The Compliance Car

There’s a new model out you may not have heard about – the compliance car.

It’s a car that, for one reason or another, almost no one is willing to buy – and so must be given away at a loss.

Well, that part isn’t new.

From the Edsel to the Pacer to the Aztek, there have been errors of judgment – and marketing or design/manufacturing problems – that led to automotive belly flops. Cars that just didn’t do well. It happens.

But it wasn’t intentional.

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That is the distinction between a belly flop like the Aztek – and a compliance car. The latter – the compliance car – is a car designed to fail. A car they know ahead of time won’t sell, that they’ll have to give away at a loss.

And they build it anyway.

And continue to build it.

Here’s the latest for-instance: The Fiat 500e. It is a Fiat 500 that’s been Aztek-ized (or Pacer’d, if you prefer) via the removal of its nothing-wrong-with-it engine and transmission, with a lots-wrong-with-them electric motor and battery pack taking their place.

Now, instead of a car that stickers for $14,995 to start, averages about 30 MPG – and which can travel 300-plus miles on 10.5 gallons of fuel that can be replenished in less than five minutes, you’ve got a vehicle that stickers for $32,795 that can maybe go 87 miles before it conks out and needs to be recharged for several hours.

But don’t worry! Fiat includes ePass – the use of a free loaner 500 (the gas-powered one) when the electric one conks out.

Two – for the price of three!

Teeth beginning to ache yet?

So, naturally, the question occurs . . . why? Wouldn’t it be easier to just give away every third 500 they build? It would probably end up costing them less – and would certainly be less embarrassing.

Which brings us back to the title of this rant. The 500e and the many others just like it (another being the latest iteration of Volkswagen’s eGolf) are compliance cars. Purposely built as economic throw-aways, designed solely to comply with the “zero emissions” fatwas coming out of Washington and state capitals (California, particularly) that insist a certain number of these things will be built each year.

Whether they sell is not considered relevant.

In the minds of the people behind these fatwas, such grimy considerations are of no interest. What interests the – as Orwell styled them – beetle-like men (and, lately, women. . .  kind of) who occupy the cubicles within the bureaucracies that issue the fatwas is that “zero emissions” electric cars shall replace conventional cars.

No matter how much they cost us.

And so they are built. And then, they sit.

Finally, they are given away.

Fiat, for example, will lease you a 500e for $69 a month, with no money down, for 36 months. (My phone costs me $45 per month – and its battery lasts longer.)

That works out to $2,484 to drive a 500e every day (briefly) for the next three years.

Still no takers for the pitiful little car.

Fiat’s CEO Sergio Marchionne openly admits that each 500e costs his company $14,000 to get rid of – and yet his company continues to build more of them.

Marchionne is many things but an imbecile isn’t one of them. He builds the 500e because he must. Not because of market demand – but because of government demands. He knows he will not be allowed to sell any cars at all unless he builds a certain number of electric lemons.

The fatwas only specify that he build them. Not that he actually sell them.

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