Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who Is To Blame For Inefficient Cars?

What could this car do in 1986 that the vast majority of cars today can't?

It got 50 miles per gallon.... and that was without any sort of hybrid technology, special computers to manage the fuel consumption, or the power of a flux capacitor.

Twenty three years later there are just a handful of cars in showrooms across America capable of getting 50 miles per gallon.

And whose fault is that?

The consumers!

And the government.

And the automakers.

Michael Le Roy blames the consumers in his article printed in The Spartan Daily. I'm only partly inclined to agree. He writes:

"Imagine owning a car that achieved 50 miles per gallon. It would not be some fancy hybrid that would have the newest in battery technology or a special computer to manage the mileage. No this car would be a 1986 Honda CRX.

A Honda CRX is tiny, and despite being more than 20 years older than a Smart Fortwo, it gets nearly equal or better gas mileage.

You might be wondering why modern cars such as the Smart Fortwo and Prius are not getting better gas mileage. Where is the technological advancement over the past 20 years?

A reason why modern cars get poor mileage is because they are just too damn heavy."

At this point I totally agree with him. The cars we drive are definitely too heavy.

"Consumer demand for luxury and government safety regulations have weighed down cars. The combination of couch-like comfort and the safety of a Panzer tank have made cars into fat pigs. All this added weight affects gas mileage and the range of electric vehicles.

Modern sedans weigh more than 3,000 pounds. Keeping with the Honda weight comparison, let's look at the Honda Accord.

A first generation model that came out in 1976 weighed around 2,000 pounds. A 2008 model is 3,200 pounds.

If you look back at the Honda CRX there is no wonder it got great gas mileage. It also weighed around 2,000 pounds, did not have to comply with modern emissions requirements and would be crushed like a tin can when hit by a 4,500 pound modern sport utility vehicle."

Again, good points. But read between the lines... "consumer demand for luxury" is only a part of the problem. Consumers also demand size. Everyone wants bigger and better. People are so self-absorbed they aren't willing to make any compromise. They buy the biggest car with the biggest engine they can afford.

Here in North America the many foreign (read: Euro and Japanese) automakers all offer V6 engines in the cars they sell, while those same vehicles sold anywhere else in the world only come with 4 cylinder engines. In some cases, here in North America we can only get the 6 cylinder model, while the rest of the world has smaller, more efficient options available to them. BMW is a perfect example of this... their 1 Series only sells with the 6 cylinder engine in the US and Canada, while Europe gets a seemingly endless list of engine options ranging from fire breathing performance to frugal & efficient.

And who is to blame for that?

Where I really don't agree with the writer is the "I feel safer in a bigger vehicle" argument, which has been proven a fallacy. And besides being false, it wouldn't even be an issue if those 4500 pounds SUVs hadn't been foisted on the general driving population by the greedy automakers looking to sell their highest profit margin vehicles in the first place.

"We can only blame ourselves when it comes to cars on the market having relatively poor gas mileage. Our demand to tack on stuff such as heated seats, emission equipment and side air bags have greatly diminished gas mileage."

On this point I disagree with Michael. The blame isn't only on the consumer. I blame the automakers for pushing their larger engines on us in the first place. The BMW 1 Series is a car I'd happily consider as my next vehicle IF one of the diesel options was available. 75% of my annual driving in my daily commute, and as much as I'd love to drive the hottest baby Beemer available, that would be a total waste of resources. A diesel powered 1 Series would be the best of both worlds for me... the dynamics that I want, with the efficiency I need. Unfortunately for me, BMW doesn't sell any diesels, nor any small displacement engines, in the North American 1 Series, and the last time I asked they said they had no immediate plans to start.

"If federal law and consumer demand allowed, car companies would happily sell high gas mileage models that are currently sold overseas. Japan has a number of 660cc cars that get more than 50 miles per gallon and are far cheaper than a hybrid. The problem is no American would buy them. American consumers have also ignored high gas mileage, diesel-powered cars.

Car companies are trying to release gas-efficient models. They are not evil corporate entities that wish only to destroy the planet. The automotive industry would love to sell you a 200 mile per gallon car as long as they could make a profit."

Again, I can't agree here. Some companies are just starting to look at offering efficient vehicles in North America, but compared to other countries in the world, the US and Canada (to a lesser extent) are far behind. If the car companies really were trying to release more efficient models, where are all the small displacement engines? Why are most North American models now selling with larger engines than there were a decade ago?

Eight years ago I purchased a Mazda Protege5. The only available engine was a 2.0L. That same year the sedan version of the Protege was available with a 1.6L, and a 2.0L. For the 2010 models that are in dealerships now, the only available engine options are a 2.0L and a 2.5L in either the sedan or the hatchback.

In England, the Mazda3 sedan is available with 1.6L or 2.0L (gasoline powered) engines, and the Mazda3 hatchback is available with 1.4L, 1.6L, or 2.0L (gasoline powered) engines, as well as 1.6L and 2.0L (diesel powered) engines.

So who's to blame? The consumers for "demanding" more, or the automakers for only offering more?

"Even though Chevrolet is not doing too well right now, they do have models coming out that provide descent gas mileage. The 2010 Chevy Cruze will have a 1.4 liter turbocharged engine that Chevy claims will get 40 miles per gallon. That is nearly hybrid territory, all without a battery pack. With a base price of around $16,000 the Cruze will be very competitive, providing the car lives up to General Motors' claims. The car will also be relatively light by modern standards, at 2,900 pounds.

The next Prius will get 50 miles per gallon, but the Cruze will still be the better deal. If the next generation Prius comes in at $22,000, the Cruze will still undercut it by $6,000. That much money will buy approximately 80,000 miles worth of gas for the Cruze.

The automobile industry would like to manufacture lighter and more fuel-efficient models, but currently the only way to do that is to either make them less safe or use expensive composite materials.

Higher prices or less safety - pick your poison."

Now the Cruze is my kind of car... except that it's ugly. But that's just a matter of taste. It's small, light, and is propelled by a small engine using turbo technology to give it some extra power when needed. Turbos are a great thing. They give you power when you need it, but don't add any extra consumption when you don't need it (ie: most of the time you're rolling down the highway with the cruise-control on).

The rest of the world gets it! When will we?

Source: The Spartan Daily


B M said...

Nice blog You have here... Pretty much agrees with what I'm about at mine (anti-toyota.com).

Hybrids are not a good way at all. As in this article: some 80s technology is more eco friendly in wider aspect, than eco badged Prius (or hondas hybrid). Why don't people think about it when they spend double price on a hybrid?

Kevin said...

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment BM. I'm heading over to your blog next.

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