matches that workload.

Long distance drivers (meaning more than 100 miles each way) are also not likely to be served well with an EV as they are now. But for those who only do those things occasionally or who routinely drive shorter distances, there is a solid argument for going to an electric option.

As more and more of them enter the market (like it or not, that’s what’s happening), the choices for an EV will also grow quickly.

Your politics may dictate that you cannot fathom an EV for any reason. That’s fine, but don’t pretend it’s for any reason other than those politics.

Logically, an EV makes sense for a lot of people. And the infrastructure to support them is coming thanks to tourists who are beginning to appear in Wyoming driving their EVs from their home states.


Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.


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Window Sticker Lies: Why Your Fuel Economy In Wyoming Isn’t As Advertised

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20115

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By Aaron Turpen, Cowboy State Daily columnnist

The advertised fuel economy for your vehicle is probably not the MPG returns you’re going to get while driving around Wyoming. There are several reasons for that. Some of which you may not know.

Federal law requires that every new passenger vehicle sold have a standard window sticker (called a “Monroney” in the business) that displays specific information about the vehicle. The information includes fuel economy estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency. Those EPA fuel economy estimates are sometimes correct, but are usually wrong.

As a part of what I do for a living, I drive a lot of cars. Big ones, little ones, pickups, hybrids, you name it. Most of the time, the EPA estimates for MPG returns are wrong — especially in Wyoming. It’s a well-known automotive industry expectation that those numbers on the sticker won’t happen for most people who buy that car.

As part of the process of testing a vehicle, I do a highway loop that runs from North College in Cheyenne, across Interstate 80 to the TA truck stop and back. That loop is about 42 miles, with varied elevation, starting from and ending at the gas station on 12th. I top off the vehicle before going out and then do it again when I return and use the numbers from the pump to calculate fuel economy. For most vehicles, it’s 1-3 mpg lower than what the sticker said it should be for highway MPG.

The short version of this is that being where we are, we are at high altitude. Our altitude at 6,400 feet in the air means we have less oxygen in our atmosphere than does, say, San Diego, California with an average altitude of about 60 feet.

Less air means the engine doesn’t get as much O2 mixed with the fuel for burning, which means lower fuel economy. Crosswinds are another hazard we deal with regularly here. We also drive at higher speeds than does much of the country, with posted speed limits of 70 to 80 miles per hour being a norm on our highways. One of the benefits of all this wide open space is we don’t have to putter through it most of the time.

The EPA, however, doesn’t test vehicles at 6,400 feet. Most vehicles are tested within a couple of hundred feet of sea level. Those MPG tests posted at fueleconomy.gov are actually done by manufacturers, who test early production prototypes or models and submit the results to the EPA.

The EPA then spot checks (retests) about 15-20 percent of those submissions to make sure automakers are on the up and up. But because altitude isn’t specified in the EPA’s requirements, manufacturers game it by doing the test at low altitude.

The tests also aren’t conducted in the real world. They are done in a laboratory: an enclosed space where the car or truck sits on a dynamo (essentially giant rollers) and drives at given speeds for a given amount of time. The vehicle is controlled by remote (using a computer) without a human on board. Then fuel usage is measured and an MPG number results. Pressure from the dynamo’s rollers simulates light crosswinds and elevation changes, in a pre-determined and required setup. Speeds for the highway (about 55-60 mph) and for around town (about 25 mph) are tested. A combined fuel economy number is calculated using 45 percent of the highway result and 55 percent of the city result for an “average.”

If that sounds a little contrived, well, most in the industry agree that it is. But for lack of a better, more controlled option simulating the real world, that’s what we’ve got.

But there are ways that we can improve our fuel efficiency while on the road. Eliminating short trips and combining them into one bigger trip is one. On short trips, a vehicle won’t reach optimum operating temperature and thus uses more fuel. A longer trip–even one with several short stops inside of it–will reduce this and improve MPG. Same with cold weather travel, where idling for long periods to warm up the car (not recommended) and driving short distances before stopping is terrible for fuel economy.

Driving like everything is a race is another way to tank your MPG returns. Aggressive acceleration, hard braking, and tailgating are all habits that are best left to the big city rat race folk. This kind of driving is the biggest contributor to low fuel economy returns. Leave the aggressive driving and cutoff bird flipping to Coloradans. We’re better than that.

The last issue is maintenance. A well-maintained vehicle is more efficient in every way. Keeping your car clean inside and out might seem inconsequential, but less clutter and junk means less weight and that means better mileage. Good maintenance with tire rotations, lubrication, and having all bodywork actually attached makes a difference in how well your vehicle operates. There’s a reason we equate badly maintained vehicles with manure storage.

To summarize, while your vehicle’s MPG may not be equal to that on its window sticker, it can be close if you want it to be.


Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.


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Aaron Turpen: Is Wyoming Ready For Electric Cars? It Needs To Be.

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By Aaron Turpen, transportation columnist

The debate over electric vehicle (EV) adoption is ongoing and very politicized. The how, when, and (inevitably) the who are hot topics. Yet the question isn’t just about us. Wyoming has a $4 billion per year tourism industry. An industry that’s growing as more and more travelers come here to vacation. Electric vehicle adoption will most certainly affect us through them.

This makes the question of whether an electric vehicle is right for Wyoming a bit moot. Whether or not people here adopt them en masse, it’s feasible that a large number of those who visit us will have one. Especially as adoption in places like Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington begin adopting them in earnest. Places whose residents often come here to visit Yellowstone, Frontier Days, Devils Tower, and more.

According to the Wyoming Office of Tourism, 2021 had the best year yet for tourists visiting our state. We bested pre-pandemic numbers and it’s projected that 2022 will be even better. With a growing number of tourists comes a growing number of jobs related to tourism and the impacts those tourists will have on our state. About $4B was spent by tourists coming to Wyoming in 2021, with over 8 million tourists visiting.

The number of electric vehicles sold in the U.S. has been growing very quickly. In 2011, there were about 16,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles sold in the U.S. In 2021, there were 2.32 million.

With state and federal mandates and incentives likely to push the industry further and with automakers rolling out electric models by the literal truckload over the next couple of years, those numbers will continue their upward trend. Whether we agree it should happen or not, that’s where the industry is going.

How Prepared Is Wyoming?

So how prepared is Wyoming for this coming influx of EV drivers as tourists? Well, better than we could be, but not as good as we might hope.

There are currently about 56 publicly-available electric vehicle chargers in all of Wyoming. 39 of those are in Cheyenne. Of those 39, most are “slow” chargers, meaning they will take at least a day to charge most EV batteries to full.

Of the 11 fast chargers available, four are Tesla-only (located at Frontier Mall), four more are at car dealerships, and exactly none of them are downtown where tourists are most likely to park for food, socializing, and so forth.

The good news? Wyoming is a net power exporter, meaning we produce far more electricity than we actually use. Much of that gets sold to other states. So in terms of production and, for the most part, infrastructure to add more charging stations, we’re in good shape. That puts us a big step ahead of many of our nearby competitors who have some work to do before their infrastructure can handle too many visiting EVs.

Finally, we come to the question of how much time do we have before this becomes an issue. That’s a good question and one that isn’t as easy to answer.

Electric Vehicle Adoption In Wyo

When asked the question of how fast electric vehicle adoption is going to happen, there are political answers and there are realistic answers. Ask any industry insider and they’ll give you a political answer to be quoted and a realistic number off the record.

The realistic number is roughly 10 years to ten percent, 20 years to no turning back. Which means we have about a decade before electric vehicles are sold in such numbers throughout the U.S. that they’ll be a double-digit portion of the vehicles on the road.

And about two decades before they are a big enough portion of new car sales that they’ll impact everything else in the peripheral automotive industry (repair, fueling, resale markets) enough that there’s no turning back. Most of us in the industry then add another 20 years to full market penetration–the point where electric vehicles are the majority of the passenger vehicles on the road. New or used.

That gives the Cowboy State about a decade to get ready to be on the trendsetting side and about two decades to be on par. 

Plan Ahead

Major tourist spots should have plans for electric vehicles and be implementing those plans over the next few years. Businesses, emergency responders, tourist destinations, etc. should definitely be gearing up to cater to the EV crowd.

Those that do not will be behind those who have and will be playing catchup instead of being ahead. We have the base infrastructure and the incentive. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s not a question of whether electric vehicles will “catch on.”

They are most certainly where we are headed. It’s a question of where in the timeline Wyoming wants to be: cutting edge, middle of the road, or late. Given what tourism does for the Wyoming economy, being ahead of the curve seems smart.

Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.

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