The Current State of Transportation
Its been a long time since I have had a good rant, so here we go:
There are several problems with the American auto industry. The fuel mileage problem stems back to the 1950s post-war era...life was good, everything was bigger, better, faster. Prices were low because our economy was in a boom. Along come the 1970s....things weren't really the same anymore, but good ole America decided to keep trucking with the same values as the previous 2 decades....gas would be cheap again someday, why change the way we operate....Lets put a band-aid on the situation and keep making HUGE cars except put a few smaller engines in them and call it economical.
The past 2 decades have seen ups and downs, but people are finally realizing that those "good ole days" aren't coming back, so there is a fundamental industry shift happening. The most graphic example are the government bailouts of big auto.
I am often ashamed of the way much of this country works....paying union laborers insane salaries to produce really shitty cars is just one of the many low points we have seen.
Fortunately the past several years has seen a nice advance in the "mid-size" car segments. (anything roughly the size of the ford fusion). Automakers are still pushing vehicles that are too large.
I completely blame the automakers here: For several decades, all they sold were huge vehicles...suddenly everyone expects them and are trained to think that the bigger vehicles are better, more comfortable, and safer.
This strangles the small car segments that EVERY OTHER COUNTRY has. In USA, people purchase a vehicle with characteristics they *might* need at some point in the future. I would love for there to be some analysis of vehicle buyers and veto their choice of transportation.......
"Hmmm....so you want to buy a Dodge Durango.....Does it snow where you live?"
"Do you have 4 kids?"
"Do you frequently go offroad?"
"Do you haul large loads of cargo?"
"Do you tow trailers?"
....so wtf do you need this vehicle for? You drive 20miles per day in city traffic and you average 14mpg....how was this a wise choice.?
It isn't wise, but people often have this inferiority complex. I go into a silent rage every time I seen a tiny blonde women piloting a Yukon Denali.....that is $50,000 of gass suckingness, and you use it to put around town.
People never purchase based upon their need, they purchase based upon this dreamy image of themselves that will never become a reality.
Like everyone who purchases a Jeep or Land Rover...extremely capable vehicles, but they will never venture off-road because they are scared of doing anything adventurous.
Everyday on my way to work, some asshole in an F-150 (or larger) passes me on the highway at 85....why do you need a pickup truck to commute? Get a second car and leave the truck at home. Take your truck out on weekends to tailgate when you actually need it.
Now lets talk about safety.
Safety is a good thing (to a point. I'm not sure how I feel about all the intelligent equipment the luxury cars have now...parallel parking, lane departure, blind spot warning, pre-collision braking...)
The biggest flaw in the safety is the drivers education program in this country. They need to weed out bad drivers before they ever get to the road. But nobody has the balls to fix it. Some states do not even TEACH parallel parking. The biggest progress i have ever seen was a panel discussion held by Autoweek Magazine where they run an entire issue around drivers education.
Some of the best solution I have ever heard: "Make everyone learn to ride a motorcycle before they can pilot a car" <- This way they will either learn to respect the road with other large shiny bullets flying around them...or they will die from their stupidity before they even get behind the wheel. I LOVE this idea (very darwinian)
The BIGGEST problem I see with safety is the huge disparity of vehicle sizes. In europe, everyone has roughly the same size vehicle. Same in mexico. When you crash, you are crashing into something your size. NOT SO in the USA. When big car meets small car...guess who wins? This perpetuates the idea that we need to put our drivers in BIG vehicles to protect them from crashing into someone driving the Excursion.
In response, we do our best to make smaller vehicles safer, and there have been HUGE advances since the Pinto. I owned a car that weighed 4800lbs and had no airbags or other electronic safety features. Now I own a car that weighs 2300lbs and has airbags. I don't really feel a big difference in my safety. I believe that the maneuverability of my Celica will help me avoid bad situations before they occur...again it comes down to driving skill.
Now we can get to MPG. All the safety features in cars comes at a price: Weight. In order to maintain the same level of performance with added weight, they increase engine size. Which directly affects the fuel economy. I still don't understand why engines are always getting bigger, and cars are always getting larger.....its unnecessary.
Finally we are getting back to the point: Mini Coopers get awesome gas mileage...40+ highway (below 70mph) Ford Fiestas 40+ MPG highway. But neither of these cars are "big enough" for the greedy americans.
My mother loved the idea of my car (sporty little Celica)...but the moment she got in it...she said: NO the hood is too short. WTF? Since when does hood length correlate to ANYTHING? That is a mental barrier that she has installed that comes directly from the American love affair with big cars.
Now onto CAFE standards......such a deceptive measure....only applies to actual vehicles SOLD..so as long as they sell enough of their fuel efficient models, they can tip the average in their favor.
AND light trucks are a completely different category subject to much more lenient requirements.
2011 Car: 30.2MPG
2011 Light Truck: 24.1MPG
on top of all this, certain huge vehicles (Excursion, Hummer) were EXEMPT because they exceeded the GVWR of 8500lbs. SO the biggest gas suckers weren't even counted against CAFE average....sell all you want...
AND automakers get ridiculous benefits for selling the Flex-fuel E85 ethanol vehicles....along with other credits for hybrids.
So automakers complain, but its really cushy.
And never mind the fact that few people will ever see the MPG ratings that are printed on the window stickers.....That comes down to driving conditions and driving style. I am fortunate to average really high due to the fact that 95% of my driving is on the highway. But I also know how to drive around town and still get good mileage.
And now to Diesels. Most of the stigma on diesels stems from cars like my Mercedes from the late 70s early 80s....lots of noise, fumes, and black smoke. That was a big turnoff for people. Even though diesel fuel was cheaper than gas through the mid 2000s...even though disel engines are far more efficient. My big mercedes never averaged below 24mpg and got as high as 28mpg. This car was made in 1984, back when all the other comparably sized american station wagons would get about 18mpg.
New disels have none of these problems....in fact, you are hard pressed to know they are a diesel from 10 feet away. They just purr now. AND they are emissions legal in all 50 states now due to new emissions control.
I really want to get behind the wheel and test things out:
Mercedes Benz E320 BlueTEC: ~26mpg full time average for a full size sedan...
Volkswagen Jetta TDI: ~35..up to 42mpg (Definitely no lower than 30) This is for a reasonable size sedan that would suit the needs of most americans...also available in spacious wagon form
BMW 335d: 28-35mpg
What is more impressive are the engines that we DON'T Have due to emissions or lack of demand...
Smart ForTwo Diesel: 50+mpg
Mini Diesel: 50+ mpg
Those are hybrid numbers without all the hybrid crap (weight, batteries that need replacing....lack of power)
What we need is more innovation and automakers who aren't afraid to cut the fat from their lines. The bad news is..the light truck segment is extremely profitable, but it is unethical and irresponsible to continue to make and sell vehicles that people don't need. While there are numerous exceptions to this rule and many individuals that actually use the utility of their vehicles....I would say they are the minority.