Industrial

This can only end in tears

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As Sweden’s economy slows to the worst economic growth rate in 5 years under a negative interest rate policy, one would think the Swedish Central Bank (Riksbank) would be seeking to prudently manage its asset book on the basis of appropriate risk/reward as opposed to lecturing Australia and Canada on their respective carbon footprints. What we are witnessing is yet another discrete move by authorities to manipulate markets based on fantasy rather than fact.  The hypocrisy is extreme as we shall discover.

While the Riksbank should have complete freedom in how it wishes to deploy capital, we should view this is a pathetic sop to the cabal at the European Central Bank (ECB). Since when did central bankers become experts on climate change? The RBA is no better. Deputy Governor, Guy Debelle, gave a speech in March 2019 on the risks posed by climate change which based prophecies on the data accident-prone IPCC and Bureau of Meteorology. Why not seek balance? Easier to fold to group think so as not to be outed as a pariah. Utterly gutless. Our own APRA is also pushing this ridiculous agenda on climate change reporting. It is willful negligence.

While it is true that on a per capita basis, Australia and Canada’s emissions are higher than the global average, why doesn’t the Riksbank give us credit for lowering that amount 11.4% since 2000? Even Canada has reduced its carbon emissions by 7.3% over the last 18 years. Admittedly Sweden’s emissions per capita have fallen 21.9% according to the IEA. Greta will be happy.

Why hasn’t the Riksbank taken China or India to task for their 169.9% or 94.7% growth in CO2 emissions respectively? There are plenty of oil-producing nations – Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman that have worse per capita outcomes than Australia or Canada. Do these countries get special dispensation from the wrath of the Riksbank? Clearly.

The US has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. If the US has marginally lower emissions per capita (15.74t/CO2-e) than Australia (16.45t/CO2-e), isn’t a double standard to write,

The conditions for active climate consideration are slightly better in our work with the foreign exchange reserves. To ensure that the foreign exchange reserves fulfil
their purpose, they need to consist of assets that can be rapidly converted to money even when the markets are not functioning properly. Our assessment is that the foreign exchange reserves best correspond to this need if they consist of
75 per cent US government bonds, 20 per cent German and 5 per cent British, Danish and Norwegian government bonds.

Essentially Riksbank commitment to climate change is conditional. The US which is responsible for 13.8% of global emissions can be 75% of holdings. Australia at 1.3% can’t. No doubt sacrificing Queensland Treasury Corp, WA Treasury Corp and Albertan bonds from a Riksbank balance sheet perspective will have little impact on the total. In short, it looks to be pure tokenism. The Riksbank has invested around 8% of its foreign exchange reserves in Australian and Canadian central and federal government bonds. So perhaps at the moment, it is nothing but substitution from state to federal. Why not punish NSW TCorp for being part of a state that has 85%+ coal-fired power generation?

At the very least the Riksbank admits its own hypocrisy.

The Riksbank needs to develop its work on how to take climate change into consideration in asset management. For instance, we need a broader and deeper analysis of the issuers’ climate footprint. At the same time, one must remember that the foreign exchange reserves are unavoidably dominated by US and German government bonds. The Riksbank’s contribution to a better development of the climate will, therefore, remain small. This is entirely natural. The important decisions on how climate change should be counteracted in Sweden are political and should be taken by the government and the Riksdag (parliament).

Still, what hope have we got when Benoît Cœuré, member of the Executive Board of the ECB, lecturing those on “Scaling up Green Finance: The Role of Central Banks.” He noted,

2018 has seen one of the hottest summers in Europe since weather records began. Increasing weather extremes, rising sea levels and the Arctic melting are now clearly visible consequences of human-induced warming. Climate change is not a theory. It is a fact.

Reading more of this report only confirms the commitment of the ECB to follow the UN’s lead and deliberately look to misallocate capital based on unfounded claims of falling crop yields and rising prices (the opposite is occurring) and rising hurricane and drought activity (claims that even the IPCC has admitted there is little or no evidence by climate change). Sweden is merely being a well-behaved schoolboy.

Cœuré made the explicit claim, “The ECB, together with other national central banks of the Eurosystem, is actively supporting the European Commission’s sustainable finance agenda.

CM thinks the biggest problem with this “agenda” is that it risks even further misallocation of capital within global markets already drowning in poorly directed investment. It isn’t hard to see what is going on here. It is nothing short of deliberate market manipulation by trying to increase the cost of funding to conventional energy using farcical concocted “climate risks” to regulate them out of existence.

Cœuré made this clear in his speech,

once markets and credit risk agencies price climate risks properly, the amount of collateralised borrowing counterparties can obtain from the ECB will be adjusted accordingly.

What do you know? On cue, Seeking Alpha notes,

Cutting €2bn of yearly investments, the European Union will stop funding oil, natural gas and coal projects at the end of 2021 as it aims to become the first climate-neutral continent.

All CM will say is best of luck with this decision. Just watch how this kneeling at the altar of the pagan god of climate change will completely ruin the EU economy. The long term ramifications are already being felt. The EU can’t escape the fact that 118mn of its citizens (up from 78m in 2007) are below the poverty line. That is 22% of the population. So why then does Cœuré mention, in spite of such alarming poverty, that taking actions (that will likely increase unemployment) will be helped by “migration [which] has contributed to dampening wage growth…in recent years, thereby further complicating our efforts to bring inflation back to levels closer to 2%.

Closer to home, the National Australia Bank (NAB) has joined in the groupthink by looking to phase out lending to thermal coal companies by 2035. The $760 million exposure will be cut in half by 2028. If climate change is such a huge issue why not look to end it ASAP? This is terrible governance.

Why not assess thermal coal companies on the merits of the industry’s future rather than have the acting-CEO Philip Chronican make a limp-wristed excuse that it is merely getting in line with the government commitment to Paris? If lending to thermal coal is good for shareholders in 2036, who cares what our emissions targets are (which continue to fall per capita)? Maybe this is industry and regulator working hand-in-hand?

The market has always been the best weighing mechanism for risk. Unfortunately, for the last two decades, global central bank policy has gone out of its way to prevent the market from clearing. Now it seems that the authorities are taking actions that look like collusion to bully the ratings agencies into marking down legitimate businesses that are being punished for heresy.

This will ironically only make them even better investments down the track when reality dawns, just as CM pointed out with anti-ESG stocks. Just expect the entry points to these stocks to be exceedingly cheap. Buy what the market hates. It looks as though the bureaucrats are set to make fossil fuel companies penny stocks.

Westpac reported a 40% increase in home repossessions

Mortgages Westpac

Don’t get CM wrong – this is still the law of small numbers.  Westpac reported this week that it repossessed another 162 properties in the latest fiscal year.  That is a 40% increase. While it is but a dribble compared to the 100,000s of total loans outstanding it is none-the-less a harbinger of things to come. Westpac made clear, “the main driver of the increase has been the softening economic conditions and low wages growth.”

The current status of 90-day+ delinquencies has been rising over time. As have 30-day +. While nothing alarming, the current economic backdrop should give absolutely no confidence that an improvement in conditions is around the corner. We are not at the beginning of the end, but at the end of the beginning.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said of the three phases of government, “if it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it.” How is that relevant to the banks?

We have already had the government fold and attach a special bank tax on the Big 4. Phase 1 done. Now we are in the middle of phase 2 which is where knee-jerk responses to the Hayne Banking Royal Commission (HBRC) where banks will be on the hook for the loans they make. That is a recipe for disaster that could bring on phase 3 – bailouts.

Sound extreme? How is a bank supposed to make a proper risk assessment of a customer’s employability in years to come? Can they predict with any degree of accuracy on the stability of candidates who come for loans? The only outcome is to cut the loan amount to such conservative levels that the underlying purpose gets diluted in the process and prospective home buyers have to lower expectations. Not many banks will look positively at taking several loans on the same property with different institutions. That won’t work. SO loan growth will shrink, putting pressure on the property market.

What is the flip side? Given property prices in Sydney hover at 13x income (by the way, Tokyo Metro was 15x income at the peak of its property bubble), restrictions on further lending against loan books that are on average 63% stuffed with mortgages (Japan was 41.2% at the peak) won’t be helpful. A property slowdown is the last thing mortgage holders and banks need.

While equity continues to rise at Aussie banks, the equity to outstanding mortgages has gone down since 2007 i.e. leverage is up. If banks saw their average property portfolios drop by more than 20% many would be staring at a negative equity scenario. Yet, it won’t be just mortgage owners that we need to worry about. Business loans could well go pear-shaped as the onset of higher unemployment could see a sharp increase in delinquencies through a business slowdown. A concertina effect occurs. More people lose their job and a vicious circle ensues. It isn’t rocket science.

Of course, Australia possesses the ‘boy who cried wolf‘ mentality over the housing market. Yet it is exactly this type of complacency that paves a dangerous path to poor policy prescriptions.

In Japan’s property bubble aftermath, 40% of the value of loans went bang. 17% of GDP. $1.1 trillion went up in smoke. It took more than 10 years to clean up the mess and the aftershocks remain. Accounting trickery around the real value of loans on the balance sheet can hide the problems for a period but revenue tends to unravel such tales. 181 banks and building societies went bust. The rest were forced into mergers, received bailouts or were nationalised. Now the Japanese government is a perpetual debt slave, having to raise $400bn per annum in debt just to fill the portion of the $1 trillion budget that tax collections can’t fill.

The problem  Japan’s banks faced was simple.  If a neighbour’s $2m home was repossessed through mortgage stress and the bank fire sold it for $1.4m, the bank needed to mark to market the value of the loan portfolio for that area by similar amounts. In doing so, a once healthy balance sheet started to look anything but. Extrapolate that across multiple suburbs and things look nauseating quickly.

This is where Aussie banks are headed. This time there is no China to save us like in 2009. Unemployment rates in Australia never went above 6% after the GFC in 2008/9, unlike the US which went to 10%. We weathered that storm thanks to a monster surplus left by the Howard government, which we no longer have.

Sadly China has had 18 months of consecutive double-digit car sales decline. Two regional Chinese banks have folded in the last 3-4 months. China isn’t a saviour.

Nor is the US. While the S&P500 might celebrate new highs, aggregate corporate profitability hasn’t risen since 2012. The market has been fuelled by debt-driven buybacks. We now have 50% of US corporates rated BBB because of the distortions created by crazed central bank monetary policy, up from 30%. Parker Hannifin’s latest order book shows that customer activity is falling at a faster pace.

Nor is Europe. German industrial production is at 10-year lows. The prospects for any EU recovery is looking glib. Risk mispricing is insane with Greek bond spreads only 1.8% higher than German bunds.

What this means is that 28 years of unfettered economic growth in Australia is coming to an end and the excesses built in an economy that believes its own BS is going to leave a lot of people naked when the tide goes out.

The Australian government needs to focus on more deregulation, tax and structural reforms. Our record-high energy prices, ridiculous labour costs and overbearing red-tape are absolutely none of the ingredients that will help us in a downturn. We need to be competitive and we simply aren’t. Virtue signalling won’t help voters when the whole edifice crumbles.

All a low-interest rate environment has done is pull forward consumption. It seems the RBA only possesses a hammer in the tool kit which is why it treats everything as a nail. It is time to come to terms with the fact that further cuts to the official cash rate and the prospect of QE will do nothing to ward off the inevitable.

Pain is coming, but the prospects of an orderly exit are so far off the mark they are in another postcode. Roll your eyes at the stress tests. Stress tests are put together on the presumption that all of the stars align. Sadly, in times of panic, human nature causes knee-jerk responses which put even more pressure.

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The Aussie banks have passed their best period. While short term news flow, such as a China trade deal, might give a short term boost, the structural time bomb sits on the balance sheet and while we may not get a carbon copy of the Japanese crisis, our Big 4 should start to look far more like the rest of the global banks – truly sick. The HBRC will see that it becomes way worse than it ever needed to be.

Complacency kills.

How to clean up in the adult diaper boom

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Zerohedge is reporting on the large market scope for adult diapers.  One-fifth of the world’s population will be of retirement age by 2070. The beauty for the diaper manufacturers is that adult diapers have 4x the margins of infant diapers despite exactly the same ingredients and production techniques. Asia is ageing fast, especially China and Japan. Incontinence affects 40% of people over 65yo so the market dynamics have rock solid foundations, even if wearers don’t.

Unicharm and P&G are two monsters in the diaper game. But who makes the equipment that makes them?

In a former life as an equity analyst, CM covered a business called Zuiko Corp (6279 JP) which made the machines that make the diapers. It is a captive business. All machines are built to spec. 50 metres long and weighing 20 tonnes. 850 diapers per minute.

The company has the largest share of the market in Asia. It used to be around 80% when CM covered the company and supply chains are very sticky. Zuiko is owned c.10% by Unicharm in Japan.

Zuiko has had quite patchy performance, despite the wonderful structural backdrop. Private equity must look to a buyout. The company has pretty poor investor relations and shareholder communications. The shares are in the dumps, at 7-year lows. It is quite hard to find a business that has such favourable, defensive growth characteristics which is in need of proper leadership.

Zuiko has effectively no debt, ¥10bn  (c. US$90million) in cash which represents around 48% of its market cap. Looks like one for the SMSF.

Did the Big Mac find himself between the wrong buns?

As the old adage goes, “Don’t dip the pen in the company ink.”

McDonalds’ CEO Steve Easterbrook has been let go as the company CEO after it was discovered he was having a consensual relationship with another employee. Apparently, he violated company policy of executives dating subordinates. Easterbrook was a recently divorced man. Rules are rules, but do two consenting adults deserve to be punished by what they decide to do in their private lives? Far more elegant ways of dealing with such issues rather. Perhaps get his partner’s opinion? Will she be sacked?

What of the statistics?

According to Forbes,

“58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. A surprising 72% of those over 50 years old have been romantically involved with a coworker.”

“Almost half (41%) of employees don’t know their company’s policy regarding office romances.”

“Although 19% of employees admitted to stepping out on their partner with a colleague at work, a surprising 44% of employees have known colleagues who had affairs at work or on business trips.”

“most of those employees (64%) who had participated in an office romance kept it secret, and only 16% were comfortable enough to tell everyone including their superiors about their relationship.”

“18% of employees reported that they had a random hookup with a coworker.”

“Almost three in four (72%) would participate in an office romance again if given the chance.”

No doubt Maccas was looking to ensure it made a stand against possible #metoo cases against it. Best just ban it in its view…

The flip side was a recent survey since the #metoo movement that found,

This is what happened when feminist activism hit the workplace. It had the opposite of the intended effect.

Leanin.org has found in a survey it conducted that since the #MeToo movement took hold, 60% of male managers said they are now uncomfortable interacting with women at work – up 32% from 2018. Workplace interactions that men have become nervous about include mentoring, socializing and having one-on-one meetings with women.

Senior men who were also surveyed were 9x more likely to hesitate to travel with a woman and 6x less likely to have a work dinner with women.

Lean In’s founder and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandburg said,

The problem is that even before this, women – and especially women of colour – do not get the same amount of mentoring as men, which means we’re not getting an equal seat at the table, and, you know, it’s not enough to not harass us. You need to not ignore us either.

Men are not ignoring you. Sadly when men can (and have) lose (lost) careers for unsubstantiated claims against them by women forgive them if they feel intimidated.

Who could have predicted this? Now it is men’s fault for not reading feminist minds on how they must act. Sandberg has an answer for that too,

“If there’s a man out there who doesn’t want to have a work dinner with a woman, my message is simple: Don’t have one with a man. Group lunches for everyone. Make it explicit, make it thoughtful, make it equal…Men need to step up. We need to redefine what it means to be a good guy at work.”

Maybe just let adults be adults instead of nanny-state intervention? How many people do you know that have ended up in a committed relationship from a workplace encounter? Bill Gates married one of his execs. Should he be retroactively punished for his galavanting with Melinda?

Recall the AFL bosses sacked for consensual affairs with staff. Not one of the parties every claimed there was harassment or any coercion.

Now Queensland Premier Anastacia Palasczcuk is demanding her ministers don’t drink at official functions. Seriously? Take serial offenders aside and address any poor behaviour but stop the nonsense about treating all of the adults like pre-pubescent kids.

Time for society to grow up and drop the control freakery of individual privacy.

Parker Hannifin orders slump again

Despite an EPS beat, Parker Hannifin (PH) orders fell by even greater margins over the last quarter. Overseas orders -10%. North American orders -6%. Aerospace +22% but that is on a 12 month rolling basis and more driven by anticipation of 737MAX returning to service and the long lead times involved. In short, manufacturing is bound to get weaker than it already is. Caterpillar results already portended this. PH confirms it.

CM has been saying for almost two decades that PH orders are a great global barometer of industrial health. PH supplies all the monster tier 1 industrial companies like Boeing and Caterpillar. It is like a major hardware store for major industrials. PH is a world leader in pumps, hydraulics, pneumatics, linear drives, vacuums, seals, gaskets, valves, hoses and pretty much any other widget that is used in modern machinery.

Worse to come from global industrial indicators.

Harley Davidson sneaks in a 50% cut to future hoping no one would spot it

Harley-Davidson’s (HOG) Q3 results continued the poor run. Declining global unit sales and 30+ day delinquencies plus annualized loss experience are at 9-year highs. The company sneakily halved its outlook on plans to cultivate its rider base which further shows the management is clueless and running out of options. It smacks of desperation.

Shares bounced almost 10% on the numbers. The funny thing is that quarter after quarter, the earnings releases read like Groundhog Day. Of any positive news, international ended up slightly positive (+2.7% for Q3, -3.9% for 9M) but were was still below expectations). Japan was cited as a positive. Then again Japan sales are 40% below the peak and have been dwindling for 10 years. Australia was ok but EU weak.

Only two thing worth paying attention to in these results.

1) Targets

For the last few years, HOG has been banging on about how it will create 2 million “new” US riders into the Harley fold by 2027. Indeed CEO Matt Levatich was adamant on the conference call that “the team is laser-focused on building riders today and preparing us and our dealers to welcome a broader array of new riders moving forward.” Typical bluster.

Levatich must be using lasers from The Dollar Store given their accuracy to date.

In Q3, HOG has shifted that language to 4m total riders in the US by 2027. It currently stands at just over 3m. So that 2m new US rider target has effectively more than halved but no explanation for the change was given which proved CM’s hunch. It was snuck in. HOG management said “we’ve done the math“. CM would argue, “what, so you hadn’t done it properly beforehand?” This only reveals the ineptitude within management ranks. Instead of investigating where the problem is needless share buybacks are continuing at a heady clip. $112.5m for the quarter.

CM has written in the past sets of results,

HOG’s 2mn new riders in the US by 2027 seems an irrelevant target. 200,000 “new” riders per year by definition should not include existing customers. Management combine new and used sales using IHS Markit Motorcycles in Operation (MIO) data, not their own! That is fine if all are new Harley customers yet the brand has some of the highest loyalty rates of any maker period. Are we to believe that long term Harley owners didn’t upgrade?

Of the 138,000 new domestic US sales in 2018, the brand assumed 278,000 new riders to the family. It also cites that 50% of that were 18-34yo (implies poorer product mix), women (smaller capacity hence poorer product mix) or ethnically diverse (irrelevant) riders. So by definition at least 140,000 sales were used bikes. Harley used bike sales in America are around 2.5x new, or 350,000 units. So assuming half were new customer sales for new bikes, 60% of used sales must have been to ‘never owned a Harley’ customers. Seems high.”

Yet Levatich continued in the conference call by saying,

guiding all our efforts is deeper analysis and insights on why people engage, participate and disengage from riding. Our advanced analytics capabilities and rider migration database has evolved into a powerful asset and a wealth of information and inspiration for us.

But Mr Levatich, HOG unit sales and revenues have been in retreat for 5 years in a row. Sure, motorcycle markets are tough but it hasn’t affected other premium makers BMW Motorrad, KTM, Ducati and Triumph at the luxury end. HOG sounds a bit like the Australian Wallabies. Lots of positive talk despite overwhelmingly negative signals, results and glaring problems with the management structure. It is time to wake up. HOG is missing the simplest of things – product that customers want.

This is a company that continues to rely on its 116-yo divine franchise. Basing its future on what seems to be a marketing company puffing up fanciful predictions in the face of a dire outlook. The worst thing about it is that management is in denial.

2) Finance

HOG is the ultimate discretionary spending item. Doesn’t seem that they are spending at HOG. If anything, the financial services business shows current customers are struggling to pay their loans. An interesting anecdote from Polaris (PII) Q3 results overnight was the claim that its Indian brand (which competes directly with Harley) admitted,

North American consumer retail sales for Polaris Indian motorcycles decreased mid-teens percent during the third quarter of 2019 primarily due to the weak mid to heavy-weight two-wheel motorcycle industry that was down high-single digits percent and retail pressure from heavy competitive promotional spending.”

If HOG is cranking up the finance and promotional spending shouldn’t investors be wary of a further deterioration in the types of customers they are lending to? When CM covered HOG as an analyst 20 years ago, the then management told CM that Harley owners would forgo the mortgage before payments on the bike, such was the rock-solid nature of the finance arm.

No, HOG’s loan book is unlikely to bury it but the signals are such that it is having to resort to pushing so much harder to make sales. That is evidence of a soft backdrop which management is not being open and transparent enough about.

HOG fortunes are bound to get a lot worse before they get better. The hopes and dreams of the delayed electric LiveWire e-bike is too expensive to attract eco-mentalist millennials and completely unattractive to overweight bearded men covered in tattoos to desire. Harleys were always an escape tool. Products where owners could hide away in the man cave tinkering. That isn’t to say that Harley doesn’t need to innovate but at the moment it isn’t staying true to itself. That is why customers are disengaging.

Expect the 2020 numbers to follow the trend of the last 5 years. An utter disaster.

NB this piece does not constitute as investment advice. CM has no positions in HOG.

A deadly problem: should we ban SUVs from our cities?

Activists, including one wearing a Angela Merkel mask, outside the Frankfurt International Auto, holding signs reading ‘gas guzzling vehicles off the road’ and ‘Stop petrol and diesel’.

More junk journalism from The Guardian. Why can’t the paper make sensible commentary on the auto industry? Essentially it pushes a narrative that we should ban SUVs, a long term growth market for automakers because they advertise the segment too much. Shame on trying to act in the interests of shareholders. The article encourages the movement to push for a ban of SUVs in cities. Why? The socialisation of transport!

The article makes the early assertion that passengers are 11% more likely to die in an SUV accident than a regular passenger car. Unfortunately, it cited an article written 15 years ago. In that time, SUVs have evolved leaps and bounds. A far greater proportion of SUVs are made using a monocoque chassis as opposed to the old ladder frames. Even those SUVs with ladder chassis hold 5-star safety NHTSA ratings in 2019:

2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 5 star (ladder) vs 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee – 3 star

2019 Ford Expedition – 5 star (ladder) – 2004 Ford Expedition – 5 star

2019 GMC Acadia – 5 star (ladder) – 2007 GMC Acadia – 4 star

2019 Toyota RAV4 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2004 Toyota RAV4 – 4 star

2019 Mazda CX-9 – 5 star (monocoque) – 2007 Mazda CX-9 – 4 star.

Some may recall in the early 2000s when the Ford Explorer/Firestone tyre rollover incident killed 261 people. Since then, carmakers have installed so many safety items – passive and active. Automatic braking, lane departure detection, forward collision warning, electronic brakeforce distribution (which prevents rollovers). SUVs are safer than ever, including pedestrian facing features.

Never mind the huge leap in safety. Let’s shame the automakers and buyers instead.

The Guardian noted, “In Germany, in 2018 they spent more on marketing SUVs than on any other segment; they actually spent as much as they spent on other segments together” says Stephan von Dassel, the district mayor of Berlin-Mitte. “This is not some accident that people suddenly are really into these cars, they are heavily pushed into the market.”

Wow, so carmakers actually made a sensible advertising budget allocations and convinced new buyers to voluntarily select their SUVs. Those wicked capitalists. They should be burnt at the stake for being in touch with their customers. Perhaps politicians could learn from the carmakers about being in touch with their constituents?

The Guardian then noted the following,

In Europe, sales of SUVs leapt from 7% of the market in 2009 to 36% in 2018. They are forecast to reach nearly 40% by 2021. While pedestrian deaths are falling across Europe, they are not falling as fast as deaths of those using other modes of transport.

So even though the sales of these vehicles have skyrocketed, pedestrian deaths are falling. Reading the paper published by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, stated

“A total of 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, accounting for 16 percent of all crash fatalities. The number of pedestrians killed each year has declined 20 percent since 1975…”

Surprisingly, The Guardian waits till the end to point the finger at the pet issue facing SUVs – emissions.

“Transport, primarily road transport, is responsible for 27% of Europe’s carbon emissions. A decade ago the EU passed a law with a target to reduce carbon emissions to 95g/km by 2021 but a recent report by campaign organisation Transport and Environment highlights what is calls it “pitiful progress”. “Sixteen months from before the target comes into force carmakers are less than halfway towards their goals,” the report adds. The car industry faces hefty fines in Europe of €34bn in a few months for failing to meet emissions targets.”

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How is it that diesel engines, the increasingly preferred powerplant in SUVs, have had emissions cut 97% over the last 25 years? That is monumental progress.

Yet why have legislators tried to ban petrol and diesel cars and looking to force adoption of dirtier EVs which have done 150,000km equivalent CO2 emissions before leaving the showroom? Because ideology distorts reality. Even Schaeffler AG, an auto supplier, admitted it is almost impossible for automakers to comply with the different demands of over 200 cities in Europe with EV rules. No common standards and the quest of woke city councils trying to outdo each other on being climate-friendly. Then governments need to consider the 5% of total tax revenue that fill the coffers they would be giving up, although already in the US, Illinois is looking to impose a $1,000 a year EV tax.

Shouldn’t the EU and other countries face the realities that consumers (taxpayers) like the utility these SUVs provide for their individual needs over and above saving the planet? Shouldn’t politicians realise that consumers make conscious decisions when making the second largest purchase for the household?

One can absolutely bet that if some maker came out with a Hummer sized EV, these cities that want to ban SUVs from driving in them would grant the monster truck an exemption and special parking zones.

Julia Poliscanova, director of clean vehicles and e-mobility at Transport and Environment, says regulators must step in to force car manufacturers to produce and sell zero-emission and suitably sized vehicles, for example, small and light cars in urban areas.”

What if consumers don’t want to buy small and light cars? Force car makers to produce cars their customers don’t want? That is a winning strategy. If carmakers must sell zero-emission vehicles, why on God’s earth are politicians with absolutely no engineering pedigree dictating technology to the experts? Why not let necessity be the mother of invention? If carmakers can get fossil fuel-powered vehicles to be zero-emission and keep their brand DNA at the same time, imagine the billions that could be saved on reckless waste rolling out often unreliable charging infrastructure? Maybe then carmakers could build cars its customers wanted and make money to literally fuel the economy. Politicians would still be able to virtue signal! Win-win.

Maybe the modus operandi is to socialise transport. Poliscanova said, “Smart urban policies are also key to drive consumers towards clean and safe modes…Mayors should reduce space and parking spots for private cars and reallocate it to people and shared clean mobility services.

That is the ticket – force everyone off the road. That is a sure vote winner!