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August 10, 2004

Why You Will Never See A Passenger Vehicle Get 100 mpg From Fossil Fuels « Media Distortions »

Cold, hard facts:
There is only a finite amount of energy in a gallon of gas. We are already extracting the vast majority of that energy. We can use mechanical means to try and reduce the waste (with the generator to charge batteries when braking), but there is an upper limit to that, too. The greater the weight of the vehicle, the more energy it takes to overcome friction and/or inertia to move it. So we've pretty much reached the point of quickly-diminishing returns there, too.
Most people simply want more use from their vehicles than you can get from an economy car. Europe's population centers are far more compact, so the solutions that work there wouldn't work here outside of the Eastern Seaboard's megapolis.
Maybe the next big break-through will be more efficient solar cells...but since solar energy is relatively weak, and the amount of energy beamed onto the surface area of the largest vehicles also has an upper limit, even significant gains in that area won't appreciably reduce our demand for oil. And hydrogen-cell cars are no panacea, since the easiest way to get the hydrogen is from oil, and the easiest way to get it from water is to burn fossil fuels for energy.

In fact, the only sane development that could conceivably make a difference would be modular cars. Specifically, a 1- or 2- seater for commuting/errands that gets 50+ mpg and can be attached to various specific-function add-on modules, such as:

a larger cabin for carrying 4-5 people,
an even larger cabin for carrying 5-7 people, or 3-4 + luggage/gear
a cargo-hauler flatbed or walled bed.

With each larger module, you'd get worse gas mileage, but it wouldn't be a big deal because it would see only occasional use.

It wouldn't be for everyone, no...but most people don't really need large pick-ups or SUVs for the bulk of their driving. They have them for prestige/pride (which might be less important as gas prices increase) and because they assume (rightly or wrongly) that there are enough times they need it to make it worth it.

For instance, I commute. I can't carpool because I keep quite irregular hours. My wife rarely, if ever, drives while I'm at work. But we need two cars. We need the smaller because I don't want to put the commuting wear-and-tear on the nicer, newer, larger vehicle and because the smaller car gets significantly better mileage. We can't live with just the smaller car because we like to travel, and we sometimes like to browse antiques and garage sales. The smaller vehcle is wholly inadequate for the space we need for those functions. So we own two cars...

I'm sure we aren't the only household in that situation.

But you won't hear any of that from Kerry, and the news media won't call him on it.

Posted by Nathan at 07:32 PM | Comments (4)

What???? Gaia Blasphemy!!! Tofu powered vehicles will get 10,000 miles to the tablespoon! You can power a VW with love! ABUGHARIB!!!! /LLL

Actually, hydrogen is a good idea because you get more hydrogen generated electricity per gallon of oil than you can get mechanical power from the same amount of oil turned gasoline. However, most people just don't realize that hydrocarbons are the best source of H and assume that we'll just pull it out of some magical hydrogen well or even funnier, water! The amount of fuel you have to burn to get the electricity to separate the H is immense.

Posted by: Sharp as a Marble at August 11, 2004 06:12 AM

the United States has already built a car that gets near 50 MPG, it was phased out when sales slumped. It was unattractive car, perhaps that's why it was dropped. It was able to seat up to 4 people, albeit uncomfortably for the two in the back.

Biodiesel isn't an idea cooked up by bored hippies...there are several places in the US you can have your auto converted to Biodiesel, and even I have been surprised in its effectiveness. I would encourage people to look into Biodiesel, especially those who drive trucks.

Much like you, Nathan, we keep two cars, but for the most part one just sits. The one that doesn't sit is equipped with a 2.2 litre Ecotec engine (GM) and we couldn't possibly be more pleased with the combination of "zippiness" and MPG. Interestingly, the one that just sits is a teeny tiny hatchback that actually gets worse MPG.

On the matter of SUVs: My parents have one extended cab truck, one crew cab 4X4, and they are an absolute necessity when it comes to keeping the farm running. But when it comes to running errands, driving long distances, etc. they use a compact car, and don't understand why there's people in boat-sized Excursions and Suburbans picking up soda and a loaf of bread at Safeway. Frankly, other than for the "look at me" factor, I don't either.

Posted by: Jo at August 11, 2004 07:03 AM

Oh, yeah, there have been a host of cars getting 50 mpg. A VW Rabbit once got 60mpg on the highway, I think, using diesel. Many cars of all makes have gotten in the 40s, as well, but had one thing in common: woefully underpowered. You took your life in your own hands in any on-ramp. 0-60 was measured with a sundial.

Biodiesel isn't really widespread enough yet to be useful outside of large population centers. And if everyone depended on it, laws of supply and demand would make it far more expensive than fossil fuels. It's not a long-term, large-scale answer, but it is an alternative worth looking at for some people.

We've found that while we do need an actual truck a few times a year, it is far more economical to rent it from Lowe's for 2 hours 3 times a year than to own anything larger than our sport-cute Honda CRV.

Posted by: Nathan at August 11, 2004 07:33 AM

I had a Metro, thought it was faaaantastic, until I had to merge onto I-5. ;) Then, panic set in.

Biodiesel is going to become as convenient as standard diesel in the next five years, is my prediction. I think we'll be surprised how useful it becomes. Especially for those who are environmentally conscious but absolutely must have a truck.

As to the matter of the "family" Suburban. There's no need for it. I am glad it's not a "daily driver" for Senator Kerry, but that doesn't mean it should be kept. I hope by now it has gone down the road.

Posted by: Jo at August 11, 2004 09:34 AM
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