Today the President announced that new cars would be required to achieve 39 miles per gallon in a few years time. Given the current state of America’s automobile industry this was an optimistic road to take.
I would be delighted to achieve mileage in that range as I am sure most of us would. We need to acknowledge though that to achieve higher mileage we will have to pay in other ways.
The fastest way to improve motor vehicle’s fuel consumption is to make it as light as possible. Unfortunately motor vehicles have steadily been gaining weight over the years and it is not just the SUV’s and full-sized pickup trucks. Sedans and coupes have also put on pounds. A big factor for the weight gain is due to more stringent crash requirements by the Federal government.
Even before the new mileage requirements go into effect new roll-over requirements will challenge the car companies. Frontal and side impact requirements continue to demand more from automotive design.
Engineers can add more metal and weight to achieve these requirements or resort to more exotic materials that, while far lighter, will be more costly to produce and manufacture.
More “air bags” (SRS) positioned about the cabin require more expensive design and computer networking within each vehicle.
It is true that there are new technologies that are yet to be applied broadly to the internal combustion engines sold as power plants to US motor vehicles. Technologies such as direct injection, that will cut fuel consumption and emissions. More exotic methods of controlling and varying valve timing will come into play as well.
Aerodynamics can also be improved, but that factor only comes in to play at speeds that, well, consume more fuel.
We can add more hybrids and pure electric vehicles to the mix to enhance the fleet average, too.
If you are expecting me to say that this new national requirement is a bad thing you are going to be disappointed. The stated goal is a good one. It would be good to reduce “greenhouse gas emissions” (what ever they really are) and it would be good to get more miles out of a given unit of fuel. But when you ask for all that you must be careful that you understand all that you are asking for and what it will cost in other areas to achieve it.
Would you be willing to give up safety in order to have a lighter vehicle? Would you be willing to live with slow acceleration and limited top speed so that fuel consumption would be enhanced? Would you be willing to pay twice what you pay now for a motor vehicle so that you could have everything you have now and better mileage?
You didn’t hear any push-back from the automobile companies because they know that their very existence is now in the hands of the Federal government.
All the desires for lower fuel consumption, enhanced safety, lower emissions, etc. may very well be achieved, but only as measured at the vehicle itself. Do your math so that it includes the emissions, safety, and fuel used during design, manufacture, transportation, and distribution. There is no free lunch. It all has to come from somewhere.
We live in interesting times.