Stuff and Nonsense

14 07 2008

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

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10 responses

14 07 2008
Josh Maxwell

I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

14 07 2008
archvillain

Josh- I’m glad you like my uncategorized blather. I appreciate the comment.

15 07 2008
44 mpg by 2010

The following is provided for consumer awareness and education.

For those wanting information regarding fuel economies available in the US:

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/byMPG.htm
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/2008bymanuf.jsp?year=2008
http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/2008bymanuf.jsp?year=2009

Here are the 10 members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM):
http://www.autoalliance.org/index.cfm?objectid=2F8FEC8C-1D09-317F-BB0A2E89FBF385CA

Here are a few sources for what is available outside the US:
http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/search
http://www.autocar.co.uk/SpecsPrices/SpecsAndPrices.aspx

If you are interested in vehicles getting over 42 mpg(US) combined cycle, search the site below for vehicles with fuel economy of 51 mpg(Imperial) or greater. It is surprising how many Ford and GM/Vauxhall vehicles are in this catagory, about 72 in fact. There are about 188 from members of AAM.
http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/search/fuelConSearch.asp

PETROL VEHICLES WITH 120g/km CO2 OR LESS:
http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/information/how-to-use-the-data-tables.asp#petrol

DIESEL VEHICLES WITH 120g/km CO2 OR LESS:
http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/information/how-to-use-the-data-tables.asp#diesel

IF you get angry after studying this material …. here are two more websites that might be of help? Well, at least you can tell them what you think!
http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

I hope you find this information useful.

15 07 2008
MathMike

There are a couple of reasons you don’t see those diesel engines in America. They use a different formula for diesel in Europe, and the emissions on those engines would not meet many state requirements.

15 07 2008
archvillain

44 MPG- Thanks for the links.

MathMike- You’re probably right. I understand that the new US diesel guidelines are significantly more restrictive than they used to be, but the small diesel vehicle I mentioned in my rant manages to be both fuel efficient and meet the new standards. The auto makers can build the engines we ought to be using, but they don’t- because of the pervasive myth that “Americans won’t buy diesels“.

The fact that refineries seemingly have to brew different fuel mixes for each state puts a serious bottleneck in our supply chain, for little benefit (IMO). At some point, supply and demand would favor getting rid of the multiplicity of local and state fuel standards in favor of a much smaller collection of standards which are universally applicable. Unfortunately, normal rules of cause and effect are trumped by local politics.

15 07 2008
44 mpg by 2010

MathMike (07:39:52) : “There are a couple of reasons you don’t see those diesel engines in America. They use a different formula for diesel in Europe, and the emissions on those engines would not meet many state requirements.”

Actually the US diesel fuel (ULSD) is almost identical to the Euro diesel. The US has about a 10 ppm high sulfur content.

So far 5 different auto companies have solutions to EVEN THE TIGHTEST EMISSION REQUIREMENTS in the US , California.

NOT the D3 though. But the D3 could license the solutions IF they wanted to!

archvillain (09:12:48) : “The auto makers can build the engines we ought to be using, but they don’t- because of the pervasive myth that “Americans won’t buy diesels“. The fact that refineries seemingly have to brew different fuel mixes for each state puts a serious bottleneck in our supply chain, for little benefit (IMO). At some point, supply and demand would favor getting rid of the multiplicity of local and state fuel standards in favor of a much smaller collection of standards which are universally applicable.”

Challenge: Not because of the pervasive myth that “Americans won’t buy diesels“.

I think it is because D3 has not educated the US consumer that there ARE DIESELS … OTHER THAN ones developed from the “truck side of the family tree”!

Do you know of ANY PRODUCTION US automotive diesel (turbo or not) that REDLINEs above 4,000 RPM? Many do in Europe.

Blends are generally not an issue with diesel, except in the case of bio diesel blends, ie, B-??.

There are a multitude of seasonally adjusted gasoline blends specifically for areas with unique atmospheric pollution risks (ozone and the likes). However, efforts are currently underway to reduce the number of “special” gasoline blends.

Reduced gasoline consumption through increased used of diesel cars could possibly further reduce the need for “special” gasoline blends.

15 07 2008
Layman Pong

Thinking?
Please; I’m rather busy!

16 07 2008
archvillain

44 mpg- I agree that there are several good diesel engines from Europe that would do well here- including passing every state’s emmission standards. The fact remains that there is a widespread perception that Americans won’t buy diesels- for exactly the reasons you stated. The general perception of diesels in the US is that of noisy, slow, and smelly engines suitable only for large vehicles. If the US auto makers would follow your suggestion and license the smaller diesel engines and put them in passenger cars and light trucks, and run advertising campaigns to tout the advantages of diesels, this perception could be overcome.

From my own research, I know that VW and Mercedes both offer diesel engines for passenger vehicles. I don’t know if any Nipponese manufacturers offer comparable engines.

One of the reasons gasoline costs so much is the hundreds of different blends required for different sections of the country- thus reducing the supply of any given blend. Given a reduced supply and increasing demand, prices are going to rise. Granted that fuel blends for the Lower 48 might not perform well in Alaska (for one obvious example), the country does not need a different fuel blend for every county and township in the US (this is hyperbole for the sake of illustration). If we could develop standards which account for geographic variations and adopt them nationally, the scads of different fuel blends could be reduced to a much smaller number- and thereby increase the available supply.

But that’s engineering. Engineering always takes a back seat to politics.

1 09 2008
Buzz Lightyear

Your cost comparison says it all. A $0.50 per 100 mile difference in cost isn’t enough to drive consumers to change. At 20,000 miles per year that amounts to a whopping $100. What I don’t understand is why diesel costs 25% more than gasoline in the U.S.? In Europe (where fuel taxes amount to about 75% of the cost per gallon) diesel is around 7% cheaper than gasoline.

Audi once advertised in Germany that their diesel powered A6 would get you 600 miles per tank. Fairly impressive if you consider that an A6 isn’t a roller skate and has, probably, a 15 gallon tank.

2 09 2008
archvillain

Buzz: I’m an engineer, so a fifty cent per hundred miles savings sounds like a pretty good deal for the lifespan of my vehicles. As for the price of diesel in the US, my guess is the lack of general consumer demand could be to blame. Diesel fuel is largely used by professional drivers. There are a lot of these, but their numbers pale in comparison with the herds of passenger vehicle drivers. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: there’s less diesel available because few people use it. Few people use diesel because it’s so hard to find and so expensive.

The good news is that several automakers are building diesel passenger vehicles for the US market. Most of these will be available for the 2010 model year- including a couple from Acura and Honda. Assuming more diesel-powered passenger vehicles hit the roads in North America, the demand will eventually force refineries to produce more diesel. This ought to help normalize the price.

I tend to view any fuel economy claim based on miles per tank with a jaundiced eyeball. The standard expression is miles per gallon, because that is a useful figure. Miles per tank is simply a cheap ploy to conceal abyssmal fuel economy. For example, Land Systems OMC makes a large van-like vehicle for transporting valuable cargoes at the mines. This vehicle gets 600 miles per tank of fuel. This sounds impressive, until you learn that the vehicle has a 50-gallon tank. The companies boasting of their vehicle’s mileage per tank are counting on the average consumer being too stupid to do basic math.

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