Fuel Efficient Cars

posted in: science, space 0

Apropos of the discussion of oil and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, today’s email brought a message from the Union of Concerned Scientists,* concerning a public comment period on proposed new government regulations on fuel standards for vehicles. There’s an interactive animation called “Extreme Auto Makeover,” which is mildly amusing, and which takes you to an email comment page. But more to the point, in terms of information, is the page you can reach by clicking the button for Extreme Data.

The short version—there’s a lot the auto industry can do to improve fuel economy and safety, using existing technology and without serious impact on either the cost or the luxurious driving experience that we all enjoy (me, too). All that’s required is the will to do it. But they’re not going to do it without strong persuasion.

For the record—I’ve been a Ford shareholder for several decades (since I bought five shares of stock upon graduating from high school; it’s up to about fifty shares now). I would be more than willing to see my dividends trimmed a little, if that were required to implement these changes. I don’t think it is necessary, though.

*President of UCS: Kevin Knobloch. Also known as “Coach,” to my daughters’ soccer team a few years ago. A good guy. Very sharp, tuned in, and civic minded.

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0 Responses

  1. Harry
    | Reply

    Consumers could choose to drive smaller cars. The government could force them to, using high fuel taxes like in europe, but if enough people cared they could do it on their own and the demand for smaller vehicles would drive the automakers to create them. As you say, europe has the alternative rail transport to let non-car owners get around but we’re so spread out in north america that only people in metropolitan areas can rely on public transit. The gov’t could offer incentive to consumers to buy small cars instead of giving businesses incentives to buy the biggest vehicles possible.

    Many assume that heavy SUVs are safer but many studies show they are not, with much higher fatalities in single vehicle accidents due to rollover and my anecdotal experience supports them. In Canadian winters I see many SUVs and minivans upside-down in the ditch but very few cars like that. People think big heavy vehicles are safer and they are in multi-vehicle crashes but in single-vehicle crashes, they are actually more dangerous as they have more inertia. SUVs would be safer against pedestrians and other vehicles if the bush-bars were outlawed — how many SUVs actually drive through tall plants anyways?

    IMO, it’s too bad the wagon is so out of style. Now you have to buy a sport crossover SUV with crummy mileage and less useable cargo space than a wagon, which gets almost as good mileage as a standard passenger sedan. Personally, I buy a small hatchback for commuting and a wagon for a family vehicle, both with 4-cylinder engines so I’m doing my part, though I have yet to shell out the extra $$$ for a hybrid.

    Many consumers are demanding high mileage cars. Look at the demand for the Prius from Toyota. Even Ford is getting in on the act with a hybrid SUV. If enough people buy them, the cost will come down. People keep talking about hydrogen but it doesn’t seem to be getting any closer to production.

  2. Tim
    | Reply

    i saw 20/20 the other night talking about how epa gas mileage estimates are way off and typically way less in reality. and that includes those pricey hybrids.

  3. Jeffrey A. Carver
    | Reply

    The thing about hydrogen that always gets maybe one line near the end of every article is, you need energy to produce the hydrogen. Solar and wind could be good sources of H2 production, but in practice a lot of it is probably going to come from coal , oil, and gas. So you might be cutting pollution in cities, but not solving the basic energy problem. There’s also nuclear, of course, but until the waste disposal problem is solved, I can’t support that–even with the supposedly safer new technologies.

  4. Harry
    | Reply

    Yes, Tim, any time you have a test you can work on making the results of that test good even though it will not be as good in other situations. No one drives like they do in the EPA tests anyways though if you do, you’ll get good mileage in a hybrid.

    Jeff, yes there is a tendency to forget that there isn’t much natural hydrogen around. Unless they find an SF solution like a bacteria with a special enzyme that breaks water into H and O2 pretty much for free (I think Peter Watt may have written about that in his Behemoth series), it will be expensive to fill ‘er up.

    Gasoline engines aren’t bad for efficiency, really. If so many people didn’t drive 4500-6000 lb monsters we’d be much better off I think.


  5. AKAImBatman
    | Reply

    Hi Jeff!

    Sorry to dredge up an old thread, but I thought you might find an article I wrote back in September to be of interest.

    Come Dream With Me: Stirling Engines

    It’s a bit o’ fiction I wrote about exploring very real technologies. The car companies have dabbled into these concepts, but never really given it their all.

    The problem with alternate technologies is that they represent a serious risk for car manufacturers. Being the leader means that they will be forced to shoulder much of the burden in marketing and infrastructure change. If the concept succeeds, the competitors will see a larger return. If the concept fails, the company executives may face a vote of ‘no confidence’ from the shareholders. So it’s a tricky situation.

    BTW, I quite enjoy your books. Thanks for giving us new worlds to visit and new adventures to go on. 🙂

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