Accelerating cars

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.

4 Responses

  1. Brian Heung says:

    I guess I should have probably taken my family’s Volvo 240 station wagon that time down to Yahoo! Sunnyvale. Just a thought.

  2. Gordon Mohr says:

    In my experience, there are a greater proportion of giganto-SUVs in Texas than SF, and my general impression is that both SUVs and giant-SUVs are more prevalent where people do more driving (sprawling cities and suburbia) and have large families. SF has a good number of SUVs, but not too many of the giant hard-to-park suburbans/expeditions/etc.

  3. Brain:

    The car that you did drive (an upscale VW) could be the subject of another question/rant on brand positioning. I don’t understand VW’s attempt to take the brand upscale, particularly when they also own Audi, which is already in that niche, and a few super high end brands (Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini). VW isn’t alone is inexplicably going upscale. Wikipedia currently says this about Saturn:

    The Saturn brand will be repositioned in the upper-end of the family car market, stopping just south of entry-level luxury. Volkswagen is in the same market position that GM wants to take Saturn (only going as high as the Passat). Saturn faces a struggle in achieving a premium image. When GM showed the Aura to a focus group with no badge on it, participants gave it a rating of 5/5 in terms of desirability and style. When they discovered that they were looking at a Saturn, the average rating dropped to 2.5/5.

    Bizarre.

    Gordon:

    My observations are limited to ten states in the last couple years (CA, IL, MA, MO, NV, NY, OR, TX (Austin only), WA, and WI) and I probably don’t notice the difference between a SUV and giant-SUV. I should probably remove “large” before “SUVs” above. I suspect that much of any actual difference in ownership of large & expensive vehicles in the SF bay area versus elsewhere can be explained by this area’s relatively high income. Regardless, consumers across the country have opted for larger vehicles in the past ~20 years.

  4. [...] I’d prefer to wait for replacement with intelligently designed (by bio-engineers) eyes with vastly greater capabilies than my current amazing yet severely limited evolved set–better for watching the scenery from my future driverless car. [...]

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