in This Corner…
An epic bout
is in the making and well all have a ringside seat.
In this corner,
the Safety Nazis who have inadvertently made the average
new car several hundred pounds heavier (and much more expensive)
than it would otherwise be via the piling on of keep-you-safe government
mandates, from air bags to telescoping bumpers to crumple zones.
In the far corner, we have the MPG Mussolinis. Their obsession is
mileage uber alles, which they try to impose via government
fleet average fuel economy requirements (CAFE).
Up to lately,
these two antagonists have not butted heads, if only because the
engineering talent in the car industry has been able to figure out
at least partial work-arounds that (temporarily) satisfy both sides.
new cars are reasonably, even remarkably, fuel-efficient
despite their massive and ever-increasing bulk. Kind of a like a
strong lineman who, though 30 pounds overweight, is still pretty
quick on his feet. Cylinder deactivation technology, variable cam/valve
timing, direct-injection, seven and eight-speed transmissions with
deep overdrive gearing they counteract the bulk, at least
somewhat. Without these technologies, the average new car of 2012
would be a real gas pig.
But now, were
approaching the point of economically and technologically diminishing
returns. Federal fuel economy standards are set to increase shortly
(2016) to 35.5 MPG average and from there zoom to 54.5 MPG
average by 2025. This sets the stage for our clash of the
titans. Because theres no economically or technologically
feasible way to get cars to average even 35.5 MPG without
significantly reducing their curb weight. Which, absent the use
of exotic (read, expensive) materials and new (even more
expensive) safety technologies will inevitably
make the resultant economical cars less safe.
get ready to rumble!
already been minor skirmishes. For example, you may have noticed
that certain cars parts are more fragile, or not as durable, as
the were in the past. Like disc brake rotors. Theyre fairly
easy to warp as by over-tightening of the lug nuts that hold
the wheel to the hub. And they cant be resurfaced (turned)
as often sometimes, even once because theres
less metal (weight) there to work with. Brake rotors used
to be heavy, thick, sturdy things that could typically be turned
several times before you had to replace them. But heavy conflicts
with efficiency and the engineers, told from on high
to reduce the unsprung mass of the cars they design, cut ounces
here and pounds there.
This is also
why almost all new cars come with aluminum rather than steel wheels,
incidentally. They are pretty, but also expensive to manufacture
(and replace) and much easier to damage, as by rubbing up against
a curb or hitting a bad pothole.
why virtually all new cars have plastic headlights (saves a couple
pounds) and plastic front and rear clips rather than heavy steel
bumpers which were safe but, alas, added too much weight.
though, is that the automakers have already cut most of the easy
fat off new cars and theyre still porkers. Especially
todays compact cars which are the cars
most oriented toward efficiency. They typically weigh in closer
to 3,000 lbs. than 2,000 lbs. for the simple reason that its
necessary to build in more bulk to make these cars safe
that is, to get them to meet federal standards for safety,
including crash test performance.
But this, of
course, reduces fuel efficiency. Significantly. Take 300 (or 500)
pounds off any 2012 economy car that gets say 38 MPG
highway at 2,600 lbs. and its a good bet that same car would
give you close to 50 MPG at 2,100 lbs. Ah, but it wouldnt
be safe enough to make the Safety Nazis happy. (Never
So, who will
emerge victorious? The Safety Nazis or the Mileage Mussolinis?
for sure. Well be the ones on the mat.
safety edicts of the past 30 years are not going to be made optional,
no matter how much less efficient and economical they make the average
new car. And the ever-upticking fleet average CAFE fuel
economy mandates arent going away, either chiefly because
the average person has the engineering and economic understanding
from The Howard Stern Show. These are the people who think
the automakers are dragging their feet, deliberately
building gas-pigs cars and that all it takes to get them
to build more fuel-efficient cars is simply for the government to
pass a law requiring them to do so. It does not enter their heads
that there will be costs and compromises involved. Costs and compromises
to be paid for by them.
And, of course,
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2012 Eric Peters
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