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Thread: Economy car Catch 22

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Economy car Catch 22

    One thing that's interesting but unnoticed by most is that economy car performance (fuel efficiency wise) was stronger 15-20 years ago.

    In the '80s, for example, there were several models getting 40-plus MPG. I think there may be one (or possibly two) current models that do as well (non-hybrids). Most don't come close. The typical new/2009 model year economy car gets in the low-mid 30s on the highway and mid-high 20s in city driving. Average real world economy (combined city/highway) for the typical '09 economy car is probably around 28-30 mpg. So, we're "down" by roughly 5-10 mpg.

    Why?

    Two main reasons:

    First, new/late model economy cars are considerably heavier than their equivalents of the past. For example, an '09 Honda Fit - one of the smallest new economy cars on the market - has a curb weight (without any people on board) of 2,489 pounds. Compare that to say a 1990 Geo Metro (remember that one?). It weighed 1,620 pounds, or almost 1,000 pounds less. That is an enormous difference.

    And it's why the Geo's fuel economy stats - 38 city/41 highway - are so vastly superior to the current "state of the art" economy car (the Fit comes in at a so-so 27 highway, 33 highway).

    The added weight means modern economy cars require larger, more powerful - and less fuel efficient - engines. While the Geo got by with a 1 liter, 3-cylinder engine rated at 49 hp, the '09 Fit is powered by substantially larger 1.5 liter four that produces literally more than twice as much horsepower (117).

    It has to, of course. You can't pull a 2,500 pound vehicle with 49 hp. That would be serious mechanical abuse - as well as torment for its owner.

    But you can't expect to get 40 mpg with 117 hp, either.

    That's the econo-car Catch 22 we're dealing with today.

    Part of the blame, if you want to assign it, is due to the government - which mandates an ever-growing roster of weight-adding crashworthiness and safety requirements (air bags, etc.) all of which have (to date) bloated up the curb weight of the typical econ-car from around 1,800-2,000 lbs. to 2,500 lbs. or more.

    Improved safety/crashworthiness is a fine thing - but it's not cost-free. You can have one thing (a safer car) but not the other (optimum/best-possible fuel efficiency). At least, not in the same car. Not without a compromise or cost somewhere along the way.

    No free lunches - either at the soup line or in engineering.

    Part of the blame is also due consumers - who now expect weight-adding/power-sapping creature comforts like AC, electric windows and sunroofs, etc. They also want a car that can reach 60 mph in under 11 seconds.

    In the '80s and before, economy cars were slow. I mean crippled old man slow. Something like an original Beetle needed as much as 30 seconds to achieve 60 mph and topped out - barely - at 80-ish mph. The Geo Metro cut that down some, but not by much. If memory serves, it needed 15-20 seconds to get to sixty. On the highway, it was dangerously underpowered. It was literally out of its element. Might be ok as an in-city commuter. But you almost had to buy something else if you needed to operate on roads where the traffic flow was above 60 mph.

    That kind of performance is consumer unacceptable today. You'll hear commentators accuse the automakers of suckling the public on the teat of inefficiency, but the plain truth is people - most people - would never buy a car like the '90 Geo Metro today. Even if it did get 40 mpg.

    So, as much as people bitch about gas mileage, the truth is they have unrealistic expectations - whether they're aware of them or not. You could almost certainly engineer a small car that gets 45-50 mpg with today's technology very easily. But it's just as true that you'd never get it past federal safety requirements, meet consumer expectations about minimal levels of creature comforts and make it reasonably quick, too - at least, not without either drastically increasing its cost or its weight. Or sacrificing economy, to some extent at least.

    Which ought to help you understand why today's economy cars aren't quite as economical as their forbears.

    The upside is they're a lot less miserable - and can actually be driven without taking your life in your hands every time you get behind the wheel.

    Keeping up with traffic is nice, too. Even if it does cost a few MPGs.
    Last edited by Eric; 12-04-2008 at 07:58 AM.

  2. #2
    DonTom
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Part of the blame, if you want to assign it, is due to the government - which mandates an ever-growing roster of weight-adding crashworthiness and safety requirements (air bags, etc.)
    How much does a couple of air bags weight in at?

    I know you have something against air bags, but I thought the main reasons for the extra weight was to make vehicles safer from side impacts and stuff like that which requires heavier metals.

    -Don-

  3. #3
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DonTom View Post
    How much does a couple of air bags weight in at?

    I know you have something against air bags, but I thought the main reasons for the extra weight was to make vehicles safer from side impacts and stuff like that which requires heavier metals.

    -Don-
    Air bags are just one element of the "safety package" imposed by the government. The bags and related hardware probably don't add more than 75-100 pounds. But keep in mind the bags work as part of a system that also includes heavier construction, "crumple zones" and so on. Without such the air bags would be much less effective - maybe even irrelevant.

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    The Metro also only had a 1.0 liter 3-cylinder engine for the first two generations of the car. The third generation went to a 1.3 liter 4-cylinder

    Chip H.

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chiph View Post
    The Metro also only had a 1.0 liter 3-cylinder engine for the first two generations of the car. The third generation went to a 1.3 liter 4-cylinder

    Chip H.
    Quite so - but I think the point is made, yes?

    Meaning - we can have (and didhave) 40 mpg economy cars; what we can't have - not easily or cheaply, anyhow - is a 40 mpg economy car that also meets modern safety standards, can reach 60 in 10 seconds or less and which has AC, power options and the other amenities that most buyers expect as "givens" these days...

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    In 1999-2000 I drove a 1986 Honda CRX HF with a bad carb, badly out of tune, and leaking valve seals. The car got 40 mpg on the highway at 75-80 mph. It was a slug with very very tall gearing for its size. I believe that 2000 rpm was 70 mph. 3000 was something close to 85. The car topped out at about 95-100 mph. If the car were in proper tune, I bet I could have gotten close to 50 mpg. It was light, weighing in at 1700 lbs. If I swapped the engine for a 1.5, I bet my mileage would have increased as well, since the larger engine wouldn't have to work as hard under my supervision.

    The car felt fairly solid at all speeds if a little fast.

    It would never pass modern crash standards.

    If congress was serious about mileage, it would have granted an exemption to safety and emissions standards for cars that get over 50 mpg highway. If automakers were serious about building cars, they wouldn't have sat for 30 some odd years on their hands while government passed idiotic regualtions. They should have told the environmental wackos to "stuff it."

    Now, they are begging for money and the congress is about to put strings on the whole thing... and they cannot build a car that gets 35 mpg, much less 50.

    Its pretty sick, really.

  7. #7
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    In 1999-2000 I drove a 1986 Honda CRX HF with a bad carb, badly out of tune, and leaking valve seals. The car got 40 mpg on the highway at 75-80 mph. It was a slug with very very tall gearing for its size. I believe that 2000 rpm was 70 mph. 3000 was something close to 85. The car topped out at about 95-100 mph. If the car were in proper tune, I bet I could have gotten close to 50 mpg. It was light, weighing in at 1700 lbs. If I swapped the engine for a 1.5, I bet my mileage would have increased as well, since the larger engine wouldn't have to work as hard under my supervision.

    The car felt fairly solid at all speeds if a little fast.

    It would never pass modern crash standards.

    If congress was serious about mileage, it would have granted an exemption to safety and emissions standards for cars that get over 50 mpg highway. If automakers were serious about building cars, they wouldn't have sat for 30 some odd years on their hands while government passed idiotic regualtions. They should have told the environmental wackos to "stuff it."

    Now, they are begging for money and the congress is about to put strings on the whole thing... and they cannot build a car that gets 35 mpg, much less 50.

    Its pretty sick, really.
    That exemption idea is an excellent one; I bet it would get broad public support.

    The "safety" juggernaut has been driven mostly by special interests/a handful of nags (such as Claybrook, etc.).

    Ask the average guy and I bet he would be very interested in a $10,000 new economy car capable of 50-plus MPG, even if were "only" as crashworthy as an early '90s Geo or equivalent.

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    So, what if we had two classifications of crash worthiness?

    "Low-speed" (less than 30mph) which would be for in-town cars. Their lightweight construction would mean that they'd get good gas mileage, but wouldn't be allowed on high-speed roads like interstates (for a similar reason that farm equipment isn't allowed -- it's just not safe)

    And then "High-speed" certified cars, which would be heavier due to their stronger construction and more safety features. They'd cost more, and get worse gas mileage.

    Chip H.

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by chiph View Post
    So, what if we had two classifications of crash worthiness?

    "Low-speed" (less than 30mph) which would be for in-town cars. Their lightweight construction would mean that they'd get good gas mileage, but wouldn't be allowed on high-speed roads like interstates (for a similar reason that farm equipment isn't allowed -- it's just not safe)

    And then "High-speed" certified cars, which would be heavier due to their stronger construction and more safety features. They'd cost more, and get worse gas mileage.

    Chip H.
    That is an even better suggestion!

    GM needs someone like you (and Henry) over there....

  10. #10
    DonTom
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    The bags and related hardware probably don't add more than 75-100 pounds.
    I thought they weighted a lot less than that, but even 100 lbs is negligible. I remember when air bags were commonly stolen out of vehicles. So common, they they had to make them more difficult to remove and now all have serial numbers on each and every one.

    These rip offs of air bags mainly happened during the time air bags were something new (before air bags had serial numbers). They were being sold to a company (no questions asked) that would resell them. The story was on one of those real life crime shows I often watch on Court-TV, but it was years ago when I saw that one. But they were easy to remove and must have only been a few lbs.

    -Don-

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiph View Post
    So, what if we had two classifications of crash worthiness?

    "Low-speed" (less than 30mph) which would be for in-town cars. Their lightweight construction would mean that they'd get good gas mileage, but wouldn't be allowed on high-speed roads like interstates (for a similar reason that farm equipment isn't allowed -- it's just not safe)

    And then "High-speed" certified cars, which would be heavier due to their stronger construction and more safety features. They'd cost more, and get worse gas mileage.

    Chip H.
    I don't agree with restrictions like that. If speed limits were unlimited on some interstates, I could see doing something like Europe where the speed limit of these economy cars to say 75-80 mph.

  12. #12
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    I don't agree with restrictions like that. If speed limits were unlimited on some interstates, I could see doing something like Europe where the speed limit of these economy cars to say 75-80 mph.
    Problem is we'd need Euro-style multi-lane highways, which would mean massive infrastructure costs - which obviously is out of the question now and for the foreseeable future.

    But we could have "city only" small cars with no such massive investment. It seems to me lots of people could take advantage of such. I know that, back in the day when I worked for the Rev. at The Washington Times and had to commute into DC, I would have been fine with a 50 mpg little box. I rarely was able to get much over 50 mph anyhow!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Problem is we'd need Euro-style multi-lane highways, which would mean massive infrastructure costs - which obviously is out of the question now and for the foreseeable future.

    But we could have "city only" small cars with no such massive investment. It seems to me lots of people could take advantage of such. I know that, back in the day when I worked for the Rev. at The Washington Times and had to commute into DC, I would have been fine with a 50 mpg little box. I rarely was able to get much over 50 mph anyhow!
    Disagree here. The Honda CRX and the Geo Metro were able to handle highway speeds without a problem. Those type of cars shouldn't be under any restrictions.

    The operating speeds of our rural interstate system is only abut 5-10 mph below europenan highways.

  14. #14
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    Disagree here. The Honda CRX and the Geo Metro were able to handle highway speeds without a problem. Those type of cars shouldn't be under any restrictions.

    The operating speeds of our rural interstate system is only abut 5-10 mph below europenan highways.
    I dunno.

    Keep in mind, when those cars were in production, highway speed limits were still 55 mph (NMSL repeal, as you know, came in '95).

    Today, with traffic flowing around 70 on most highways (and 75-80 on many) a car like the 3-cylinder Metro would be verrry iffy.

    But with modern technology, it ought to be feasible to duplicate the Metro's fuel efficiency with enough of a horsepower bump to make it capable of comfortably maintaining 70 mph....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    I dunno.

    Keep in mind, when those cars were in production, highway speed limits were still 55 mph (NMSL repeal, as you know, came in '95).

    Today, with traffic flowing around 70 on most highways (and 75-80 on many) a car like the 3-cylinder Metro would be verrry iffy.

    But with modern technology, it ought to be feasible to duplicate the Metro's fuel efficiency with enough of a horsepower bump to make it capable of comfortably maintaining 70 mph....
    Very true. When I was driving my Starlet, I remember wanting about an extra 15 HP. The car would have been a relative rocket, as I probably would have been able to reduce my 0-60 time from 15 seconds to about 10, which is standard for todays economy boxes.

    As I remember, the Metro had a 1.0 L 3 cylinder engine good for about 50 HP. It was capable of a 70 mph cruise, although it was ifffy if you were going up hills.

    Also keep in mind, the Metro was atypically bad. European economy cars, largely absent in the USA drove along on the Autostradas and the Autobahns very well. I drove a Fiat from Paris to Brussels at 150-160 kmh and achieved about 40 mpg. It was a very comfortable ride and I never felt like I was getting blown off the road.

    I think that automakers could build cars like this again without any special licenses. They just need to waive the @#$@#$@#$@#$ saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaftety and eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeemissioins standards.
    Last edited by swamprat; 12-05-2008 at 01:20 PM.

  16. #16
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    "I think that automakers could build cars like this again without any special licenses. They just need to waive the @#$@#$@#$@#$ saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaftety and eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeemissioins standards"


    Yesssssss!

    But it'll never happen because the assholes who control the government are determined to destroy the economy, our manufacturing ability and the middle class way of life.

    Either that or they are just stooooooopid beyond belief.

    Either way, the end result is the same.

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    I think the problem with my idea is that in general, you wouldn't want a mix of the heavier high-speed cars with the low-speed cars, because of crash-compatability concerns.

    But maybe if potential buyers of the low-speed cars were willing to sign waivers that their new purchase doesn't meet the higher standard...

    On a social scale, could people claim that the low-speed cars were discriminating against poor folks? And that poor people ought to be able to buy just a safe a car as someone wealthy?
    (I hope we haven't gone that far, but there *are* people out there that think like that)

    Chip H.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chiph View Post
    I think the problem with my idea is that in general, you wouldn't want a mix of the heavier high-speed cars with the low-speed cars, because of crash-compatability concerns.

    But maybe if potential buyers of the low-speed cars were willing to sign waivers that their new purchase doesn't meet the higher standard...

    On a social scale, could people claim that the low-speed cars were discriminating against poor folks? And that poor people ought to be able to buy just a safe a car as someone wealthy?
    (I hope we haven't gone that far, but there *are* people out there that think like that)

    Chip H.
    Maybe if they could come up with a new classification for economy cars that was between a motorcycle and a car that would allow them to be used like either.....You could get around new car standards. You can't say that these types of vehicles would discriminate because rich and poor alike would probably buy them.

    Maybe a new breed of automaker could build them.

  19. #19
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by swamprat View Post
    Maybe if they could come up with a new classification for economy cars that was between a motorcycle and a car that would allow them to be used like either.....You could get around new car standards. You can't say that these types of vehicles would discriminate because rich and poor alike would probably buy them.

    Maybe a new breed of automaker could build them.
    Piaggo (sp?) has a three wheeler along these lines. Have you seen it?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric View Post
    Piaggo (sp?) has a three wheeler along these lines. Have you seen it?
    I was thinking more like something like Aptera.

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