Late last month an article in the New York Times says the Bush administration embargoed a scheduleed report on automotive fuel effeciency till after an energy bill vote (an improvement over outright lying). The article features several experts complaining “automakers are failing to improve fuel economy.” Average fuel efficiency of new cars has declined since 1987 (by about 5.4% according to the report). However, the report contains far more incredible statistics (see VIII. Conclusions, page 76 of the report):
Compared to 1987, this year’s fleet is 21 percent heavier, 24 percent faster, and 80 percent more powerful.
Additionally auto fatalities have continued to slowly decline and cars have ever more accoutrements (including mandatory ones of questionable value). And fuel efficiency has only declined by 5.4%? I can only be in awe of the car industry’s technological tour de force.
If anyone is to blame for declining fuel efficiency it is car buyers. Efficiency improved from 1987 in nearly every class of vehichle (e.g., “small car”, “large SUV”). Consumers have been buying more large vehichles, fewer small vehicles. This seems particularly true in the supposedly eco-conscious San Francisco bay area, where there appear to be a greater proportion of large SUVs on the road than anywhere I’ve travelled.
Although I’m impressed by the auto industry’s prowess, they’ll have to do much better to win me as a customer. I’ve never owned a car, though my wife drives a 1998 Saturn SL, among the lowest cost cars of its vintage by several metrics (purchase, maintenance, fuel efficiency, safety, theft). If I had to buy a car today for some reason it would be a very used Volvo, though I’d prefer to stay out of the market until driverless cars are available, presumably well after 2010.