Opinion: Gas Mileage

Many years ago, when I worked in Munich, I visited the BMW museum, where I saw a vehicle that carried four people and did 30MPG. It was built in 1938.

Nearly seventy years later, a four-door sedan gets about… 30MPG. If you’re lucky.

Before the oil shocks of the 1970s, Americans were driving two-ton tanks and were laughing at the little Japanese econoboxes. Thirty years later, history is repeating itself.

Have we learned nothing?

Show an American a Smart Car and they laugh. Tell them that it gets up to 60MPG and the laughing subsides… but only because Big Oil is putting them in the poorhouse.

The good news is that the Smart Car is coming to the USA. The bad news is that their first offering in the US will be an SUV… which does not, to me, seem very smart. This is a consequence of most people over here viewing small cars as “unsafe” – as if you need a V8 engine and two tons of metal, plastic, rubber, hair teeth and eyeballs to get two hundred pounds of human from home to work… but I digress.

So what went wrong? What happened was this: For every advance the geeks in engineering gave to us, the marketing boys made them add on a few more power-sapping gadgets and put smaller engines in bigger, heavier vehicles… then spent millions persuading us that this was what we really wanted.It has become clear to me that most Americans are not concerned about fuel economy. Watch the ads for the new 2006 models and listen for the words “fuel economy”. You won’t hear them. The larger SUVs do not even have fuel economy requirements – mostly as a result of lobbying efforts by the automobile industry.

What Americans really want is performance and safety; unfortunately the former guzzles fuel while the latter is associated with size and weight…, which also guzzles fuel. They tend to see cheap gas and huge vehicles as theirs by divine right, and would rather complain about the prices than actually do anything about it.

Sadly, I don’t see this mentality changing anytime soon.

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