Banks County Opinions...

JUNE 23, 2004


Column

By:Rochelle Beckstine
The Banks County News
June 23, 2004

Gas guzzler sales down
The sales of gas guzzling sport utility vehicles has suffered and many in the car industry think rising gas prices may be to blame. To quote Bart Simpson, “Duh, man.” (I hope they didn’t pay too many people to come to that conclusion.)
The Big Three executives, which include Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, previously said they did not believe sales of large SUVs would suffer until gas prices reached more than $3 per gallon and stayed there for more than six months. Two of the three of them agree that perhaps they may have been wrong about when consumers would just say no (GM is the only dissenter).
The American vehicle industry gets most of its profits from SUVs and pickups which makes it very vulnerable to a shift in buying habits towards smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles. Detroit needs to catch up.
Gas prices rise more than 60 cents in recent months to waver around $2 per gallon nationwide and sales of SUV’s (which average over $50 per fill up), have fallen five percent in April and May. I think they’re very much related. And here’s why: In a Harris Interactive survey from this month, nearly 50 percent of pollees plan to buy more fuel-efficient cars.
Perhaps what executives failed to account for in their $3 prediction is a timeline. If gas prices rise dramatically over a short period of time and the potential exists for it to continue to rise, I think consumers will change their tune a lot faster than predicted. And it is about time.
The auto industry is responding minutely to the trend of consumers to want better gas mileage. The Toyota Prius, the most fuel-efficient car on the market (60 MPG average), has a two-year waiting list for customers to pay $5,000 more than MSRP. Toyota is beefing up production and expects the market for hybrids to multiply ninefold to 600,000 cars by 2006. While I don’t know whether American manufacturers plan to debut a comparable car to the Prius, they do plan to offer SUV hybrids. A Ford 35 mpg Escape will be available in August. And in 2006 GM will manufacture hybrid versions of its Chevy Suburban and GMC Yukon. Yet even hybrid SUVs and cars don’t cut it—it’s a little bitty Band-Aid for a great weeping sore. The reality is that the cars we drive are absolutely dependent on a resource which is not renewable. Wake up and smell the fumes. Consumers need to demand that car manufacturers find another source of fuel for our transportation needs and not another non-renewable resource (so natural gas is not going to cut it). China, with a staggering increasingly mobile population, wants big cars, too. And they want fuel so gas prices will continue to rise as the supply dwindles. I’m not comfortable putting the future of the U.S. economy in the hands of OPEC—they’re in it for money. President Bush’s answer is to stockpile oil so that in an emergency, if supply is cut off, the U.S. will have enough fuel to last us for awhile. This is not good enough. A better use of time and money would be funding research into alternative methods of fuel or uncovering the hydrogen engine. The greater good should prevail over the almighty dollar. As supply dwindles, whether it is 50 years from now or 100, the US may be scrambling with everyone else to get back on the road or we could be light years ahead of everyone else. I know where I want to be.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.

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Column

By: Angela Gary
The Banks County News
June 23, 2004

Fan club party fun in Nashville
Phil Vassar was laid-back and full of his usual energy at his fan club party held recently in Nashville as he performed some of his old hits and new songs and met with fans for photos and autographs. Dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and flip flops, he talked about his new album, late night wake-ups with the new baby and his busy touring schedule.
Phil’s party was held at the historic Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tenn. Some fans waited in line for hours in the hot sun to get a good seat for the party.
There really wasn’t a bad seat in the house and we had a great view of the stage as Phil performed some of his old hits, including one of my favorites, Athens, Grease, about a mechanic at a gas station in nearby Athens, Ga. Phil also treated the fans to a few songs from his new album that will be released in September. The first single, “In A Real Love,” is already moving up the charts.
If you’ve never seen Phil perform live, you really need to. He has so much energy on the stage. He is known for jumping belly-first on a grand piano and spinning around and around as the crowd goes crazy. He didn’t do this at the fan club party but I’ve seen him do it at several concerts and it’s always fun.
Phil also met one-on-one at the party with his fans for photos and autographs. His manager, Greg Hill, is the son of one of my mother’s long-time doctors and she always enjoys reminding Phil of this. We met Phil two times earlier at concerts at Hiawassee, Ga.
Mom and I also held up a copy of the newspaper for one of the photos with Phil. He was gracious and friendly with us, and all of the fans at the party. He is so humble and unassuming and always makes everyone feel special to be his fan.
My Fan Fair activities also included attending Brad Paisley’s fan club party. Sara Evans, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Josh Turner and Little Jimmy Dickens were among those stopping by Brad’s fan club party. Sara, Carolyn and Josh performed with Brad, while Little Jimmy told a few jokes.
Brad’s wife, actress Kimberly Williams Paisley, attended for the first time and answered questions from the fans. She starred in the movie, “Father of the Bride,” with Steve Martin and is now in a television series, “According to Jim.” She also writes a monthly column for Redbook magazine on being a newlywed. She has shared some personal and amusing stories of her first year of marriage to Brad.
Brad’s father, Doug, his manager and his band members also attended the afternoon fan club party held at The Factory in Franklin, Tenn. They took time throughout the party to visit with fans who approached them.
Brad also took time for a photo and autograph with the more than 400 people who attended his party. He greeted each fan with a smile and spoke with them for a few minutes. It had to be an exhausting couple of hours for him, but it didn’t show. He commented on how much my mother and I look alike and hugged us for our photo.
The fan club parties are not an official part of Fan Fair, but they are certainly a highlight for most fans. Many of the fan clubs host annual parties and I always try to go to as many as I can fit in my schedule.
Angela Gary is editor of The Banks County News and associate editor of The Jackson Herald. She can be reached at AngieEditor@aol.com.


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