Sure it’s ugly, but at least it’s expensive.

I passed an all-electric BMW i3 today and it’s the ugliest thing ever. It reminded me of the ungainly 2001-2005 Pontiac Aztec, one of the ugliest vehicles ever made, according to consumer polls. Even legendary GM executive, Bob Lutz, said it and other GM products looked like “angry kitchen appliances.”

BMW i3

BMW i3

What is it that drives people to buy the i3, with a MSRP up to $46,250, and other horrendously pricey, but ugly, products?

It’s the weirdness itself.

It’s not that people want an ugly car. What they want is to stand out, to express their identity.to have their friends, neighbors and even strangers see them in their distinct, peculiar, expensive car. If it’s an electric or hybrid car, so much the better because it crows, “I can afford this. Admire me and my environmental credentials.”

Same thing with a host of other products.

Want an expensive watch? You could spend tons on an exhorbitantly priced, but bland-looking one. But who will notice? Instead, try the Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor, priced at 1 million Swiss francs (about US $1,125,000).

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor watch

Roger Dubuis Excalibur Quatuor watch

The maker says it’s worth it because its case is made entirely of silicon (according to the brand, the first such watch of its kind), a material with half the weight of titanium and four times the hardness. It’s big advantage? It’s really ugly, so people will notice.

How about shoes? Some women are apparently willing to spend $2495 on Giuseppe Zanotti white crystal-embellished peep-toe leather mid-calf booties. It can’t be because they are so elegant, but they certainly will be noticed.

Giuseppe Zanotti booties

Giuseppe Zanotti booties

Of course, some people will buy expensive things even if they aren’t ugly, so long as they carry status. Aspirational Americans keep buying Land Rovers, for example, even though they consistently get terrible reliability ratings.

Range Rover Evoque

Range Rover Evoque

When JD Power recently released the results of its newest Customer Service Index study, Land Rover finished right at the bottom, in the basement, dead last.

Typical of owner complaints is this from the owner of a Land Rover with 28,000 miles on it: “…after a year of owning it – the electronic park brake got stuck and was a huge expense to fix. Shortly after that the rear anti roll bar was leaking – another huge expense…After 50K miles front suspension arms have gone wheel bearings have gone and front anti roll bar has gone, another 4.5K to fix all. Just got the car back – and now the right side turbo has gone. Another 5K fix… Range rovers are nice to look at – but are built so poorly – its not worth owning this car.”

Oh well, at least people blowing all their money on overpriced things are keeping the people who make them employed. And that’s good for the economy, right?

Subsidizing electric cars in Oregon: a shockingly bad idea

Batteries don’t charge up electric cars; government subsidies do. At least that’s what supporters of a bill now before the Oregon House seem to believe.

The bill, H.B. 2092, would establish an Incentive Fund to make rebates of up to $3000 to purchasers of alternative fuel vehicles, including those that are powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel and gasoline-electric vehicles. Rebates from the fund could total as much as $30 million per biennium and would be on top of the already absurd federal subsidy of up to $7500.

Just what we need, a $30 million government subsidy to purchasers of pricey cars, when Oregon is already one of the top states for EV market share and the state has many other more pressing concerns to address.

The House Energy and Environment Committee held a public heating on the bill on April 2 and has a work session on the bill scheduled for today, April 16.

Under the bill, state rebates would help affluent Oregonians buy vehicles such as the $43,000 BMW i3 and $135,000 i8, the $42,000 Mercedes B-Class, the $106,000 Tesla Model S P85D, and the $35,000 Chevy Volt.

The purchaser of a $135,000 BMW i8 would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate from the state under H.R. 2092

The purchaser of a $135,000 BMW i8 would be eligible for a $3,000 rebate from the state under H.R. 2092

To put things in perspective, $30 million is more than the TOTAL state income tax liability of all personal filers in 16 Oregon counties in 2013: Baker County ($13.1 million), Crook ($18.2 million), Curry ($19.6 million), Gilliam ($12.1 million), Grant ($5.9 million), Harney ($5.1 million), Jefferson ($15.5 million), Lake ($6.2 million), Malheur ($17.6 million), Morrow ($11.1 million), Sherman ($2.6 million), Tillamook ($23.6 million), Union ($24.7 million), Wallowa ($6.1 million), Wasco ($23.6 million) and Wheeler ($1.3 million).

If I lived in one of those counties I wouldn’t look kindly on all my personal state income tax payments going to this alternative fuel vehicle boondoggle.

Let’s be honest here, folks. There are a lot of other places $30 million could be invested more wisely in Oregon.

Seven Oregon counties have been losing population, Coos, Baker, Wallowa, Malheur, Grant, Wheeler, and Sherman.

If the Legislature can find another $30 million to spend, why not use the $30 million to help these struggling counties attract businesses?

Deserving young people around the state are dealing with the stresses and strains of trying to find the money to pay for post-secondary education.

Why not put the $30 million in Oregon Opportunity Grants, the state’s need based financial aid program.

The state invests in Employment Related Day Care in support of the Early Learning initiative, providing greater access to quality childcare for Oregon’s working families.

How about adding $30 million to the budget for that?

A potential decline in lottery revenues during the 2015-17 biennium is likely to present budget issues for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon State Police Division of Fish and Wildlife. In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is facing a significant budget shortfall.

The legislature could help out the Natural Resource Program area by adding $30 million to its budget.

The logical decision? Short-circuit this bill.