I overheard in passing a television commercial flogging some gas-guzzler or another where the announcer boldly proclaimed that the vehicle could go 400 miles on a tank of gas. I was literally awestruck by the sheer stupidity of that statement. I sputtered incoherently for a few minutes before going off on a profanity-filled tirade that only ended when my wife physically shoved me out of the room and gave me a beer.
For those of you weak on basic mathematics, 400 miles on a tank of gas is nothing to write home about. Assuming the vehicle has a 15-gallon tank, that comes out to 26.62 miles per gallon. With a 20-gallon tank, the vehicle only gets 20 miles per gallon. By way of comparison, my 4-year-old Buick Medicare Sled gets better than 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
I’m pretty sure that the manufacturer and the marketroids who dreamed up this drivel are counting on their target demographic being truly stupid and/or ignorant of elementary-school mathematics. The fact that they’re selling SUVs to this demographic confirms my long-held belief that only morons drive SUVs (with some notable exceptions). When I see an SUV on the highway with chips and scratches in the paint and mud splattered as high as the windows, I tend to assume that the driver is using the vehicle for its intended purpose. Far too often, however, the SUV is immaculate- freshly washed and waxed, with expensive rims and loads of nice-looking but fragile adornments. The people who drive these land behemoths are morons.
A similar group of imbeciles are those who drive pick-up trucks with the teeny-tiny bed. These vehicles are invariably squeeky clean and never have anything in the bed. The cab of the truck is usually a study in luxury. Why buy a “luxury” pick-up or SUV? Pick-ups were designed to carry things and tow trailers. This is the sole reason for their exemption from the mileage requirements of cars. The people who drive these vehicles are either deliberately throwing their money away (for fuel, insurance, and tires) or are congenitally stupid. In either case, stay the Hell away from them on the roads.
Now let us move on to the manufacturers. There are several proven ways to improve the fuel efficiency of an internal-combustion engine. Sadly, most of these methods come at the cost of making the vehicle less safe. One of the few means of improving efficiency without reducing safety is to use diesel engines.
There are several diesel engine designs already in use in Europe which could be put to good use in the US. For some reason, most of the auto makers in the US refuse to use them. Diesel-powered passenger vehicles in this country are typically eight- and ten-cylinder monsters used in the largest pick-ups for towing heavy loads, and they get lousy fuel economy because they’re designed for hauling, not cruising. These huge engines are very good at what they do, but would not be practical for ordinary passenger vehicles.
There is one auto maker who builds a very nice four-cylinder diesel for passenger cars. The EPA estimated mileage for this vehicle is 44 mpg on the highway, but Car & Driver magazine test-drove one of these cars and got 53 mpg out of it. Very impressive. There are two problems with this vehicle. One- there aren’t enough of them. The manufacturer only produces a small number for the US market because of a perception that Americans won’t buy diesels. Hopefully, the fact that there are long waiting lists for the few they produce will encourage them to make more.
The second problem with this vehicle is it’s size. It is a small car. The cabin is well-designed to allow just about anyone to fit in the driver’s seat, but that leaves very little room for anything else. Trunk space and the back seats are laughably small.
What this country needs is a fuel efficient five- or six-cylinder diesel engine for passenger cars and light trucks. Why aren’t the auto makers building one?
Let’s take a look at fuel prices. For purposes of this discussion, we will assume that diesel fuel costs 25% more than gasoline. Thus, when gasoline is at four dollars a gallon, diesel will be five dollars. Let us further assume that diesel engines are 30% more fuel efficient than gasoline engines of comparable size. We shall use my car as the test vehicle. If the car gets 30 mpg highway, then I can travel 100 miles for $13.32. A comparable diesel engine should get 39 mpg, giving me a cost of $12.80 to drive 100 miles.
Assuming diesel only costs 25% more than gas and assuming diesel engines get 30% more miles per gallon, then diesel engines would seem to be the way to go. I’m not an automotive engineer, so I don’t know how close these figures are. I based them on a comparison between the gas- and diesel- powered versions of the same small passenger car using EPA numbers (not the much higher figures from Car & Driver) and the difference between gasoline and diesel at the local pumps (in other words, not quite a wild guess).
So, why aren’t the auto makers turning out passenger vehicles with diesel engines? Take a look at the idiot in your mirror.
We, the People, have permitted manufacturers and merchants to pander to the lowest common denominator- and that denominator is pretty low and common, based on the TV ads. Companies whose advertisements insult your intelligence should not be rewarded by purchasing their products. “This vehicle gets 400 miles to the tank” is an example of an ad campaign targeted on the barely sentient. Every time someone purchases one of those vehicles, they are rewarding the company who made it for speaking to them in baby-talk.
We, the People, can use the power of the Market to force companies to stop treating us like ignorant children. Becoming an informed consumer is not terribly difficult. You should have learned the required skills in elementary school. All you have to do is make sure your brain is in gear before considering a purchase.
Based on the TV ads, I would guess that a solid majority of Americans have their brains in neutral. Wake up! Using your brain helps you make your money go farther. There are lots of simple things you can do to save money and maintain a decent lifestyle.
But first, you have to think.
Current status: Churlish
Current music: I Hate California by Jonathan Coulton