Pitchfork-Wielding Consumers Hold Auto Industry Hostage!

"What do we want? More of the same! When do we want it? Now!" Image: ##http://www.untoldentertainment.com/blog/img/2009_09_02/torchMob.jpg##Untold Entertainment##

It’s sad, really. Tremendous gains in vehicle fuel efficiency have been squandered, MIT’s Christopher Knittel demonstrates in a study published in the American Economic Review. Knittel’s analysis quantifies how, while automakers have applied meaningful fuel economy innovations over the past several decades, these have produced only modest gains in miles per gallon, because at the same time the companies inflated horsepower and vehicle size. As MIT’s press release put it:

Thus if Americans today were driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 miles per gallon (mpg) to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg. Instead, Knittel says, “Most of that technological progress has gone into [compensating for] weight and horsepower.”

Based on this history, Knittel rightly concludes that market forces cannot drive the social and environmental good of fuel efficiency; he supports an increase in the gas tax. Unfortunately, he goes on to perpetuate a convenient fallacy that has provided cover for an industry looking to evade regulation and avoid responsibility:

“I find little fault with the auto manufacturers, because there has been no incentive to put technologies into overall fuel economy,” Knittel says. “Firms are going to give consumers what they want, and if gas prices are low, consumers are going to want big, fast cars.”

In response to calls for less polluting or less dangerous vehicles, the auto industry has often depicted itself as hostage to a voracious, and quite imaginative, consumer mob that stands in the way of such progress. Apparently, car buyers expend great energy dreaming up spectacular new ideas for cars, which they then conspire to demand from the industry.

NHTSA should act swiftly and decisively on the plethora of distracting technologies being built into vehicles.

The truth is, consumers rarely want a product that they don’t know exists or that doesn’t exist yet. As marketing expert James Twitchell puts it, “In reality people often do not know what they want until they learn what others are consuming. Desire is contagious, just like the flu.” It isn’t until they see others wanting a product — in the media or in real life — that consumers start to want it.

Suburbanites across America were not collectively thunderstruck in the 1980s by the realization that living the good life meant clambering up into a giant vehicle. Instead, automakers, eager to sell more high-margin products, took advantage of regulatory loopholes to push bigger and bigger vehicles. They repositioned clunky trucks as “sport utility vehicles,” transforming them into symbols of wealth, leisure, and suburban family values. In ads, they implied that SUVs were safer by virtue of their heft and hammered on the need for capacious cargo space. The effort was so successful that despite the recession and outcry over gas prices, SUVs and SUV crossovers currently account for 31 percent of U.S. auto sales.

And ordinary people, who spend much of their drive time slogging through stop-and-go traffic, inching across parking lots, and idling in drive-thrus, never rose up in protest that cars weren’t meeting their horsepower needs. Instead, automakers have been stoking desire for superfluous power and speed since the 1960s. Yes, drivers need to be able to merge onto highways safely, but going from zero to 60 in so many seconds and speedometers topping out at 150 mph are marketing conceits reminiscent of Nigel Tufnel’s amp that went to 11.

Now what consumers want, in addition to size and horsepower, the industry tells us, are “connected vehicles.” And while some of what buyers are clamoring for in this regard are safety features, many are distracting technologies automakers are promoting, like enabling a driver to post a Facebook status while changing lanes or run a Google search at a four-way stop. It would be naïve not to anticipate that turning cars into rolling smartphones could cancel out decades of safety innovations just as increasing size and power negated fuel economy gains.

Car companies will seek to maximize profits; this is their fiduciary duty to shareholders. But blaming consumers for their failure to deliver safety or environmental improvements is merely an evasion of their corporate responsibility to contribute to the common good by reducing the social ills their products create. So we can’t rely on the corporations for meaningful progress. And allowing consumer preferences, even if they were independent of industry influence, to drive policy on automotive issues would be a mistake: It equates the car consumer with the citizen and the short-term interests of drivers with the long-term interests of the nation.

To achieve a national vehicle fleet that does less damage to public health, we must have stronger regulations and now. The proposed 54.5 mpg CAFE standard, over which public hearings are now taking place, should be adopted. The states should follow the NTSB’s recent recommendation to ban nonemergency cell phone use by drivers. And NHTSA should act swiftly and decisively on the plethora of distracting technologies being built into vehicles.  Let’s not wake up in forty years to calculate another squandered opportunity.

Anne Lutz Fernandez, a former investment banker and marketing executive, is co-author, with anthropologist Catherine Lutz, of Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives.

  • Bolwerk

    Localities – namely, big cities – could simply charge more for using cars that exceed the approximate size of a Smart Car. Many SUVs would go away in a couple of years.

  • carma

    ive been pondering this for some time already about how we’ve come so far along with better technology but our fuel economy still sucks. (relatively speaking).

    my first car weighed in at 2650lbs.  a first generation toyota camry with a measly 100hp.  i believe it was a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder.  it got an okay 28mpg highway.

    today that same camry has loaded the technology with gas direct injection and is a 2.5 liter 4 cyl.  it gets a better 35mpg highway.  but the problem is it is still a boat.  it weighs 3250lbs.

    now although there is an improvement in overall mpg, it also gained a LOT more hp, plus a LOT more weight.  2 things that can significantly lower gas mileage ratings.

    but lets stop with the gas tax business.  a gas tax is not going to be used for infrastructure, or mass transit solutions.  its going to get squandered in the general revenue pool.  with china overconsuming the US, gas prices will naturally rise due to demand and $5.00 will come real soon due to scarcity of oil, not due to new gas taxes.  the last thing the nation needs is more taxes.

  • Our tax code has specifically encouraged heavy, inefficient vehicles by making only SUVs and trucks with weight ratings between 6000lbs and 14,000lbs eligible for a full $25,000 expense deduction for businesses. Cars, trucks, vans under 6000 lbs are limited to $11,060 deduction. This means that all businesses are likely to choose a heavier vehicle no matter the purpose the vehicle will be driven for. It also means all small business owners are likely to choose a heavy vehicle no matter their occupation or the use the vehicle is put to. 

    See “10 Awesome Vehicles that Qualify as a Business Write Off.”

    http://www.section179.org/awesome_vehicles_that_qualify_as_a_write_off.html

    Sometimes I wish our government would implement smart, thoughtful policies that make sense given our economic and energy predicaments. Most of the time, though, I just wish it would quit doing the absolutely dumb, stupid stuff.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    Don’t blame the car manufacturers for bad laws.  While they lobby for the bad laws, it is ultimately the senators and congressmen and those who have voted for them that have failed.

    e.g. Different fuel (CAFE) standards for cars and trucks when they serve the same function
    e.g. Too low gas tax which doesn’t account for pollution or congestion externalities
    e.g. EPA mileage estimates which vastly overstate actual mileage

    The list goes on.

    It is easy to blame the car manufacturers but they are just operating the best they can within a truly terrible legal and regulatory environment.

  • Anonymous

    Local authorities could help by enforcing the 3 and 5 ton truck bans that are posted throughout and apply them to those SUVs that are over these weight limits, as many are.

  • Anonymous

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus wrote: “the last thing the nation needs is more taxes.”

    Huh? That’s about as untrue of a statement I’ve ever heard (though I know it goes over well with the right). We have just about the lowest tax burden of any industrialized country:

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/the-tax-burden-around-the-developed-world/

    or

    http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2011/07/tax-burdens-around-the-world.html

    And when it comes to gas tax, we have just about the lowest as well:
    http://www.urban.org/publications/1000845.html

    From the following link: “Americans love to gripe about high gas prices, but they actually pay some of the lowest fuel costs in the world [PDF]. Part of the reason for this hidden discount is that lawmakers have refused to raise the federal gasoline tax since 1993.”
    From http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2011/12/how-americans-really-react-to-high-gas-prices/616/

    It’s thus not a surprise that we thus have the crappiest public transit, crappiest healthcare, crappiest schools, and yes, crappiest cars when it comes to fuel efficiency compared to most other industrialized nations. Yes, I know the oft-parroted concept of American exceptionalism says that we are different (better) than everybody else and the same laws of nature and human behavior don’t apply to us, but the evidence compiled on just about every other country shows that you need higher tax rates than we have to get the things we say we want (good schools, good healthcare, good transportation, etc.).

    Higher gas taxes throughout the industrialized world do indeed correspond to more efficient cars and better public transit. See previous link.

    So one of the *first* things we need is a higher gas tax. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t other public policies we can implement in parallel, but certainly raising the gas tax should be at the top of the list.

  • Max Power

    It’s not just SUVs that skew the MPG ratings.  “Small” cars are much heavier today than 30 years ago.  VW Jettas from 1981 had higher mileage than they do now.  A Le Car had much better mileage than a Smart Car does now: http://www.mpgomatic.com/2007/10/08/super-cheap-high-mpg-cars-1978-1981/
    Some of it is the cult of HP, but regulations requiring air bags, more complex bumper structures, and complicated steel to create crumple zones have had a signficant effect on a new car’s curb weight.

  • carma

    jd_x, its obvious you and i differ on tax policy.  but the blatant truth is that higher taxes is the LAST thing you do for an economy in recovery.  in fact, next to congress not passing an extension of the AMT exemptions for 2012, a gas tax is the biggest disaster you can create for america.

    if you want gas prices to raise for your fantasy of better public transport.  get over it.  whens the last time you seen american govt handle their fiscal policy without plunging into debt.  as i said, gas prices WILL rise due to higher demand from china.  im pretty sure 90% of americans DONT want higher gas prices.  most people realize that goods and services also comes from trucks.  guess what.  they use either diesel or gas.  higher gas prices = higher goods and services.  and im POSITIVE americans dont want that.

    dont get me wrong.  i would love to see much better public transit.  ive seen other nations (japan, hong kong) do it with great efficiency.  but im sorry, i dont think gas taxes are going to get you better transit.  in NY, the MTA has such a problem with past debts and pensions, you would have to raise the gas tax 100% or more PLUS raise the fairs just to level its debt services and deal with the pension problem.  and yet a single dime will not go to better transit.

    and i absolutely disagree with the statement that it will go well with the right.  i happen to be a fiscal conservative independent who agrees with both dems and repubs, but who cant stand most of the republican right.

  • Xequar

    I love public transit, and I’m presently working toward becoming an urban planner just to put more public transit in place.  

    That said, I always get a kick out of screeds like this that are completely ignorant of how the auto industry works and how markets work.  

    First, the efficiency of the internal combustion engine has improved by over 25 percent since 1980.  

    Second, the cars that several commentators here have held up as shining examples of automotive engineering were horribly unsafe crapboxes, and an accident in one almost certainly guaranteed your untimely demise.  Yes, they were light, but they were light because they didn’t have a whole lot of metal or safety structure between you and the outside world.  Let’s remember that the curb weight of a 1978 Lincoln Continental, a nearly 20-foot long car with a 460 cubic inch V8 engine and seating for six, was roughly 4,700 pounds.  A 1990 Astro van with seating for eight and a 4.3L V6 had a curb weight of about 3,900 pounds.  A new Ford Taurus weighs in at 4,400 pounds, and has a 3.5L V6 and seats five.  What’s the difference between the Taurus and the other two cars I mentioned? If you crash in the Taurus, you’ll walk away from the accident.  The same is not true for the other two vehicles.  All that safety, and the other content that consumers want (power windows and locks, heated seats, etc.) come with weight penalties. 

    Third, people want space and power in their vehicles.  Don’t believe me and think there’s some big conspiracy theory by the auto industry?  Let’s look at history.  The 1978 Continental, with its gas-guzzling 460 cubic inch V8, sold as well as previous models despite the oil crisis.  Sure, cars downsized in the ’80s, but that was much less a function of consumer preferences as it was a regulatory environment that forced it.  As soon as larger car options that could still meet regulatory concerns hit the market and gas prices went down, larger cars became popular again.  In the mid-’80s, the Ford Tempo was the best selling car.  Once gas went down, the larger Ford Taurus became the best selling car.  Since the early 1990s, the best selling vehicle in the United States has been the Ford F-150, despite numerous smaller choices like the Escort, Corolla, Civic, Cavalier, Focus, Cobalt, Shadow, Aspire, Insight…  

    Again looking to our history, specifically to the late 1990s, two very different automobiles were released within a year or two of each other.  One was a small, cute commuter car that got incredible fuel mileage, was easy to park, and had enough cargo space to do day-to-day tasks just fine.  The other was a large SUV that had a 5.4L V8, 4-wheel drive, seating for seven, and enough towing and payload capacity to tow a small house.  

    The Ford Expedition went on to sell incredibly well.  The Honda Insight did horribly in the market and was ultimately discontinued only a few years after it hit the market.  

    The point of all this is this:  Horribly ignorant screeds like this do absolutely nothing to further the cause of public transportation, bikeable and walkable places, or even more efficient and less-destructive automobiles.  Anyone not already of such a persuasion will read this and completely dismiss it as what it is: Ignorant conspiracy-theory based drivel.  If you really want to further the causes of public transit, bikeable walkable places, less auto dependence, less-destructive automobiles, and the like, then focus on the policies and market forces that have enabled the current state of affairs to emerge.  Focus on the woefully insignificant and insufficient fuel taxes.  Focus on the funding allocations for road improvements versus transit/cycling/ped infrastructure.  Focus on legitimate issues and challenges rather than crunching out some conspiracy-theory drivel. 

  • Joe R.

    @843e01bc2f2abf672b8204ac35b88230:disqus You do know that the auto industry is expert at advertising to get people to buy whatever gives it the most profit? All these “features” in cars nowadays cost a relative pittance to add, but fetch a hefty premium at the dealers. And the whole thing with power and space is market manipulated as well. Sure, a person wants a vehicle large enough so they don’t feel cramped, but many compact cars deliver that unless you’re 6′ 5″. As for power, no sane driving cycle requires you to go from 0 to 60 in less than maybe 15 seconds. Highway entrance ramps are designed with the slowest vehicles in mind. Indeed, I could probably argue that 0 to 60 mph in 30 seconds would still be adequate for 95% of highway merges. Once you get past the “need” for fighter jet acceleration, you’ll find that cars can get by with quite a bit less power. Even a large SUV cruising at 100 mph might need only 100 HP. An aerodynamic passenger car probably only needs 30 or 40 HP to do the same thing, radically less if we put some research into it. It’s utterly ridiculous to sell vehicles which are so overpowered that 99% of the time you’re using less than 25% of the power.

    Sure, big and powerful sells because it’s what the auto industry advertises as “sexy”. It’s also coincidentally what costs them the least to produce, but which can fetch the highest premiums. In absence of such blatantly misleading advertising making people think they need 400 HP to sit in stop-and-go traffic, my guess is the vast majority would only care that their vehicle had enough power to keep up with traffic. Since “traffic” includes heavy, slow vehicles like buses or trucks, that bar would be quite easy to reach even with tiny engines. Maybe this silly HP race should have been ended decades ago by simply mandating a maximum power-to-weight ratio, perhaps around 50 HP per ton. You just *don’t* need more than that unless you’re on a race track. A great benefit of this is it’ll take a lot longer to reach high speeds, meaning in urban settings motorists would rarely have enough room to reach 40 or 50 mph before having to hit the brakes again for the next stop light.

    Could such vehicles still be exciting? Certainly. Streamline the heck out of them and you’ll be able to reach very high speeds eventually even with only 50 HP per ton. Use a carrot/stick approach to entice people to buy more efficient, lower horsepower vehicles by allowing them much higher legal speeds on limited access highways. Reducing auto travel times by allowing higher speeds is a real benefit with real economic value, all the more so since it seems the US won’t get high-speed rail for quite some time, if ever.

    Increasing the inherent efficiency of vehicles via streamlining also makes it easier to take the next logical step. For all the talk of increasing mpg, the hard truth is the internal combustion engine must go, period, for a variety of reasons. It’s far easier to obtain decent range with battery electrics if the vehicle doesn’t have the aerodynamics of a brick. With good streamlining plus state-of-the art batteries, ranges of several hundred miles at cruising speeds of 100+ mph are possible. And electric cars can easily be made “sexy” via advertising. I already think they are compared to their noisy, inefficient, smelly gas-powered cousins.

    As for safety, you don’t need weight for safety. That’s simply the easiest way to make vehicles fare better in collisions, unfortunately at the expense of whatever they hit. Rather, have the same type of harnesses used in race cars. Those often allow drivers to walk away after hitting a wall at 200 mph. I could even argue that if drivers were trained better, protection from collisions would be a lot less important given how much less frequently they would occur.

    Bottom line, the auto industry could easily change their tactics and get people to want things besides space and power. It just needs some incentives, both carrots and sticks, to do so.

    And yes, more public transit is really a much better answer in the long term than cars, even if they’re fast, streamlined electric cars. How to get there from here is another discussion entirely.

  • Max Power

    Yes, cars were engineered with far less collision protection 30 years ago, but why must all cars today be built to a single standard?  If a buyer would prefer a 60 MPG car by combining 30 year old structural design with a modern engine and dual-clutch transmissions at the expense of survivability in a higher-speed collision, don’t stop him via regulations.  For someone who never drives in on interstate-class highways, this may be a rational tradeoff.
    Motorcycles and bicycles provide zero crash protection for riders, and no one denies anyone else the choice to use those vehicles.  Let safety be a user choice for auto buyers as well.

  • carma

    Joe, A 50-60 hp engine in a car of today’s weight would drive horribly slow.  slow to the point that yes, it can be dangerous to merge on the highway.  merging from 0-60 in 30seconds is really not adequate for a highway merge.  i would say 15-20 seconds is reasonable.  also most of the time when merging onto a highway, seldom do you start from 0.

    another thing to consider is that HP is not what moves a car.  it is torque.  HP is simply a measurement of torque * revolutions / 5252.  a plain number of 50 means nothing.  if you really want to move a car fast.  use an electric motor which has instantaneous torque at 0 rpm.

    with that said, 50-60 peak hp in a lightweight 2000lb shell would be more than adequate in most situations.  take a lotus elise for example.  it weights in at around 1900 lbs using a small 1.8 liter 190hp toyota engine.  it hits 0-60 in 5.x seconds.  most people will not need this obviously, but if you bring the weight down of cars, certainly you can achieve faster speeds using smaller sized engines.

    btw, if you need fun in a car.  put it to a traditional stick shift.  that increases the fun factor of any car.

  • Carma: fine, don’t raise net taxes. Pass a bill that cuts payroll taxes by the same amount that it raises gas taxes. The point is not to keep deeding gas tax revenues to roads – that would be like deeding cigarette excise taxes to tobacco advertising. It’s to discourage driving and reduce pollution.

  • carma

    Alon, it would be a horrible idea to cut payroll taxes even further just to raise gas taxes.  lets put it this way.  Social security is going to go broke regardless whether you cut payroll taxes or not.  while social security is the ultimate ponzi in which what you pay, is actually paying for not your own retirement, but someone elses, i think its still a program worth saving.  and by starving the system from revenue, we are making the situation for the future worse.  instead of penalizing the entire population via gas taxes, (believe me, you will be affected even if you dont drive),  wouldnt it be better to create more efficiency first such as lighter cars and smaller engines if your goal was to reduce pollution.  and to get folks to take mass transit, how about creating more tax incentives that makes mass transit a better alternative, such as re-upping up the tax deduction from $125 back to $230, at the same time reducing the parking pretax limit from $240 to $125.

  • Xequar

    Joe, I worked at a car company for eight years before I decided that enough was enough.  That company offered a full range of vehicles, competing in every market segment and marketing the products they made, from the smallest to the largest.  People buy the products that they want to buy, and I can guarantee to you that the company does its best to push all of the products it makes so that they are all profitable.  

    It’s easy to imagine some big corporate boogeyman, but by blaming auto companies, you’re ignoring the bigger story:  People buy the vehicles that they want to buy, and until gas hit $3.50 in the U.S., those people chose big vehicles with no consideration to mileage.  In 2004, a consumer could buy a Cavalier or a Neon or a Focus.  You know what the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. was?  The Ford F-150.  In fact, Ford sold damn near a million of them in 2004.  I know damn well there were Focus commercials on the TV, since Ford had just released a refreshed version of that car.  

    But, consumers chose the big truck.  Did they need the big truck?  Overwhelmingly, no.  There are very few people that are using the towing and payload capabilities of such a truck.  But, they wanted the truck, even in the face of marketing for and availability of other options.  And quite frankly, I am completely ok with this.  I wholeheartedly believe that if someone wants to buy a new Camaro with a V8 putting out over 400 horsepower, then more power to them, and I hope they enjoy their car.  

    Forcing people to drive small cars with low horsepower does nothing to reduce our dependence on the automobile or alter our auto-centric landscape.  The 1980s with such 70 and 80 horsepower wonders as the early Escorts, the Cavalier, the K-Cars, any flavor of Toyota or Honda, the Ford EXP, and the Pontiac 6000, proved that to us in spades.  None of those cars I listed are ones that were or are considered desirable in any way, shape, or form, but people not only kept on driving, they continued to move further and further out and sprawled more and more. 

    The problem isn’t how much power the car has or how much fuel the car uses.  The problem is THE CAR.  All we’re doing by increasing fuel economy standards and making more efficient cars is making it that much easier and more affordable for people to continue driving.  It’s a market substitution, and by continuing to do it, we’re essentially allowing people to make long commutes without financial penalty.  

    Let me say that again:  Fuel efficient cars are exacerbating sprawl.  They allow people to move much further out to buy a big McMansion with granite counters and four bathrooms and a mother-in-law suite for one-third of the price they’d pay for one-third the space in the city, and they can do it with no financial penalty since they’re not at least feeling the financial pain of high fuel costs.  

    And finally, a car that takes seven years to get to 60 like you propose would be the most boring thing ever made and the market would never respond.  We tried it in the 80s, and the market overwhelmingly flipped efficiency the collective bird and demanded power again.  Very few people get the opportunity to go more than 80, but sometimes it can be kinda fun to get to 80 really really quickly.  Even now when people are demanding smaller and more efficient vehicles, they still want performance out of those vehicles.  Stop blaming car companies for making cars and marketing cars and start blaming the people that are making bad purchase choices and start blaming the people making bad auto-centric development and bad auto-centric policy. 

  • Joe R.

    @843e01bc2f2abf672b8204ac35b88230:disqus It may be true that car companies push ALL of their products, but the overwhelming majority of commercials I see are for SUVs (which I derogatorily call stupid user vehicles). Only recently has the mix started to shift back to include a fair amount of regular cars. And from the standpoint of the auto manufacturers, I can understand why they push these vehicles. They can sell them for more than cars, but by law they aren’t counted in the CAFE calculation, and they don’t require emissions controls. In short, they give a greater profit margin.

    What is often in the case where manufacturers sell a bad product, and then convince consumers to buy that product in large numbers, is legislation leveling the playing field. SUVs should be have been counted in the CAFE since they’re usually be used as passenger cars. And they should be subject to the same emissions standards as anything else in the product line up. Just doing those two things would have made SUVs less profitable or more expensive. And if the car companies couldn’t sell large numbers of smaller vehicles to offset the poor fuel economy of SUVs, then they would have been subject to large fines.

    Next, I absolutely agree cars and sprawl are the problem. Here again the fix is obvious-stop giving sparsely populated regions a net subsidy. If a developer wishes to build an exurban housing division, let them pay for the required roads and utilities, then pass these costs on to home buyers. Moreover, require building to higher standards, rather than junk, “throw away” homes which aren’t designed to last more than 20 years without major repairs. If this had been done, people would find that housing in the middle of nowhere isn’t any cheaper. This in turn might force us to find a way to increase the housing stock in cities, in turn bringing down the prices of housing to more affordable levels. In any case, regardless of the availability of more affordable cars, the net trend seems to be that people are abandoning suburbs. Making it cheaper to drive via more efficient vehicles isn’t necessarily going to encourage more people to endure an hour or two each way behind the wheel to get to work.

    Everything I see and read is telling me people WANT cheaper and better alternatives to the car, but nobody is listening. Major public transit initiatives are often killed for no good reason. And we continue to measure economic activity by things like “number of new housing starts”, which basically means taking farmland and making exurban housing divisions which are increasingly going unsold. We can only blame the consumer for some of this. Right now people drive simply because many have no viable alternative. And those who benefit would like to keep it that way. The fix needs to come from the top down. Encourage the auto companies to retool and start manufacturing high-speed trains. Have the construction industry laying down high-speed and local rail transit instead of exurban housing divisions. And give strong disincentives for building in the middle of nowhere.

    Finally, we’ve never really made any vehicles like I proposed, so you can’t flat-out state they would be boring. The cracker boxes which were made in the 80s not only accelerated slowly, but had low top speeds. I remember some which couldn’t even get much past 75 mph. What I’m proposing are vehicles with a fairly low power-to-weight ratio, preferably electrically powered, but with radical streamlining. Nothing boring to me about a vehicle which could eventually reach bullet train speeds (along with highways where such speeds would be safe and legal, perhaps automated, and designed so merging doesn’t require high acceleration rates). Again, I absolutely agree public transit like HSR would be a much better alternative, but I don’t see it being built any time soon. In the meantime, as fuel prices rise, flying will become a province of the wealthy. How exactly then are people going to travel long distances in this country? Even if we eliminate sprawl, people still need to travel between cities. Conventional gas powered autos will become too expensive, and they’re really much too slow for long distances anyway. We’re at the point where we’ll need to rethink the role of the automobile. Increasing, autos are incompatible with cities. That basically leaves them for long distance travel. In turn, this means making autos as fast (i.e. top speed, not necessarily acceleration) and efficient as possible. I dare say had normal highway speeds in this country been faster, perhaps 100 mph instead of 70 mph, then SUVs never would have taken off (their fuel economic is abysmal at 100 mph).

  • Xequar

    You do realize that light trucks and SUVs *are* covered by a CAFE standard, right?  It is slightly lower than the car standard, but there is a standard.  It’s not until you get into medium-duty stuff (Ford Super Duty pickups, Chevy Silverado HD, et cetera) that there is exemption from CAFE.  This is why the Ford Excursion was not covered by CAFE, as it was a medium-duty SUV based on the Super Duty truck platform.  

    As for ’80s cars, the problem wasn’t that they couldn’t achieve a high top speed.  The highest legal speed limits in the United States are 80 miles per hour, so even the ’80s cars that had speedometers that only read to 85 are still up to snuff in terms of how fast they can ultimately go.  The question is how long it takes to get there, and consumers are not willing to go back to an era when 15 seconds to 60 was the norm.  

    As for sprawl and density, well, there are textbooks and a lot of research dedicated to those topics, so I’m not going to try distilling that into a paragraph.  I will say, though, that our policies are presently exacerbating the problem.  Zoning that makes higher density development illegal, laws that restrict dense development if it adversely affects traffic flow, lack of regional planning coordination in many places, large-scale government subsidization of automobile infrastructure, and lack of transit options are amongst the many things making sprawl worse.  Like I’ve been saying, it’s the policies that need to change. 

  • Joe R.

    “The question is how long it takes to get there, and consumers are not willing to go back to an era when 15 seconds to 60 was the norm.”

    And if the industry moved towards EVs, there would be no compromises needed to get a vehicle which is both efficient and accelerates quickly. That being said, in this era where location can be pinpointed with GPS, I would prefer that vehicles be locked into much lower acceleration rates when on local urban roads. The reason for fast acceleration is ostensibly for safe highway merging. On local urban roads where bicycles can easily keep up with typical traffic acceleration rates (I do it all the time) maximum acceleration capabilities should be disabled in favor of something like a 3 mph/sec rate. You could even enhance this further by governing the vehicle to the speed limit (on local streets anyway). It’s all too easy with today’s cars to quickly reach speeds which are highly dangerous on mixed roads with pedestrians and cyclists. That was my reason for mentioning that we should go to lower power-to-weight ratios. If we can electronically limit acceleration where appropriate, then the public can have their cake and eat it too.

    Forgetting legal speed limits, I feel the US should do one of two things regarding long distance ground transportation. Either build HSR, which is by far the most sensible option, or greatly increase legal highway speed limits, perhaps over a number of years. Remember that most Interstate highways have design speeds of 100 mph or better. Increase speed limits in stages, including minimum speeds. Allow even higher speeds for electrics. At some point clunky vehicles like SUVs will be too inefficient and unstable to keep up, effectively ending their reason for being.

  •  The drawback is that you have to choose from what granite the stone yard has on hand. You will have to be flexible on what you are willing to install in your kitchen or bathroom. You can also be patient. The stone yards inventory of remnant pieces can change from day to day if they are a busy shop. Check back often and you will definitely be able to find something that will look beautiful in your home.

  • Just doing those two things would have made SUVs less successful or more costly. And if the car companies couldn’t offer huge amounts of small automobiles to balanced out the inadequate gas mileage of SUVs, then they would have been topic to huge charges.

  • sturtgiges

    you are right..i agree with you.

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