The great MPG debate

20 July 2011

USA Today editorialized this morning (while reminding me it’s gonna be hot again in the Midwest, thanks for that) President Obama’s call to have average cars get 56 miles per gallon by 2025. The publication’s editorial board called it “a bridge too far.”

The editorial read in part:

“Mileage mandates might well be a good way to jump-start a move toward efficiency. But if they create a mismatch between the vehicles the government wants the auto companies to make and the ones that consumers want to buy, they will be repudiated, with unintended consequences. People might hold on to cars longer to avoid the increasingly stringent mandates, much as some people are hoarding incandescent light bulbs before more new efficiency standards kick in.”

Meanwhile, Ann Mesnikoff, the Sierra Club’s director of green transportation, countered in USA Today for an even higher standard:

“We need a 60 mile per gallon standard that will put American innovation and technology to work, saving families billions at the pump and creating jobs while cutting pollution and improving energy security.”

She cites a Mellman Group study that shows more than 80 percent of Americans support such a high fuel standard.

Sure we do. When asked a question like, “Do you embrace a world where cars get 80 miles to the gallon?” you’re not going to say no. But ask the question differently: “Do you embrace a world in which cars get 80 mpg, they’ll cost you $50,000 and force you to radically change your driving habits?” You’ll find the answer is much different.

As USA Today put it:

“It turns out that people do a pretty good job of deciding what’s best for them, and automakers are just as good at making the types of cars people want to buy.”

Scientists have been working on battery technology for almost 200 years. The chemistry is pretty much the same. If that’s how we are going to get to 60 mpg, it could take a little longer than 2025. As Chuck Murray said in our interview, automotive engineers were telling him 25 years ago that we’d have fantastic range and four-hour charge times by now.

Kevin Smith and his merry band of innovators at Illuminati Motor Works have designed an all-electric car that gets 207 mpg-e and can go really, really fast. Getting that into production at a price under $50,000 is tough.

Meanwhile, it’s hovering around 100 degrees in the Midwest the past few days, and the Volt’s air conditioning is a life-saver. But we’re getting around 38 mpg and filling up the gas tank. On a full electric charge, the car is rated to get 98 mpg-e.

And the story continues.


Steve Ravet August 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Vote -1 Vote +1

Why is the Ford F-150 the best selling vehicle in history? Because mileage standards took away the option of buying a nice large comfortable car. USA today is right on target that if the mandate misjudges what the market wants, and it certainly will, there will be unintended consequences. It may be to hang on to older cars, or to spur sales of other vehicles outside the mandate, or increased injuries and fatalities.

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