A penalty box for two

Advice from Brian J. Noggle, in the Webster-Kirkwood Times:

President Obama has raised CAFE standards to 39 miles per gallon in 2016. That move will all but eliminate SUVs, pick-up trucks, large sedans, midsize sedans, and everything much larger than the Smart ForTwo which presently only barely exceeds the standard and seats two passengers in a lightweight vehicle that suffers badly in automobile collisions. Consumers should buy now if they anticipate needing to carry cargo or children at any point in the future.

Proponents of the new standard hope that new technologies will allow vehicles to surpass this standard without compromising automotive power and safety. Proponents of automobile technology who lack engineering degrees also have anticipated flying cars for decades, but they don’t have to contend with the laws of physics, merely the laws of hope and change.

On a related topic, Car and Driver (July) did a comparison test between the two newest hybrids — the third-generation Prius vs. the new Honda Insight — and for the sheer hell of it, threw in a three-cylinder 1998 Geo Chevrolet Metro with 110,000 miles on it. The little low-tech grocery-getter managed to get the same gas mileage over a 600-mile run (42 mpg) as the Prius, and slightly better than the Insight (38 mpg). This suggests that we’re not going to find much more fuel economy in future vehicles, unless the Obamanauts find a reliable source of liquid unicorn scat or something, and that in a world with its priorities in order, Henry Waxman would be forced to give up his limo for the back seat of a ’75 Civic.


  1. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 11:42 am

    I question the 42mpg. I have one of the first Prius’s, I’m not always good about inflating my tires and all those other things that one should do to maximize mileage. I can’t remember the time I checked tank stats (there’s a monitor on the dashboard) and got less than 50mpg. In some driving stretches, I’m getting close to 100. I’m told the newer models are even more efficient.

  2. Wii-tarded »

    9 June 2009 · 11:47 am

    Sorry folks, the cars of the future aren’t going to run at 100 mph (160 km/hr). But I am curious why so many mid-1990s cars get better gas mileage than their modern counterparts. Did they lose the engineering specs?

    BTW try typing all this out on a Wii.

  3. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 11:56 am

    You gotta remember, C/D is full of wild and crazy guys who drive like, well, wild and crazy guys. For just about any vehicles they test, you can probably assume that the mileage they got corresponds to the worst-case scenario.

    Big dirty secret: That little Metro weighed less than 1900 lb. The Insight is 800 lb more, and the Prius is over 3000 lb. The more weight you have to schlep around, the more fuel it’s going to take.

    And it’s not just the fuel misers, either. Sandy, my late, lamented Mazda 626, weighed 2960 lb. The second-generation Mazda 6, nine years newer, weighs 10 percent more, and it’s considered downright svelte for a mid-sized sedan. Today’s Nissan Maxima is smaller than last year’s, but it’s 10 percent bulkier than its grandmother (one of Gwendolyn’s sisters). You want longer, wider, more crash protection, you’re gonna pay for it at the pump. The laws of physics don’t give a flying fish about Congress and its silly rules.

  4. fillyjonk »

    9 June 2009 · 12:43 pm

    I wonder what people with large-ish families would do? Or people who have equipment for work that they have to haul (on occasion, I have had to transport an 8 foot plus tall pole trimmer)? Or even people who live somewhere like Valentine, Nebraska, and try to go to the grocery store only once a month, because it’s an hour-long drive each way? I doubt you could fit a month’s groceries in a Four-Two or even a smallish Prius.

    While high fuel economy is a laudable goal, it’s also kind of like the people who live in Manhattan and can’t quite understand why ANYONE would have to have a car…different people, different circumstances, different needs.

    I have learned to be extremely suspicious (perhaps even outright cynical) about “one size fits all.”

  5. Brian J. »

    9 June 2009 · 12:56 pm

    The people who come up with these things live in tightly-packed small states in the east and have drivers to handle their commutes as well as the needs of any trophy children they have.

  6. McGehee »

    9 June 2009 · 1:16 pm

    I wonder what people with large-ish families would do?


    Don’t ask how they’re supposed to get across he country to visit Grandma — our President regards extended family as a luxury.

  7. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 2:17 pm

    I’m still not believing that a truck, farm vehicle or family sedan can’t be made fuel efficient. Or you can always get an older vehicle. Besides my Prius, my farm vehicle is a 1949 Ford pickup (a little young to be a Grapes of Wrath truck but still has farm cred.) It’s just fine for hauling buckets of grapes or olives to be processed. Or getting bales of hay. All of which chores require less than a 20 mile round trip. Or at least not a daily commute.

    I think the point is to evolve to where we don’t have assholes doing daily city commutes or driving six miles to pick up a single carton of milk in HumVees. Which is just obnoxious.

  8. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 2:21 pm

    Oh and Fillyjonk,

    I have, on occasion, fit two ag bins of mission olives, a duffle bag, a backpack, some power tools, a crate of books for the used book store, some bags of groceries and two terriers in crates in my Prius. All on the same trip.

    And I have the older smaller one where the back doesn’t even fold down.

  9. Brian J. »

    9 June 2009 · 2:44 pm

    Because she can imagine it, you must do it.

    Someone’s positioning herself as a member of the ruling class.

  10. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 3:40 pm

    No someone’s just facing the fact that we can’t party like it’s 1999 anymore.

    And I have great faith in the ingenuity of scientific minds. If they have to, I think car makers will find a way to make a car safe and fuel-efficient. And even make those vehicles as SUVs, trucks and station wagons.

    And as a small family farmer, I’d hardly say I was a member of the ruling class! Not many ivory towers out here in the fields or by the barn.

  11. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 4:55 pm

    We can do all those things now, but at a price that will make your nose bleed. (The biggest hurdle remains weight, though this can be addressed through aluminum spaceframes, at a five-digit price tag per vehicle.) Getting these things down to the point where they can be afforded by mere mortals is going to be the hard part.

    GM has something they call the Two-Mode Hybrid system, which squeezes a legitimate 20 mpg out of a full-size pickup. Or a Tahoe, even. In town, yet. But you can buy two of those little Hondas for the price of one of them.

  12. Jeffro »

    9 June 2009 · 5:21 pm

    I’ve mentioned before that I drive a gas hog pickup, specifically a four wheel drive Silverado. Why? For many reasons. The cars I’ve had in the past couldn’t handle the gravel roads long term – at about 100k they were done. The roads are drivable with small cars most of the time, but hardly all the time. Thus, four wheel drive. It’s larger because the smaller vehicles have narrower tracks. It’s easier and safer to drive poor traction roads with wider track vehicles. If you have to ask why, you’ve never driven on a muddy dirt road.

    Safety issues are important as well. I’ve hit deer with my truck with only a slightly bent trim piece in my bumper. Try that with a Metro, Prius or whatever. I narrowly missed sharing the cockpit of a MR2 some years ago with a deer. This is also cattle country with open range laws. I require a V8 for towing. Perhaps, in an ideal world, I could have an old truck to drive for the heavy stuff once in a while and have a couple of other sets ‘o wheels for other specialized purposes. However, I can only afford one, so it’s the best compromise for the worst conditions I encounter. I wonder what the front of a maximum mileage gas sipper with an air dam rubbing the ground running on low rolling resistant (with poor traction) tires is going to look like after busting a drift or three.

    Perhaps some study of physics is in order as well. Nascar racers can hit walls at high rates of speed and survive, but they are roll cages with a skin, and they weigh over 3k lbs. Smaller, lighter and safer – pick any two. Mass makes a huge difference in collisions for the occupants. Unless you really want to pay for extensive carbon fiber and exotic metal construction. How’s about a quarter of a million dollars just for raw materials? How about the relative scarcity of same? The internal combustion engine has evolved over time and has become more efficient, but not at the rates our legislators want. “Make it so” isn’t going to effect the laws of thermodynamics much, either.

    Alternate energy sources for transportation? Nothing much on the horizon, plus no infrastructure to supply it. Everyone go electric? Not enough power transmission capability to keep up with demand now, much less if we all go to electric cars. Rolling blackouts are starting to happen in situations where energy demands exceed generating supply now. What happens when we all plug in? How about the environmental impact of all the batteries in the hybrids and electric cars? The environmental impact of the current supply is nothing to be proud of. More batteries isn’t going to improve that situation.

    Mass transit requires population centers. Period. BART doesn’t come by my place for some reason.

    Lisa, I have to disagree with you. Wishful thinking and faith aren’t going to be the answer. I would prefer to pay less at the pumps, but when I drive the gravel roads to my house, I know I’ve made the right choice. I’m not partying like it’s 1999, and the legion of pickups, Suburbans and other such offensive vehicles out here are a testament to their utility rather than for a fashion statement.

  13. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 6:27 pm

    Jeffro, I’m a fellow truck owner. And as a farmer, I certainly need it. As does my mother who hauls a horse trailer around. Trucks aren’t the issue here.

    But I do think we need a short sharp shock to the notion that an Urban Assault Vehicle is needed when you are commuting from the Suburbs to San Jose on US 101.

    On one hand, I’d prefer taxation to handle this issue on a sliding scale. Then everyone is free to drive the car they want, they just pay for it proportionate to their damage to environment and transportation infrastructure. And people such as farmers, long distance truckers, livestock transporters, those living in poorly paved areas, etc. with a real reason for these vehicles get an exemption.

    But I tend to think Obama’s CAFE regulations are aimed squarely at automakers. It’s them, not the American people who need a kick up the backside. Detroit spent millions and millions and milions fighting California’s tougher eco regs. Honda and Toyota put that money into R&D and came up with cars that dominate the market here. So with the right carrot, stuff will happen.

    We tend not to remember the armchair quarterbacks who sat around scoffing and saying you couldn’t blast through the Rockies to build a transcontinental railroad or that we couldn’t get to the moon. But industrialists, visionaries and just plain capitalists who saw the opportunity made it happen. And we remember them. Those kinds of people are still with us. I run into them every time I go to Silicon Valley. Which is probably where these innovations will come from, not traditional automakers.

    There’s lots of time for innovation between now and 2016.

  14. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 6:39 pm

    While I know better to sneer at Honda and Toyota, their dominance in the segment I know best — the mid-sized sedan — has little to do with fuel economy and a lot to do with screwing them together correctly in the first place, an area where Detroit had been seriously lagging for some time. You want an appliance, you buy a Camry; you want a little more fun, you buy an Accord. Malibu and Fusion are competitive on these factors now, but they’ve got a lot of baggage from the Bad Old Days to shed.

    And even the mighty Toyota loses its way from time to time. The original Scion xB, a refrigerator box on wheels, wasn’t especially fast, but it held tremendous volumes of stuff, didn’t crowd the passengers, and sipped gas like it was going out of style. For some inscrutable reason, the second-generation xB put on 600 lb of road-hugging weight; it still holds tremendous volumes of stuff, still doesn’t crowd the passengers, but now it sucks down 20 percent more fuel.

  15. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 6:47 pm

    I think of the point where governments were trying to urge the electronics industry to replace a lot of the heavy metals and polluting practices in the production of silicon chips. Screams and protests went up from Silicon Valley: “It will take years to develop alternate technologies”, “the price to the consumer will be astronomical”, “can’t be done”, “this will cripple the US electronics manufacturers”.

    Then the European Union passed sweeping and tough laws which barred any manufacturers who didn’t meet the standards from selling into that lucrative market. Almost overnight, Silicon Valley stepped up to the plate and record profits continued or accelerated.

    With the right incentive, scientific ingenuity takes over and it happens. Especially since so much of the technology exists. It’s not like we’re staring at a blank drawing board. Almost all the challenges revolve around making and refining existing tech so it is cheaper.

  16. McGehee, Asshole »

    9 June 2009 · 7:25 pm

    I think the point is to evolve to where we don’t have assholes doing daily city commutes or driving six miles to pick up a single carton of milk in HumVees.

    I think the point is to evolve to where we don’t have … people trying to turn their personal aesthetic preferences into laws that everyone must follow.

    I cannot abide busybodies who cannot abide other people just going on about their own business as they see fit.

  17. Brian J. »

    9 June 2009 · 7:47 pm

    If you beat a dog with a stick long enough, eventually it won’t do what causes it to be beaten with a stick. This is evolution.

    Compulsion is compulsion. Whether the United States government does it or the European Union does it first.

  18. Jeffro »

    9 June 2009 · 8:01 pm

    Using an industry that follows Moore’s Law isn’t much of an analogy for the auto market.

    With the right incentive, scientific ingenuity takes over and it happens. Especially since so much of the technology exists. It’s not like we’re staring at a blank drawing board. Almost all the challenges revolve around making and refining existing tech so it is cheaper..

    New or increased taxes aren’t an incentive – they’re punitive. The scientific ingenuity of the internal combustion engine has been incremental. Yes, some of the technology for a lighter car that can protect occupants in a crash exists – but for exotic materials that are not cost effective, and are of limited supply. Roger Penske can afford carbon fiber tubs with magnesium alloy construction (light and safe) for his race cars, but the rest of us? Not so much. If any structural element using carbon fiber is damaged, it has to be replaced. It’s not fiberglass. The manufacturing process for carbon fiber is hardly environmentally friendly, compared to plain old steel.

    So, the current method of car construction is to use a lot of carbon steel. It’s cheaper, and repairable. Carbon fiber currently costs around 20x the cost of steel. The aerospace industry is in competition for the limited supply. I’ve already mentioned the environmental problems with carbon fiber. There are a lot of resins involved, plus petrochemicals.

    So, let’s say we magically produce a carbon fiber car with a hybrid powertrain (that somehow is significantly more fuel efficient, how we got there I don’t know) using an environmentally friendly battery (which isn’t even close to happening). Any ding or scratch on a structural member will require trashing the whole thing. How much will insurance be for this? You cannot cut out the offending part and slather some resin and fiber cloth in to patch it like fiberglass.

    The alternative is to build small steel cars that are inherently unsafe. The laws of physics cannot be repealed.

    I’m sure I won’t convince you, Lisa, but I had to try. :) I suspect we are just gonna have to agree to disagree on this one.

  19. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 8:06 pm

    Maybe I should amend that to where I’d hope we get a system that taxes and levies assholes appropriately based on their damage to the resources/infrastructure that currently we all have to pay for/suffer from.

    Why should I pay roughly the same tolls and taxes as someone in a big Humvee which causes ten times the wear and tear on the roads? Why should my tax dollars go to clean up a site that some manufacturer polluted so he could make more profit?

    I think the European Union’s stance was that eventually, we’ll all end up paying either in Euros or health issues for the results of polluting technology. They weren’t compelling anyone to do anything. Manufacturers were free to be as polluting as they wanted. They just couldn’t sell into the European market that was placing a premium on best practices (many of which involved correct disposal of used parts.) Would it be more fair if European taxpayers paid for that disposal? This way, the people who wanted to sell to Europe, and make a profit there, shouldered the cost for clean-up and best practices.

    And you know what, they figured out a way to do it without damaging their profit margin.

    Pretty much win-win all around.

  20. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 8:35 pm

    Actually, you don’t get into serious road damage until you get into the really big trucks, which becomes apparent when you look at GVWRs: the most egregious Hummer you can buy, the H2, presses down on the earth with a maximum of 8600 lb, which is about a minivan and a half. (The Governator has an H1, which is indeed a tad bulkier, but there aren’t a lot of those in civilian hands.) In general, my preferred disincentive here is to boost the fuel tax.

  21. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 9:01 pm

    All weight, even the weight of a few Priuses, eventually contributes to wear and tear on the roads. Ergo, heavier cars eventually wear down roads faster. But let’s set that aside for now.

    If only, as McGehee asserts, this were an aesthetic disagreement. But the decision to drive a Humvee 50 miles on a whim just to get a Taco doesn’t just affect the owner. More pollutants in the air are “paid” for by breathers. Usually in the form of respiratory diseases and ailments. That means I have to cough up (literally) health care bucks as a result of McGehee’s driving decisions.

    A fairer system would tax/levy/disincentivize those who cause more damage proportionately.

    I love how a typical right wing screech is “We shouldn’t have to subsidize health care costs for a bunch of illegal wetbacks who come into this country.”

    Yet it’s okay for me to “subsidize” with tax dollars for road maintenance and my health care dollars YOUR decision to drive a gas guzzler. Bit of a double standard.

    That is unless you are maintaining that the air is your personal resource to do with as you please and the rest of the world be damned.

    As far as Jeffro’s claim that physics can’t be challenged, who’s to say the answer has to be the internal combustion engine? Who’s to say only steel or carbon fiber are the answer?

    Yes, it probably looks bleak if you are used to the glacial pace and “can’t be done” attitude of a lot of traditional rust-belt industry. But 20 years in and around Silicon Valley has left me in awe of what innovation can be developed in a relatively short time.

    Unfortunately, that innovation is directly tied to profits. So if the money to be made in tech innovation is in better systems for auctioning Pez dispensers on-line (EBay) or more efficient ways to locate the porn you want (Google), that’s where the money goes.

    Make it profitable/desirable/mandatory for safe, fuel efficient cars to be put on the road and it will happen.

    Probably won’t happen in Detroit. At every point where they’ve gotten in financial trouble, they’ve cut R&D. In contrast, Silicon Valley is in the midst of a mini hiring boom in R&D engineers. As most companies here know that innovation is the true lifeblood of their business.

  22. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 9:10 pm

    Neither Priuses (Priora, to give them a semi-proper sort-of-Latin plural) nor Hummers have any measurable road-surface impact: the generally-accepted rule is that one big rig equals about 60,000 of our little beasties. (Source.)

  23. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 9:26 pm

    Well, I’m done on this post. And I’m certainly not going to antagonize Jeffro and McGehee anymore as they both showed up on my blog and outed themselves as fellow Buck Owens fans.

    For that, a little part of me will always love them. I might even agree to subsidize McGehee one 50 mile taco run in his Hummer. But only one.

  24. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 9:31 pm

    Actually, he doesn’t drive a Hummer, but you didn’t hear that from me.

    And to think we got this far without a Russian-expat viewpoint, yet.

  25. Mel »

    9 June 2009 · 9:44 pm

    And that H2 has a wider tire contact patch to spread the weight.

  26. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 9:47 pm

    Yes, his site mentions a Bronco, which is almost like my Ford truck, except separated at birth by more than 50 years.. . However I do want to tread lightly as I’m going to be asking him for advice on buying a gun. Seriously. And on a gun rack for my truck. Although I’m thinking I should reserve the real gun for shooting varmints and, in the rack, put an authentic circa 1954 toy Davy Crockett flintlock rifle. As an homage.

    And I did wonder what our Dear Tatyana would say about all this palaver.

  27. Mel »

    9 June 2009 · 9:54 pm

    “GM has something they call the Two-Mode Hybrid system, which squeezes a legitimate 20 mpg out of a full-size pickup.”

    I just made a 500 mile run in my 2001 Chevy Silverado. I’m actually stunned that at 109K on the dial, original plugs (which need to be changed) and having done nothing else but change the oil every 3K, replace the air scrubber with a K & N permanent job, and add Lucas Oil gas treatment … I pulled 18.9 and 19.0 mpg … running 70 mph with cruise control.

    City mileage is another thing all together.

    FYI – I had been down to 16.8 to 17.0 mpg under similar conditions until my gear head brother-in-law suggested the Lucas Oil. The extra 2 mpg highway showed up on the first highway trip.

  28. CGHill »

    9 June 2009 · 10:28 pm

    You never know. The sysadmin swears that little metal Vortex thing got his Avalanche up over 17 mpg.

    The EPA, incidentally, reworked its gas-mileage scheme for 2008; my car which used to be rated 20 city / 28 highway is now rated 17 city / 25 highway. As a rule, I beat both the newer numbers.

  29. Mel »

    9 June 2009 · 10:40 pm

    Most mpg gains in the last 20 years have come from the ability to increase the compression ratio.

    My 2001 5.3 liter Chevy gets much better mileage and has 110 more ponies over the 1990 5.7 liter Chevy I had before.

    As the late 60’s showed, compression is power. As soon as the EPA regs went into place, the only thing Detroit could figure out quickly was to change the 68cc head to 72cc or more … dumping the power immediately.

    The muscle cars “could have” gotten better mileage, but gas was 25 cents a gallon and heck, it was just so much fun to let those ponies run (I assume, since I was barely born).

    High compression and high octane. You increase the efficiency of the otto cycle, which itself has a maximum efficiency of 50%.

    Think about compression ration backwards. Think of it as an “expansion ratio”. If, for the same amount of fuel, on cylinder moves 9 and another moves 12 … which one did more work for the same amount of fuel? The 12 did.

    My 1990 truck had a 9.5 to 1 compression ration where my 2001 has a 10.5 to 1 ratio with appropriate computer controls to prevent detonation on regular grade pump gas. The result? More horsepower AND better mileage.

    Now go back to those days of 11:1 or 12:1 compression ratios and 25 cent 100 octane gas …

    I’ve done the math – at highway speeds the amount of fuel per injector squirt is extremely small … were talking mirco liters or something along that line.

    I just did the math again. Per cylinder firing, my 2001 5.3 liter V8 at 70 mph, 2000 RPM, and remembering that the plugs fire on every other “R”, I get …

    At 19 mpg = 0.00023245 liters per firing.

    At 30 mpg = 0.00014721 liters per firing.

    That’s a reduction of 0.00008524 liters per explosion. And we’re not even close to 39 mpg yet.

    At some point, the holes in the injectors get extremely tiny and more difficult to keep clean. That’s why you see the resurgence of Variable Cylinder Management to kill cylinders in low power situations like highway cruise. As far as I can remember, it was first attempted in the 70’s and was an abysmal failure … and has taken this long to develop to where they will stay together.

  30. Mel »

    9 June 2009 · 10:49 pm

    Yeah, I’ve tried to get the Sysadmin to try Lucas Oil. Seriously, when my brother-in-law told me to try it, I was like “yeah, whatever”. But I was at his house, had just filled the tank, and he had his big bottle sitting on the shelf … so he dumped in the appropriate amount.

    I made a 150 mile highway run and filled up to check … and had gained 2 mpg.

    FYI, they have “single dose” bottles for around $5, a 32 ounce bottle that treats gas at 10 gallons per 3 ounces for $10 – $11 … and then a gallon for $30. At $2.50 per gallon of gas, a $30 gallon of Lucas treats over $1000 of gas.

    I keep the 32 ounce in my truck and now actually get the gallon and refill the 32 ounce bottle.

    You should try some yourself on the next tour.

  31. Mel »

    9 June 2009 · 10:53 pm

    … but my city mileage still sucks raw lemons.

  32. Lisa Paul »

    9 June 2009 · 11:54 pm

    And I submit that Mel and his brother-in-law are part of the solution. Lots of ordinary people finding, sharing and acting on little tweaks like this. Ultimately it can add up to something significant. Not the whole solution, but a part of it.

    And there, I said something else when I said I wouldn’t. “Cause I still want help choosing that gun.

    But is anyone else but me flashing back to that old commercial of the engine got up as an Irish quartet singing, “We’re the Rocker Arm Assemb-el-y and we don’t like dirt!”

  33. unimpressed »

    10 June 2009 · 12:51 am

    Has this one managed to take the lead in the “most responses to” category yet?

  34. CGHill »

    10 June 2009 · 6:57 am

    About five or six to go yet.

  35. Mel »

    10 June 2009 · 10:59 pm

    20.2 mpg on the return trip. I am truly stunned by that mileage on an older full size truck.

  36. CGHill »

    11 June 2009 · 7:50 pm

    If my gas mileage starts to fall off, it might be worth considering. Right now I’m running 21, maybe 22, around town, 27 to 30 on the open road. (EPA used to say 20/28, now says 17/25.) Not too shabby, really.

  37. Jeffro »

    11 June 2009 · 9:37 pm

    Just some food for thought – maybe we should look to the past for the car of the future. Iowahawk has the pertinent details.

  38. Lisa Paul »

    12 June 2009 · 2:55 am

    Jeffro, Yes!

    Bring back Barris, Big Daddy Roth and car customizing culture. I’ve got a husband and a best friend who are already on-board with this.

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