By on January 7, 2012

The car industry is under pressure to improve fuel efficiency. It is not that they have been sitting on their thumbs. Automakers have achieved large increases in fuel efficiency through better technology in recent decades, says MIT economist Christopher Knittel.

The problem is:

“Most of that technological progress has gone into compensating for weight and horsepower.”

Between 1980 and 2006, the average gas mileage of vehicles sold in the United States increased by slightly more than 15 percent. During that time, the average curb weight increased 26 percent, their horsepower rose 107 percent.  At the same time, the fuel economy of the engines actually increased by 60 percent between 1980 and 2006, Knittel shows in a new research paper, “Automobiles on Steroids,” published in the American Economic Review [$$$].  Most of those savings were used to buy more weight and horsepower.

If we would be driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 mpg to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg, Knittel says.

Currently, better fuel economy is mandated through complicated and sometimes skewed CAFE rules. Knittel thinks that compliance is easy: Maintain the rate of technological innovation experienced since 1980, and reduce the weight and horsepower of the average vehicle sold by 25 percent. Bingo, CAFE complied with.

If the country would shift back to the average weight and power common in 1980, a fleet-wide average of 52 mpg could be reached by 2020, Knittel calculates. However, Knittel does not think it will happen by itself.

The CAFE regulations will “end up reducing the cost of driving. If you force people to buy more fuel-efficient cars through CAFE standards, you actually get what’s called ‘rebound,’ and they drive more than they would have.”

Knittel’s solution?

“When it comes to climate change, leaving the market alone isn’t going to lead to the efficient outcome. The right starting point is a gas tax.”

(Hat tip to Dipl. Ing you-know-who)

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77 Comments on “MIT Professor: Put Cars On A Diet!...”


  • avatar

    I’ve been saying something like this for years. But the extra weight isn’t just because the designers are lazy, its to meet crash standards that have been slowly getting tougher year over year. Not to sound like a crazy person, but can’t we all just agree that cars were safe enough in 1995, or something and stop building 100% of cars to protect the occupants in an accident that will only happen to less than 1% of them? Every extra pound put into crash safety structure means more momentum when this vehicle hits another one.

    Another big weight gain factor is automatic power everything on even economy cars. How much extra weight do you think it takes to make a manual seat into an 8 way power adjustable one? How many times does anyone actually do any adjusting of it?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In 1980, most other cars you were likely to hit were also smaller. Now, half the cars on the roads are Suburbans and F150s.

      It’s only natural that everyone individually wants to be as safe as possible, hence buying a heavier car. But that choice ends up making everyone else less safe, which is an external cost that is not borne by the buyer himself, hence won’t play a role in his choice of car.

      Since people already have strong incentives to look out for their own safety, the current safety regime, focused on protecting a car’s occupants, is superfluous, perhaps even detrimental if it causes weights to go up, in the bigger picture. Instead, standards should focus on making each driver pay for the added cost, in decreased safety, he imposed on others by his choice of vehicle.

      In practice, that would likely mean crash testing, but focusing on damage to the vehicle NOT tested. Then, if it turns out an Escalade causes more damage to, say, a Corolla than a Miata does, impose a levy on the Escalade. The optimal testing regimen is way beyond me, but at least something like that would get things pointed in the right direction, not in the direction of everyone driving around in Sherman Tanks, just because everyone else does so as well.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        “In 1980, most other cars you were likely to hit were also smaller. Now, half the cars on the roads are Suburbans and F150s.”

        What about all the aircraft-carrier-size battlewagons that Detroit churned out for half a century beginning in the 1930s? Those old barges were all over the place in 1980. If I had to guess, I’d say the median vehicle size bottomed out around ’80s Cutlass, LTD size in 1987 or so, then plumped up again as the SUV boom started up.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        Excellent point Stuki. I have also argued for requiring drivers of overly large vehicles (more than 216 in. long, 80 in. wide, 4400 lbs) to have Class A drivers licenses. The soccer moms would be back in Mini-Vans where they belong.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I don’t agree that safety is the reason for the increase in weight. Rather, I believe that Americans are simply infatuated with large vehicles. They justify it by saying they need the space for their kids and their kids’ stuff. They say they need the extra height. A luxury enjoyed twice becomes a necessity.

      I do agree that we are seeing diminishing returns on safety if not diminished safety. All the extra lights & extra bright lights blind as many other drivers as prevent accidents. Ever-larger cars are more likely to kill other drivers and block their visibility as save a life. Cars are only part of the equation for safety–the design & maintenance of roads and the drivers are other factors that IMO are often ignored.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I say that aerodynamics have suffered thanks to designers, remember the original Ford Taurus?

      Yea it was bland, but it was very aerodynamic with hardly any “sporty” fins, spoilers, or wrinkles to get the gas mileage.

      As for safety… well I always believed that small cars were safer, since you’re less likely to get hit.

      Of course, having to have back-up cameras (thanks to blind spots via bad design), bluetooth enabled XM radio, 9 standard airbags, and several tranny modes won’t make cars any lighter anytime soon.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Years ago a writer for one of the car rags had some cars with factory spoilers tested in a wind tunnel to determine what effect these things had on aerodynamics. In almost every case, save for Porsche, the wings increased drag without improving vehicle stability…in some cases, the wings actually made the cars more unstable at high speed. The writer then contacted most of the auto companies to discuss his findings. No one would talk to him with the exception of an engineer at Ford. When he told the Ford engineer what he discovered regarding factory installed wings, the Ford engineer replied that it was well known in the industry. So if the auto companies know that these wings actually mess up aerodynamics, why do they install them? According to the Ford engineer, it’s because the customer demands it. The Ford engineer claimed that customers don’t want wings that really work because, “they don’t look right”.

    • 0 avatar
      Burnout

      Gotta be able to roll that car and survive…roll and survive I says!!!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    We are in an automotive arms race but in some ways it is more of a “safety” race than a HP race. This info is not new, time for some cost benefit analysis to prove whether a saftey inovation that costs $X per car provides $X benefit.

  • avatar

    It would be nice to have an impartial analysis of how much today’s cars’ heavy weight is really due to government mandated safety standards. When I spoke to Bob Lutz at a Chevy Volt event last year about Lotus, he was said that most of the weight increase that Lotus vehicles will undergo is due to regs. Since Lotus has said that they want to go upmarket with more luxurious cars, that means more soundproofing and other weight enhancing features, so I’m skeptical. Still, like I said it would be nice to have an impartial look at it. Ten sets of airbags and sensors and wire to connect them ends up being a non-trivial amount of weight.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      What would it cost to get representative junk yard cars, top seller early 80s vs. top seller recent past, take them apart, and weigh the pieces? Lots of labor, but the pieces could be sold to cover costs.

      I suspect that more government regulations is only half the reason for the bloat and customer demand for larger, more substantial feeling vehicles with more luxury features is the other half. Are we getting more steel and air bags, or more leather, bigger wheels, and more accessories? It takes lots of engineering effort to simultaneously increase “refinement”, reduce cost, and reduce weight. Some cars like the GM Epsilon II Buick Regal and 2013 Chevrolet Malibu and Chrysler LX Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 seem to have gone all in on substantial feel at the expense of hundreds of extra pounds.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Hold on–consider: Why compare weights to the early ’80s? The oil embargo was still a fresh memory, car companies had gotten small cars in full swing, etc. That tells me the small, lightweight, efficient pendulum had swung way off to the extreme at that time. It was a knee-jerk period. Vehicles probably were too light, thus comparing cars today against them is a mistake.

      Rather, let’s use more historical data and figure out what the ideal weight/size/power of cars really ought to be, and compare today’s cars to that. I expect the result will be that cars now are way too big, overweight but not obese (for their size), and likewise overpowered but not insanely so.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        I believe the optimums of size, weight, and power were met and passed somewhere in the mid-90s.

        Cars from model years around 1980 could not reliably and safely maintain today’s highway speeds even when new. The three I used as daily drivers felt like they were at the bleeding edge of their safety and power at less than 75 mph.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @redav: “Rather, let’s use more historical data and figure out what the ideal weight/size/power of cars really ought to be, and compare today’s cars to that. I expect the result will be that cars now are way too big, overweight but not obese (for their size), and likewise overpowered but not insanely so.”

        I don’t think it’s fair to compare the mass of a modern car the mass of a 1980s car this way. The laws of physics have not changed, but engineering methods have changed a great deal over the last 15 years or so. In particular, the widespread use of finite element analysis to do virtual crash tests of cars:

        Keep in mind that they have to crash some real cars to validate the simulations, but they don’t have to crash a dozen cars for every iteration of the design.

        What this means is that we know much better how to build crash protection into a vehicle, and use less metal doing it.

        There are a number of other things that have happened, too. Electronic controls that do a 1950s-style tuneup of a car engine every 100ms is a big deal. And consistency of manufacture has come a long way, thanks in no small part to the Toyota System.

        So, while I agree that we should figure out what the ideals are for vehicles with various purposes (some people do need to haul 10k trailers), I don’t agree that looking at the historical weights of cars over time is the right way to do it.

        As to the bigger topic, I agree generally with the article. My wife’s Prius has more power than I actually need to drive safely (because I think ahead). My old 4-banger Ranger had plenty of power, too, for a 3300lb vehicle (112HP according to my ScanGauge). My “new” 2002 Escape (200HP V6 in a 3300lb vehicle) is overpowered in my opinion — it’s a hoot to drive but it’s far more powerful then it needs to be. The Escape would still be able to do everything well with a far less powerful engine, just so long as it was paired with a smooth transmission that uses the engine’s sweet spots correctly. A 4-banger and a CVT would be just as good as the V6.

        One other thing that I noticed when driving my 200HP V6 — it’s peak torque is almost exactly the same as the peak torque on my old VW Jetta TDI — 196 FT-LBS. Also, the Escape’s 3300lbs curb-weight of the Escape is within 10% of the 3000lb curb-weight of my old Jetta. And, yet, the Jetta was a very very fast car with 96hp in a 1.9L turbodiesel engine. The Escape could probably take the Jetta on a drag strip, but if the task is to drive 90 miles through the Appalachian mountains, I’d give the Jetta TDI a slight edge — even though it has half the horsepower for a comparable (within 10%) weight. Unless that Jetta needed to stop for a week swap another f-ing 01M automatic transmission, of course, but that’s because it’s a Volkswagen.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Luke, you missed the point. To measure progress, you have to compare products of today to yesteryear. The question is thus what is the best & most relevant comparison, and what does that comparison tell us?

    • 0 avatar
      nuvista

      The article states that the average curb weight of the [new vehicle] fleet increased by 26% from 1980 to 2006. There are two ways this can occur: (a) increase in the weight of individual vehicles of the same type and size and (b) consumers buying a higher percentage of larger heavier vehicles. Let’s start with (b).

      The 1980 new vehicle fleet consisted of 83% cars and 17% trucks. By 2004, the ratio changed to 50% cars and 50% trucks, largely due to the explosion in SUV sales. The average EPA test weight of the 2004 truck fleet was 4802 lbs versus 3543 lbs for cars. (2004 is the closest year to 2006 for which I have weights.)

      The 1984 average weights were 3804 lbs for trucks and 3170 lbs for cars. (I used the closest year to 1980 for which I have figures for both cars and trucks.) The sales ratio was 74% cars to 26% trucks.

      Some quick math gives the following:
      2004 new vehicle fleet average 4172 lbs
      1984 new vehicle fleet average 3335 lbs
      2004 fleet average at 1984 cars to truck sales ratio 3870 lbs

      If the 2004 car to truck sales ratio was the same as it was in 1984, the weight gain would have been 535 lbs instead of 837 lbs. However, that’s not the complete picture because there was up-sizing within the cars and trucks categories.

      1984 vs 2004 car fleet
      Average weight, lbs 3170 3543
      Interior space, cu ft 108 111
      % Subcompact and smaller 29.4 9.3
      % Compact 27.9 35.6
      % Midsize 29.2 37.4
      % Large 13.5 16.7

      The average car was clearly bigger in 2004 than 1984, yet the average weight went up by only 373 lbs, or 12%; despite additional safety, comfort and convenience features. This suggests that the additional safety features are responsible for less that 373 lbs in weight gain; i.e, less than 45% of the 837 lbs weight gain for the combined car and truck fleet.

      If we assume the comfort and convenience features add a modest 100 lbs, the safety features account for only a third of the weight gain of the combined car and truck fleet. Two thirds of the weight gain would therefore be attributable to consumers switching to larger and heavier vehicles, especially SUVs instead of cars, plus additional comfort and convenience features.

      The NHTSA reports that safety regulations from 1968 to 2001 added a total of 125 lbs to each passenger car and 86 lbs to light trucks.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    I can’t argue with one word of this article. So I won’t.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    In 1995, most cars had a driver’s side airbag, some had driver and passenger, and that was it. If you get t-boned in a car from 1995, you’re in BIG trouble. Fifth Gear also did a test a few years back of a ’90s era Volvo against a current compact Renault. The Volvo should win right? It’s big and heavy, and it’s a Volvo. It lost, and it lost badly. The Volvo occupants would’ve been seriously injured, while the Renault occupants would’ve walked.

    I’ll pay a bit more for gas to have a safe car, thanks, and for what its worth, car makers are starting to work at this, Audi especially with their lightweight concepts.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Ten years ago Hyundai was making light, tinny, fuel efficient cars that were ridiculed for being, well, light tinny cars. Fast forward 10 years and their cars are bigger, plusher, quieter, and more powerfull…and their sales take off amid praise from all corners.

      College professors and greens may pine for the cars of 1980, but there is no real market for the cars of yesterday. Even if you want one, odds are your significant other wants no part of it. Throw kids into the equation (their safety and the family’s comfort) and fuel economy takes a back seat.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        @Toad: “College professors and greens may pine for the cars of 1980, but there is no real market for the cars of yesterday. Even if you want one, odds are your significant other wants no part of it. Throw kids into the equation (their safety and the family’s comfort) and fuel economy takes a back seat.”

        You’re missing about 15 years of engineering history, especially the advent of computer modeling and the amount of power that modern cars have gained. These cars aren’t heavier because they have to be heavier — they’re heavier because they’re heavier. The laws of physics haven’t changed, but a modern car can be BOTH safer and lighter than the 1980s cars (but most are just faster) — because we’re far better at figuring out whether a particular part of a car’s structure needs to be heavy or light. Our ability to analyze designs has been improved by computing the same way that our ability to communicate has been improved.

        My mom’s used 2004 F-150 drives like a muscle car, and it has the power-to-weight of a performance car from when she grew up (in the 1950s and 1960s, when the truck is unloaded). It’s also far safer and vastly more capable than the F-150s that came before it. If it had the power-to-weight-ratio of a historical F-150, it would still be a useful and safe machine — it just wouldn’t drive like a freaking muscle car. THAT is the point that this professor is trying to make.

        My 2002 Ford Escape also drives a lot like a muscle car, too. I had a car of a similar weight (VW Jetta TDI) that literally had half of the power (200 HP vs 96HP), and the Jetta was still a really fast car. My Escape is a hoot to drive, but if you’d put 100hp turbodiesel engine in it, it would STILL be a hoot to drive — my Jetta sure was. THAT is the point that this professor is trying to make.

        The professor WASN’T advocating that we turn the clock back to the 1980s. Ignoring an entire generation of advances in engineering your straw man. He was advocating that we consider the idea that not every car needs to be a fire-breathing muscle car. Would the world be a worse place if an F-150 drove like a truck, and my Escape was only as fast as a Jetta TDI? If it saved me some fuel, it would work for me.

        P.S. I only bought the V6 escape because a) they’re easier to find than the I4, and b) the V6 has a timing chain and I was buying a > 100k-miles version of it. After hooning it around on the snow a bit, I have to say that all of that the extra power makes it a more dangerous snow-car than a more appropriately powered vehicle. It’s great fun to drive, and traded in my RWD manual no-TCS Ranger, so I can handle a vehicle that requires attention/care to drive — but, seriously, loosing a few horsepower WOULD make the Escape a better all-weather machine. It sure is fun mash the go-pedal on dry pavement, though.

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    If the country would shift back to the average weight, mandated safety features, and power common in 1980,

    FTFY.

    OTOH, if developments in SOFC density or onboard hydrocarbon->H2 reformulators pan out, going to a wholly electrified drivetrain with a moderate battery/capacitors and fuel cell that accepts gasoline (or preferably methanol created by solar wind or nucular) would provide significant gains in tank-to-road efficiency, but keeping modern safety and performance.

  • avatar
    Broo

    I have experience with two similar Toyota subcompacts : a ’89 Tercel and ’05 Echo.

    The Tercel’s weight was just below 800 KG, the Echo is a bit over 900.
    That’s 100 KG more (220 LBS !) for a car that is similar in size (both are/were 3 doors). The Tercel had 78 HP and the best I ever got was 42 MPG. The Echo has 108 HP and in good conditions I reach 60 MPG.

    This thread made me think what I could achieve by putting an Echo’s engine in such a Tercel.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      You probably wouldn’t gain as much as you would think. I think the real technological advance between 1989 and 2005 is aerodynamics. Your Echo has a cd of .29; the Tercel around .36.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Likewise, I wonder what kind of performance I could get if I could put old OS/software on today’s computers. Assuming they play nice together, it’d be blisteringly fast without all the dead weight in modern applications.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        If we got more companies cracking on it we could make cars lighter, the new Toyota 86Scion FR-S is a reasonably light car at 2,601 thanks to its light materials and small engine.

        What we need to do it stop this whole silly retro-styling stuff that just gives us boats like the new new Beetle, stop selling wheels the size of satellites, stop throwing on grilles and fins where not needed, and go back to functional designs.

        Only thing is everything would look like Toyota Siennas and Ford Taurus’s.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        It would suck. most of the old operating systems would be unable to utilize the amount of memory or multi core processors we have today. Kinda like installing a holley double pumper on your Veyron.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    The first generation GC body style Subaru Impreza gained nearly 400 pounds when it shifted to the second generation body style, mostly due to the boron carbide reinforced B pillar with a 8 layer sandwich of steel encompassing the pillar. Safety comes at a price, mostly being weight.

    Link to scanned image of article below:

    http://img164.imageshack.us/img164/5219/picture0999se.jpg

  • avatar
    wmba

    And in other news, MIT has discovered that the Sun will rise again tomorrow…..

    These weight, fuel economy and gas tax topics have been debated endlessly on this forum for years. Everyone except GM has been listening, why even Porsche lightened the Cayenne by a quarter ton or so making it only morbidly obese rather than a freak show.

    Meanwhile the average person buys a pickup truck whose size and handling compares well to school buses of the 1960s, and vehemently defends their choices.

    Will change ever take place? Stay tuned for Iran and the Strait of Hormuz blockade. Then the general public will whine and complain about the cost of gas and blame everyone but themselves for buying automotive tanks. Happened before, will happen again. Politicians leading from the rear.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I was reading about the MN12 (Thunderbird and Cougar) a couple days ago – people lost their jobs because it went over weight and budget targets. What’s sort of sad is that its 3500lbs weight seems almost Lotus-like today in the face of 4300lbs Taurii.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I have another idea. I see models like Chevy Cruise Eco, Ford Focus Eco, VW Golf Blue-e-motion, etc.

    They all have aerodynamic bumpers, lights, grills, rims, mirrors, etc. What if instead of reducing weight dramatically, we just put those on every car?

    I live in Wyoming and on the back roads the winds can get up to 70-85 mph. I specifically bought heavy cars (Tahoe + Q7) so I don’t get blown off the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I argued that with the Tahoe Hybrid, why not do it to all the SUVs in that family? (Not the Hybrid system but the aerodynamic tweaks.)

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Most cars are much better at aerodynamics today. However, trucks have been largely ignored. That’s some low-hanging fruit that’s ripe for the plucking.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      Insert meme ‘not sure if serious’…

      So you bought high profile vehicles to counteract high wind forces in an effort to keep you from blowing off the road?

      You know they issue high profile vehicle warnings when the winds are like that right? Out here in the plains of the Dakota’s we get the same kinds of winds you do, and I’ve happened to have driven through Wyoming and Utah in winds like you describe in a low profile Subaru wagon with no problems whatsoever, despite its measly 3200 pound weight.

      The only kinds of vehicles I saw in ditches were semi trucks and SUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yeah when I was learning to drive (in 1992) in the spring winds of Ohio (40+ mph not quite the plains speeds) it was much harder to handle my Dad’s slab sided Caprice wagon then handling the 1982 Chevy Celebrity that became my first car.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        @Educator(of teachers)Dan

        This is the reason that there is no longer a Jeep Liberty in the garage. Some of those drives were simply terrifying in an SUV with winds like that.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Our 78 Fiesta got 44 mpg on the highway if you did the speed limit. But it polluted much more than today’s Fiesta, and wasn’t nearly as safe or quick. But it was good enough for then.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    The fact is that Americans will buy what they want, when they want it.

    A gas tax will only have a temporary effect – just witness how many F150s are driving around on $3.50 gas. It will generate more revenue for the government, but won’t reduce consumption because American are willing to pay anything for a gallon of gas.

  • avatar
    rentonben

    [Government Paid Policy Wonk] -> [Whining and Complaining] -> [Narrow Reasoning] -> [More Government Policies]

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      [Private Enterprise] -> [Whining and Complaining] -> [Narrow Reasoning] -> [Higher Profits]

      The MIT Economist isn’t an engineer nor is he government paid. If anything I think people are seriously obsessing over so-called “safety” mandates and are ignoring the fact that in 1985 a Honda Civic was a sub-compact, an Accord a compact and Honda didn’t sell anything larger. Each generation the imports ballooned until they matched the mid-sized vehicles and now are subsequently introducing subcompacts again.

      To put it into perspective – A 1985 Ford Taurus weighed about 3000 lbs. A 2006 Ford Focus weighed about 3200 lbs. In other words if a car puts on 10 lbs a year on average a midsized vehicle put on less than 6% overall weight in the safety era. It’s a blown argument that manufacturers like to use because they don’t want to admit they made larger vehicles that weigh more by nature.

  • avatar
    siuol11.2

    Amen! I would love to see the MPG of a 2 liter NA engine mated to a 5 speed auto in something with the size and weight of my ’92 accord.
    I know regs have changed a bit since then, but surely it can’t be THAT hard to reduce bloat.

    Addendum: I must ad that I’m so tired of hearing all the bloat is due to “regulations”. Yeah, some of it is. But are you telling me that today’s high-shoulder slab-sided monstrosities with incredibly tall trunks are made that way because of safety regulations? What safety regulations mandate a reduced field of vision?

  • avatar
    korvetkeith

    Cool escalade. Can it tow a 10k lb cigarette boat?

    Oh right, fuel economy. Yeah, it’s all the governments fault.

  • avatar
    Geekcarlover

    My daily runabout is a 94 Dodge Caravan. The 09 model (newest comparable model I could find in a quick search.) is 650+lbs heavier. While some of that is govt mandated stuff, most of it is electronic extras and convenience changes. The 09 also gets 7-8 MPG better fuel economy.
    I’m sure Chrysler could get a mini-van that pushed 35+ MPG, but it would be a hollow, kind of noisy, beast that almost nobody would buy.

  • avatar
    docrock

    The gas tax idea as some appeal but questions need to asked regarding where it is going. What department of the government will get it? Will it pay for safer, better highways or possible driver education? Will it go into the general revenue fund? Will it be squandered on pet projects or pork? Will the politicians get addicted to yet another income stream and go into withdrawl and then cry when it dries up because people drive less and fewer taxes are collected? I have no problem paying taxes – they are the price of admission for civilzation.

    I am concerned, however, that the further away from my pocket the dollar does, the less say I have on how it is spent and responibility for it being spend wisely diminishes proportionally. If something silly is being with tax dollars at the city, county or state level, I can find out WHO is responsible. After it hits Washington DC, all bets are off and the taxpayer doesn’t find out about it billions are spent and NO ONE is responsible.

    Pardon me while I get down off my soap box.

    • 0 avatar
      Les

      This is more or less the platform of the Tea Party movement back when it was a laughable upstart protest ‘organization’ without the organization part that everyone else was confident would putter-out in a month and barely rate a footnote in the history of American Politics…

      Then came the Oi and the GOP with the Astroturfing and the Crazy, HOYLE!

    • 0 avatar
      Herm

      use the gasoline tax to subsidize cars with 1L and less engines and 2L engines for trucks. Yes it would hurt to drive a Mustang with a V8 and see all those cheap econoboxes running around thanks to you.

  • avatar
    stroker49

    USD 7,95/Gallon here!
    Everythin is true what has been said. When I was a kid in the 60s a family car had 65 hp, if that. Today most ordinary cars have 150 hp or more. Frankly, 110 would suffice (said by someone that hauls my a** to work with 256hp!)
    I think it is interessting to see the development of small light aircrafts. You can go two persons with 30lbs of baggage cruising in 125mph on 35 mpg with 100hp in an ultra light aircraft.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    While no expert here, but I am in agreement with this article in that cars today have gotten MUCH larger and thus, by nature heavier – and yes, the old song and dance cry of it’s gov’t regulations that have made these things heavier is not entirely true.

    Yes, some of the weight gain is from safety gains, but the vast majority of it is cars and trucks ballooning up to almost ridiculous sizes, such as the now overly huge Ford F-150 crew cab monstrosities now plying the roads being for starters.

    I’m all for safety features such as the plenitude of airbags now seen in most cars and light trucks, ABS/ESC etc, etc, etc but they don’t increase that much the weight of any given vehicle, especially when we now have high tinsel strength steels used in critical structural areas in a given vehicle along with other lighter wight materials to help reduce the overall weight and yet provide for crumple zones, high strength passenger cabins so when one DOES get into an accident, they can more likely walk away with little to no injuries.

    I’ve had the distinct feeling that what we buy is partially related to what we’re told we MUST buy by marketers and manufacturers along with old stereotypes of smaller being less safe and so many people today feel that they’ll be safer in a much larger (read, heavier) car as weight makes a car “feel” safe. At one time, it WAS true that the small subcompact didn’t fare well in an accident with a larger car, but today, both will protect their occupants about equally.

    I would also argue that the designs of many cars today with their poor sight lines may not be as safe (hence the added safety features such as the back up camera) when it comes to maneuvering them in tight spaces (all in an effort to compensate for their often enormous sizes, such as in trucks and SUV/CUV’s), which again, in my mind is a compensation of a skewed perception of what is termed safe by many.

    Also, I would like to see studies done on reducing the size of car seats so people don’t NEED to buy something larger, just to fit them if they don’t want to.

    In the end, it all adds up to many people, but American’s especially thinking that bigger is always better when in truth, it’s not always the case (even European spec cars have gotten considerably larger then they once were).

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The bad sight lines are something that I just never understood, they do add weight by adding body mass and their only real benefits are cooler insides during the heat.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Don’t forget things like side impact protection and stuff. my 04 Miata was 500 pounds heavier than my 90. Some was the turbo (was a mazdaspeed), but most was body bracing. The brakes also got bigger….more mass to stop. The big 17 inch wheels were actually lighter…my 90 had steelies.

  • avatar
    skor

    Unfortunately this seems to have devolved into another Tea Tard thread about “the ebil goobermint”. “What we need is less regs! The car market will self regulate!” Remember what happened the last time the car industry self regulated? Corvairs with wrap you around a utility pole handling. Pinto’s with detonating gas tanks. Yeah, I know, if the car companies built cars like this, you won’t be buying from that car company….right after your kid is incinerated in the back seat of one of these things.

    I swear I think Putin has got a satellite beaming stupid rays down on this country.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Are you suggesting vehicle weight has no bearing on fuel economy, or do you have another solution? Because it’s hard to tell from your leftist name-calling rant.

  • avatar
    ixim

    We all saw how people, consumers, opted for bigger cars with more power [0-60 < 8 seconds] and more content. No 4 bangers if a V6 were offered! Add in mandated safety-weight and you have today's CAFE. It would have saved a lot of gas if the makers had opted for smaller, slower, lighter, lower-content cars, but would they have sold as well? I don't think so.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    Unfortunately cars have suffered the same problem as american people…they’ve simply gotten bigger…Yes some weight increase is due to safety equipment…airbags, abs, stability control, some due to comfort; power windows, locks, seats, a/c, but mostly they’ve just gotten bigger. E very generation of models in the past twenty years is larger…Accord, Civic, Corolla, 3 seies, Taurus, F-150…You name it

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Hypocrisy is inevitable, it seems. Look at me, who’s preached the small-car gospel all my livelong days. When recently I shopped for a new family car that will host my only kid’s first driving efforts, and I considered the high accident rate of first-year drivers (50%, by some accounts), suddenly weight began to seem like a virtue. And so my fortunate daughter will enjoy driving an ’03 Audi Allroad, all 4200 lbs of it. The twin turbos, we won’t talk about much; same for the fuel mileage, which seems like compared to my Beetle TDI, seems more like fuel yardage. It’s the crash test videos that convinced me, plus IHS claims survey results that showed the cars had among the very lowest personal injury and medical consequences of any model. The same stats give my New Beetle a 3x greater probability of injury, but I can accept it. Experience is on my side, but I wouldn’t send out a rookie in a crate like that.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    My Cruze Eco gets about the same daily fuel econ as my old Saturn – 35mpg – and weighs about 500 lb more. But the Cruze is much quieter and refined, and much better crash performance. It also meets a more rigorous emission standard.

    With $3-4 gas, that’s a very acceptable tradeoff to me.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Most transmissions lacked overdrive & lock-up torque converters in 1980. Lock-up prevents ‘slip’ and further increases MPG.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I recall a story a few years ago when Mercedes introduced a new turbodiesel C-class, they stuck the drivetrain in an ’80s 190D on a lark. The 190 was faster and got better fuel economy than the new C.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    It is not only the regulations of cars themselves that make cars heavier. Back in 80 a family of 5 (3 kids) could roll in a smaller sedan like an accord. Nowadays though one must keep their kids in a car seat until they start junior high it seems. Good luck getting 3 car seats (or even 2 and an extra kid in the middle) in anything that size though. Compounding this is the fact that mom’s grocery getter can no longer accommodate a child in the front passenger seat due to the airbag and helpful guidance. Hell in 1980 you could get a couple kids in the front if you got a bench seat. 5 passengers in a midsize sedan. That requires a minivan today at a minimum.

    I had a small car when our second child was born. I couldn’t drive it with both car seats in…my knees hit the wheel. enter the CUV. I would have preferred a wagon, but they seem to be a luxury item nowadays.

    1 more kid would require a third row…minivan or sub territory (still no real family wagons…and don’t throw lux brands like Acuraout there…I don’t need my kids ruining a nice interior).

    And what happened to vinyl seats. Id pay extra for a vinyl back seat and hose out floor.

  • avatar
    Bresnan-Distributor

    Bring back the Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Safety regs did add weight, but they were worth the lives saved, and will continue, up to a point. Returns are diminishing; at what point we will be satisfied? Don’t know. But most of the problem is from excess mass, and high(er) power. When you come down to it, most cars and trucks offer way more performance and space than needed. If you want it, no problem. But often you are forced to take it. Most people I know would gladly trade the power of a modern car for more mileage. Does a family sedan really need to be in the mid sixes to 60? Some (myself included) might opt for the high performance engine. Why not offer a true high mileage package, where 10 sec to 60 is the norm? Same as a engine upgrade, only a mileage upgrade. The power potential of most cars is rarely even used. Of course your car will be considered underpowered by the auto press, but who cares? Yank out some of the weight by right sizing instead of the mindless increase in size of the model at every redesign. Heck, if you keep the mass down, you can have your performance cake and eat it too. Most of this foolishness is marketing driven; and pickups are the classic example. What used to be a HD truck – which seemed to fill the bill back then – is now the base model (more or less). And even if it is used a work/play tow truck, again much of the capability is unused. And that is pure stupidity. Noting wrong with having high capability available to buy, but if I wanted a full size truck and needed to tow two snowmobiles, I’m going to be hard pressed to buy a truck that isn’t way over qualified…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Take a 1980s-era compact.

    Now, make it longer and wider, with more interior room.

    Add power seats, a glass moonroof, bigger wheels and tires, and other creature comforts and groovy features.

    Then, toss in some sound deadening material and some more weight to improve the NVH.

    Just for kicks, add some more bulk in the form of safety equipment.

    Pause to admire your creation. Once you realize that it’s bigger and heavier than it used to be, now add some horsepower in order to move that added weight with the same performance as what you started with.

    Then, realize that the old performance levels aren’t nearly enough. Continue to add even more horsepower so that this heavier, bigger, better equipped car is a few notches quicker than what we had when we started.

    End result: a compact that has morphed into a midsize, which is a good 800-1000 pounds heavier than its namesake. It’s nicer to drive, quicker, better at highway speeds, far better equipped and much safer than the old one, but with only marginally improved fuel economy. It may share a name and a few styling cues with this 1980′s era car, but the new one otherwise has very little in common with it.

    It’s not realistic at this point to expect American consumers to give up most of those added benefits. If this were to change, then the most likely scenario would be to get them to downsize, while maintaining the rest of the improvements. Going back to the standards of thirty years ago just ain’t gonna happen.

  • avatar
    Greg Locock

    Shrugs, sure we could design lighter weight vehicles that meet current regs. Nobody would pay the premium they’d cost over today’s cars, or accept the lack of features. If the summary above is correct then I’m afraid it sounds like a typical proposal from clueless academia.

    Here is the horrible truth: you can only sell the cars that people want to buy.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    What of agility? The ability to brake or swerve your way out of trouble on the road; a lighter car is bound to be more agile than a heavier one. Improved fuel economy would be a nice fringe benefit if cars were designed to be less likely to get involved in an accident in the first place.

    With improvements in rubber compounds, brake and suspension technology as well as advances in metallurgy and composite materials, it should be fairly simple for car companies to make a lighter, faster and more agile car that still fits the bill WRT passive safety and utility.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      O
      K, then ill ride my motorcycle…the agility argument has a point of diminishing returns too

      • 0 avatar
        another_pleb

        Point taken about diminishing returns but I think you are creating something of a false dichotomy here. A large motorcycle like a Goldwing or a big Harley is probably not much safer for its rider if it gets crashed into than a small motorcycle like a Vespa. With motorcycles, the biggest factor WRT rider safety is protective clothing.

        Modern computer design and materials should make it easier to have a lighter car with the same size and crash-worthiness as a heavier one. I’m not advocating that all cars should be Lotuses just that their ordinary common or garden Ford has a few kgs shaved off here and there with intelligent use of available tech.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      People are more likely to use quick and agile cars to get themselves into trouble rather than out of it. Witness insurance rates for sporty cars vs trucks as proof.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        People are more likely to use quick and agile cars to get themselves into trouble rather than out of it.

        Pretty much. Enthusiasts refuse to believe this, but it’s statistically accurate.

        And during emergency situations, most drivers respond by going hard for the brakes. This is true even among drivers who are trained to do otherwise.

        Fatality rates have been on the decline because cars crash much better than they used to. Airbags, seat belts and crush zones trump agility and driver training in a heartbeat.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @Burgersandbeer

        There’s no disputing sports car drivers are more likely do stupid things at the wheel BUT having the agility to better avoid accidents when OTHER people do stupid things is a whole other topic. Also a topic that no one keeps stats on. There are plenty thankful people out there that I was in a sports car and knew what to do with it when THEY ran a stop sign or didn’t see me (driving at or under the speed limit) till I was right on top of them.

        I’ve heard people quote studies that say “Drivers with drivers training are more likely to crash…” but when you read the actual studies, they have more holes than swiss cheese!

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        when you read the actual studies, they have more holes than swiss cheese!

        That’s funny. When I provided you with an academic study to read, your responses to it made it clear that you weren’t capable of comprehending its contents. You’re not in much of a position to comment on their accuracy or lack thereof, either way.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @Pch101

      Getting you to produce it was like pulling teeth. It became pretty obvious why you stalled once I read it. Yeah I understood it but it’s you that’s misapplying its message to fit your agenda. No one but you was talking about high school ‘drivers training’. Nor did it cover advanced drivers at the (amature)competition level. People that may posses an SCCA licence and or regulars at autoX events for instance. The study (and it was just one study that you could come up with) just covered folks that took a simple advanced/defensive driving class but never followed it up. IE, just enough to make themselves dangerous.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    Too bad you can’t legislate stupid out of people. Everyone screws up once in a while while driving, but let’s be honest here, there are a lot of people driving badly out there. Almost 9 years ago to the day ago, I was involved in a bad wreck due to a 20 year old’s stupidity, and if it hadn’t been for the air bag and size of my vehicle, I would have been injured much more severely than I was. I’ve never been the same since that wreck, but I would have certainly been more severely injured if the 2000 GMC Sierra I was riding in was a 1985 GMC truck.


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