There's a tempest brewing in Oshawa, home of General Motors of Canada -- and me. The mayor, John Gray, can buy a car as one of the perks of the job. He purchased a V8-powered Camaro. Oshawa is the only plant anywhere that builds it.
That isn't sitting well with some people, including Oshawa resident Bill Steele, and the story's here in the Toronto Star. Steele wants Gray to raffle off the Camaro, which cost $38,000, and buy a hybrid or "an economical car for the future," and give the remaining money to a food bank.
(Full disclosure: I know John Gray on a first-name basis, but only through chatting with him at various car shows. His Worship has a fondness for Chevrolet Corvairs and owns a few of them -- presumably not directly funded by taxpayers -- and while I seldom agree with his political policies, he's a really nice guy on a personal level.)
Steele's argument is wrong on a number of levels. First of all, he says that he doesn't want part of his taxes going to buy a sports car that "gets 17 miles to the gallon." Now, Gray may well drive it hard and affect the fuel numbers, but cars are measured by official figures, and on paper, the V8 Camaro gets a combined 26 mpg (Imperial): 21 in the city, 36 on the highway. Steele gets nowhere fast by pulling random numbers out of his butt.
Gray can't buy a hybrid made in Oshawa, unless he picks up one of the last Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra hybrid pickup trucks built in that city before GM shut the truck plant down. Such a truck is rated at 27 mpg in the city, but only 29 on the highway -- nowhere near as good as Gray's 36-mpg Camaro. And GM cancelled its only other hybrid, the Chevrolet Malibu -- built not in Oshawa, but in Kansas -- because no one was buying them.
Steele argues that Gray's vehicle choice is out of sync with Oshawa's bleak unemployment picture. Well, here's a news flash: Oshawa's employment rate improves considerably when people are working, and more people work in Oshawa when General Motors is running at full tilt. The plant there currently produces the Chevrolet Camaro and Chevrolet Impala, and that's it. Gray put another order on the assembly line when he took delivery of his car. Steele's used, nine-year-old Saturn never put a dime into Oshawa's manufacturing economy; it wasn't built in Canada. (And given that he also slams Gray's choice on environmental grounds, I wonder what kind of fuel economy and emissions he gets from a $200 "grey and rust" car.)
The mayor of an auto town needs to drive the car that auto town builds. Gray could have chosen an Impala -- which, in its smaller-engine configuration, gets only 5 mpg better than his Camaro -- which would have blended into the traffic scenery like a white dog in a snowstorm. He could have waited for the hybrid that rumor has it the Oshawa plant will build, but GM hasn't even confirmed it, much less given a date. Instead, the mayor bought a car that turns heads wherever he goes, and has many people saying, Hey, that's way-cool, and it's built right here.
My taxes helped pay for John Gray's Camaro, as well. But unlike Bill Steele, I think it was money well spent.