Having everybody in the United States use automobiles to accomplish daily travel has always been a capitalist pipe dream. That is thanks to the laws of physics and the geology of our planet. It will simply never be remotely economical, sustainable, or sane to deploy 3,000 pound objects that sit idle 95 percent of the time to accomplish what walking, cycling, and public transit could just as easily (and much more safely and healthfully) facilitate. On a planet that was fated to reach Peak Oil, awakening from this pipe dream, one way or another, was also always inevitable.
A major side note to this story is the open secret that the basic physics of automobile travel are also far more fixed than present promises from above would have you believe. Just as an acceptable level of safety in a sprawling, cars-first society like the United States will always require cars to weigh something like 2,500 pounds, so it is that moving 2,500-pound cars will only get so energy-efficient.
Evidence of this physical fact was recently helpfully analyzed by Rick Kranz of Automotive News:
On the basis of vehicle weight, how dramatic has the increase in fuel economy been over the past 45 years?
This week I was running through some old news articles, seeking information for several stories I’m writing for Automotive News‘ special issue devoted to Chevrolet’s centennial. The issue will be published Oct. 31.
I decided to compare those cars to two 2012 cars with similar vehicle weight to see the differences in fuel economy, 45 years later. Obviously, the length, width and height of the 2012 models are somewhat reduced compared with cars in the ’60s. The new models have far better aerodynamics than the Chevy and Rambler. Additionally, the 2012s compared here have four-cylinder engines.
The 1966 Chevrolet Biscayne weighed 3,294 pounds and averaged 21.04 mpg. I used a base 2012 Ford Fusion sedan with automatic transmission for the comparison. The Ford weighs 48 pounds more than the Chevy and gets 23 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 26 mpg overall, according to the EPA.
The 1966 Rambler averaged 23.80 mpg, coast-to-coast. For a weight comparison, I used a base 2012 Honda Civic with an automatic transmission. The Civic weighs 2,608 pounds, and is rated at 28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway and 32 mpg overall.
Using the EPA’s overall miles per gallon numbers, the Fusion was 5 mpg better than the Biscayne and the Civic was about 8 mpg better than the American.
Was there a dramatic difference in fuel economy 45 years later on the basis of vehicle weight?
Those numbers work out to about a 25% mpg gain for the heavier car and a 33% one for the lighter vehicle. So, despite three major oil shocks and the recent quasi-official acknowledgement of Peak Oil, automotive mpg has improved by substantially less than one percent per year since the days when everybody assumed Earth’s resources were infinite and mpg ratings were not posted on sales stickers or anywhere else.
Something to keep in mind the next time you hear some Democrat or other “green car” moron bloviating about 62 mpg.
As the late Stephen Jay Gould wrote, every human endeavor is subject to “right walls,” or outer limits of improvement. Here at DbC, one of our core theses is this: The automobile is already much closer to its own right wall than anybody will admit.
I bet they’re drooling on themselves over at Greenpeace, thinking themselves oh-so-clever for producing this spoof of a recent triumph of car-peddling smarm:
Not only does this sort of lavishly expensive undertaking encourage would-be radicals to mistake gestures for organizing, but take a look at the language of the thing:
More efficient cars are cheaper to run, use less oil and emit less CO2. Volkswagen has a history of lobbying against the strong European standards that we need to kick our oil addiction. As the biggest car company in Europe, with the biggest responsibility, VW must change and support strong standards from now on.
Volkswagen says it wants to be “the most eco-friendly automaker in the world”, but only 6% of the cars it sold in 2010 were its most efficient models. It has the technology to do better. VW must set out its plan to make its entire fleet oil-free by 2040.
Wow. Greenpeace, the operation that used to risk life and limb to halt nukes and whaling ships, is now spoofing TV ads, and telling its audience that “more efficient cars” are the answer, that “oil-free” cars are somehow green, that’s it’s “our oil addiction,” and that we can afford to diddle around until 2040 playing games with such silly-ass dishonesties.
Sad, and scary.
Problem: It turns out that that “Car Engine” is actually merely a still-hypothetical battery charger. (Note: As usual, you must read the comments to grasp the facts even here.)
As one commenter at the second story link aptly says, “There is one sure sign that this is a scam: they need government money to produce the prototype of something that would make its designer a billionaire.”
Meanwhile, it won’t be long before they start promising that God Himself will breathe fuel into your tank. It’s either that, or face the facts about capitalism. “Blow right in here, O Lord!”
Al Gore asks:
whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.
A fine question — though, as always, one wonders where these mentions of sick democracy and oppressive wealth were when Gore had his chance to put them on the public agenda for real.
Gore, alas, remains personally incapable of mustering the kind of basic honesty he claims to advocate. Consider this howler, from the very same harangue in which he poses the above question:
New generations of biomass energy — ones that do not rely on food crops, unlike the mistaken strategy of making ethanol from corn — are extremely promising.
Pray tell, which generations are these, Mr. Gore? Un-named, of course. Because it’s a bald, shameless lie. Non-food-based biomass energy production not only remains vaporware, but has absolutely zero chance of ever coming close to replacing a substantial portion of present energy use.
Watching him rumble from one obvious self-contradiction to another, you have to wonder how Gore’s mind works. Civilization is in deep trouble, but a blend of minor policy tweaks and physically impossible vaporware will rescue us, if we’d only believe in them? Pathetic, just pathetic. Kind of like Gore’s whole career…
A London group with the comically oxymoronic name of Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership has been busy disproving its own sponsored premise. Turns out that manufacturing a battery for a typical “electric” car puts 3.8 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s two-thirds of the carbon emitted in the manufacturing of a complete medium-sized gasoline car.
What additional carbon dioxide would be emitted in the process of scrapping or recycling millions of “electric” car batteries every year? As the LCVP admits, that remains one of our “gaps in understanding.”
The inescapable fact is that no automobile will ever be “low carbon.” Merely making these rolling piles of metal and plastic and lithium is inherently energy- and carbon-intensive.
DbC will say it again: Cars-first transportation was and is a capitalist pipe-dream.
For those DbCers who are on the West Coast, keep an eye out for the book tour by Bianca Mugyenyi and Yves Engler. These two residents of Montreal have produced Stops Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social, and Ecological Decay. It’s a treasure chest packed with information, references, and insights into the continuing tragedy of cars-first transportation. And, best of all, Mugyenyi and Engler dare to do what almost no prior car critics have done: talk plainly about the importance of cars-first transportation to capitalists and capitalism.
I will be attending Mugyenyi and Engler’s Portland, Oregon tour stop, which will be happening at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 21, 2011 at Laughing Horse Book and Film Collective, 12 NE 10th Avenue.
Here’s a link to the rest of the tour dates.
One bit of evidence in support of this?
Remember those atrocious ads for the inexcusable muscle car, the Dodge Challenger?
Not working! As reported in Automotive News:
Chrysler poured significant dollars into the 2011 model. The front and rear suspensions were re-engineered to improve handling and ride. And, the new standard 3.6-liter V-6 produces a 55 horsepower boost over the much criticized 3.5-liter V-6.
A winning combination, right? Not so. I expected sales to catch fire this year. They haven’t. Sales are up only 15 percent over the dismal year-ago period. But May sales dropped 11 percent.
Dodge’s 21st Century pony car is averaging just 3,355 cars per month, hardly a sales momentum that can justify a future redesign. During the January through May period, Dodge sold 16,777 Challengers.
As for the two other pony cars [read: teenage-themed gas guzzlers] on the market, Chevrolet sold 40,275 Camaros in the same period, and Ford tallied 30,206 Mustangs.
Only the most sophisticated systems work consistently. And even the best ones have some persistent flaws: Women’s voices can be tricky for the technology to decipher, especially when using navigation, causing many female drivers to give up trying. Drivers with foreign accents say it won’t work for them. Even drivers with thick regional accents can have trouble.
Many issues with women’s voices could be fixed if female drivers were willing to sit through lengthy training, [car capitalist] Tom Schalk says. Women could be taught to speak louder, and direct their voices towards the microphone. But he admits that most customers don’t have the patience to figure it out, and are then easily discouraged. Even if a system successfully works 85 to 90 percent of the time, many drivers grow frustrated and call it a failure.
Of course, the real problem with voice-commanding media devices is that it is a form of knowing mass murder by car capitalists, as the research has demonstrated.
Safety advocates like the Governors Highway Safety Association say drivers are distracted by a growing number of gadgets that cause them to look away from the road, such as cellphones, MP3 players and GPS devices. They believe drivers’ divided attention is behind an increase in fatal accidents caused by distracted driving: Distracted driving was a factor in 16 percent of all fatal accidents in 2009, up from 10 percent in 2005, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Six percent of 2009′s U.S. auto-crash deaths, by the way, is 2,028.
The industrialists’ response to the blatant facts? The usual: the heroin dealer’s argument:
[S]afety advocates such as Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, argue that too often, things go wrong, leaving drivers tinkering with display screens instead of watching the road.
“Why do we need to be doing this?” asks Adkins. “Driving is a really complex task; you have to be able to react to what other cars are doing. If you’re fiddling with these systems, it can be the difference between life and death.”
But the auto industry argues that drivers will never put away their phones and other devices, so voice-activated technology is the only option to keep drivers focused on the road.
In an attempt to make the technology less distracting, software developers are trying to make the process more natural. Ideally, drivers would feel like they are talking to a passenger in the car, says Tom Schalk, vice president of voice technology for auto supplier ATX Group.
Schalk says drivers will bring technology into their cars, even if it’s legally banned. They’ll continue talking on cellphones and twiddling with their GPS systems, looking away from the road while doing it.
The federal government’s approach to such felonious excuses?
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has met with the top executives at seven car companies, including General Motors, Ford, Toyota, and Honda, to discuss what the companies can do to keep distractions at a minimum.
LaHood won’t say whether he thinks voice recognition technology will solve the problem. He’s leaving it up to the industry to figure that out.
“We’re hoping that they’ll put their creative juices to work in helping us solve this very, very serious and dangerous problem,” he said during a recent press conference.
Yes, creative juices.
If it weren’t for the refusal to pass the obvious laws banning all telephony and texting while driving, the use of things like Ford Sync would also be manslaughter, from the point of view of the driver.
As it stands, the sponsored almost-manslaughter is a source of entertainment to some:
But sometimes the mistakes just turn into laughter. Anthony Castillo has a Ford Fusion, and generally loves the SYNC system. But when he wants to make his kids laugh, he tells it to call his wife, Amy.
Instead, it calls someone from Castillo’s phone book named Peter Schkeeper.
“It gets them laughing every time,” Amy Castillo says.
Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!