Efficiency! (OR Better Cars are Good)

May 19, 2009

OK, I admit it… I’ve been blowing off the blog for a long time. I have no excuse. My explanation is that the news seems to be progressively more depressing every day, and I really can’t bring myself to focus on it for too long.

That being said, there was some good news yesterday:

The Transportation Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would set the new fuel-economy standards, which would raise the average fuel efficiency of a new car by 30 percent. Cars, for instance, would need to average 39 miles per gallon by 2016, while light trucks would need to reach 30 mpg.

The EPA, using its power to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, plans a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly the equivalent of what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. Vehicles sold in 2009 are expected to emit about 380 grams per mile, industry sources said.


“In addition to dramatically reducing the global warming emissions from our vehicles, this move will slash our dependence on oil and make us more energy independent,” Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said in a statement. “Congress put us on the road toward more fuel efficient vehicles two years ago when it passed the first increase in fuel economy standards in more than 30 years. Now President Obama is dramatically accelerating our progress.”

My illustrious co-blogger continues to try to convince me that it’s more important that we improve efficiency at the bottom end of the scale, which is, technically, true. Unfortunately, I can’t shake the feeling that improvements at the high end of the spectrum can highlight inefficient vehicles…

For example… let’s say the average truck is getting 15 mpg and the average car is getting 30. Dave will tell you, and I would agree, that we make a bigger dent in emissions by raising the truck to 30 mpg than the car to 45 (increasing efficiency by 100% compared to 50%).

One of the difficulties, however, is that we humans (especially the non-math oriented ones) don’t necessarily think like that… 10 mpg is 10 mpg. And, worse than that, 10 doesn’t seem like all that much.

I feel like there needs to be something at the high end of the efficiency scale demonstrating what’s possible. People are still surprised when I mention that my little VW sedan gets 45 mpg. You can almost see the “wow, that’s a lot” thought run through their brain. To me, that just indicates how skewed our perceptions are. When we can advertise cars that get 30+ mpg as “best in class” mileage, we’re missing something.

The people buying and driving those 15 mpg SUVs are looking at the mileage they could get in a car (say 25-28 mpg) and figuring that 10-12 mpg isn’t really that big a deal. And they’d be right, since that 10 mpg, would take them half way to the most effiencient car available. But what if the really efficient cars were getting 50+ mpg or more? Then those same 10 mpg would still mean they’d need to double their effiency to reach the top of the scale. Suddenly, 10 mpg doesn’t seem like too much.

So, yes, we need more efficient vehicles all the way around (which the Obama Adminstration proposal will do) but we also need to get consumers to be more aware of what’s possible, and what they might be missing.

And, yes, I acknowledge that this also means getting consumers to value efficiency over size and power, but we saw that begin to happen when gas was $4 a gallon. It’ll happen again when prices rise to that level once more.


Note: I’m writing this post with an external editor… so, apologies for bad formatting/broken links, etc… :)

Lack of foresight (OR Why change? Oil is cheap)

July 6, 2008

Lisa at Cogitamus links to this article from the NY Times, saying:

I wish I knew which bits of this article to excerpt here, but I just don’t.  The whole thing is worth excerpting.

And, it’s true… still, one sentence caught my eye:

They [American auto makers] are suffering the consequences [of opposing higher efficiency standards] and could go broke just like the airlines.

What a novel thought…  that the free market the Republicans claim to love will lead to the extinction of American car manufacturers, where a government regulation which would have forced them to evolve to compete with foreign manufacturers could have saved them.

Even now, I chuckle at the adds for American cars that tout 30 mpg highway, as though no one else can compete with that. Seriously, that might dwarf the 8 mpg Hummer, but we can do better than that, can’t we?

Frustratingly, there is also this bit:

In Europe, on the other hand, fuel efficiency currently stands at 44 m.p.g. and is slated to hit 48 m.p.g. by 2012.

Why can’t we get those more efficient cars here? If I had to replace my current car right now, and wanted to get something more efficient, I would have approximately zero options, and my car is almost 9 years old!