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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Auto Efficiency About the Same as 100 years Ago

Auto Efficiency About the Same as 100 years Ago


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For a country that values progress, what happened to the American auto industry?  Wall Street and our culture of profit-over-common-sense have mired cars in a no-growth non-efficiency land of limbo.


“The average fuel efficiency of the US vehicle fleet has risen by just 3 miles per gallon since the days of the Ford Model T, and has barely shifted at all since 1991.


Those are the conclusions reached by Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor. They analysed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet of cars, motorcycles, trucks and buses from 1923 to 2006.


They found that from 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency hovered around 14 mpg (5.95 km/l), but then fell gradually to a nadir of only 11.9 mpg (5.08 km/l) in 1973. By 1991, however, the efficiency of the total fleet had risen by 42 per cent on 1973 levels to 16.9 mpg (7.18 km/l), a compound annual rate of 2 per cent.”


The New Scientist article goes on to say that the reason is probably due to no “external prods” meaning no American leadership forcing business (auto makers) to increase the efficiency of their vehicles.  All of this despite growing evidence of climate change and other environmental concerns like air quality.  Another “prod” from the government is helping to get old inefficient clunkers off the road at last!  Here is more  transportation news from last week.


Author Predicts Better Life with $20 a Gallon Gas– Reuters, July 23, 2009.   Yes, Expensive Gas is Good for Us!


“The rising price of fuel will slash school busing, nearly empty the skies of airplanes, and turn many resorts into ghost towns. But Americans will become fitter, breathe cleaner air, and eat healthier food. That’s the future Christopher Steiner paints in $20 Per Gallon: How the Inevitable Rise in the Price of Gasoline Will Change Our Lives for the Better (Hachette Books, $24.99).


The promise of the open road, an addiction for Americans over the past 100 years, will become a thing of the past, writes Steiner, an engineer turned journalist for Forbes magazine. Electric cars and alternative-fueled vehicles will struggle to deliver range and only a small number of people will have them, he predicts… ‘Our food will be closer, crunchier and because it will be picked closer to full ripeness and have to endure a far less arduous journey to our tables, it will be healthier, containing more of the vitamins and nutrients that our produce … is supposed to contain.’ 

While many businesses like airlines and the shipping of cheap goods from China will suffer, other will blossom. High oil prices should finally push the United States to catch up with Spain and Japan and develop high-speed rail lines. As Steiner puts it, ‘We will live differently, but we will live well.’”


It’s good to hear a view of the future that is positive, for a change.



Cash for Clunkers Program Kicks In. ABC News, July 24, 2009. “Americans [received] a new incentive to trade-in their gas-guzzling cars on Friday when a government rebate program that offers cash vouchers to people who trade in their cars for new fuel-efficient vehicles officially started. The Car Allowance Rebate System, informally called ‘Cash for Clunkers,’ was passed by Congress in June to help jump-start struggling auto sales and to improve the environment. But some critics say the program may be economically and even environmentally counter-productive. It will be administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration through participating new car dealers who can handle the paperwork when you buy the vehicle. Information about the program is available at www.cars.gov.” 



US House OKs $2 Billion for High-Speed Rail Finally! By Andy Sullivan, Reuters, July 23, 2009.”High-speed rail projects would receive a $2 billion boost under a bill passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday that also lays the groundwork for a national infrastructure bank. By a vote of 256-168, the House approved $68.8 billion for transportation and housing projects for the fiscal year starting October 1, a 25% increase over 2009 funding levels. The Democratic-led chamber turned back several attempts to slash funding by Republicans, who said Congress had already generously funded transportation and housing programs in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill passed in February.”


Foreign Companies Eye Obama High-Speed Rail Plan. AP, July 21, 2009. “Foreign companies that dominate the international high-speed rail industry are trying to cash in on the Obama administration’s plan to pump billions of dollars into U.S. rail systems to help stimulate the economy. The stimulus plan sets aside $8 billion for high-speed rail, a figure that has ambassadors and foreign leaders jockeying to get their preferred companies in on the deal. Though the law requires the U.S. to ‘buy American’ with stimulus money, the rail plan requires so many trains and so much expertise that the administration has conceded foreign companies are likely to be part of it.”


Request to the President From UAM Locals and Retirees: Take Charge of Retooling Our Industry for a Green Future. By Frank Hammer et al, AutoWorkerCaravan, July 14, 2009. “Dear President Obama — We believe that the economic crisis is interwoven with an environmental one – that, in the words of NASA scientist Jim Hansen, we face an ‘irreversible tipping point’ if we don’t act swiftly to reduce our carbon footprint and therefore positively impact global climate change. We believe this fact requires rethinking our country’s manufacturing priorities. Instead of laying off workers and devastating working-class communities, we believe the combination of crises demands a bold proposal that can put people back to work and address global climate change. We believe this can be done, and done creatively…


“Of the 90% of Americans who drove to work in 2007, 76% drove alone. Fewer than 5% used public transportation. Eighty percent of the total U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas, with 30% in the cities. Yet few cities outside New York City have an adequate system of public transportation. Clearly we must turn from an energy-inefficient, auto-centered society to one that increasingly uses mass transit along with energy-efficient vehicles. That means prioritizing buses, light rail, high-speed trains and the tracks they run on. Manufacturing also needs to be geared toward building wind and water turbines as well as solar panels. Instead of attempting to resuscitate automobile companies, we should be building a Transportation and Energy Industry for the 21st century…


“The problems confronting us must be addressed holistically, the leadership must be visionary in its approach and the solutions must be innovative and far-reaching rather than politically expedient crisis management. To that end, we offer the following ideas: First, because, we the people are now major stockholders in GM and Chrysler, we believe that it would be in the national interest to assume direct ownership of the GM and Chrysler plants that are closed or closing (as interest on our investment) to expedite the retooling and conversion of these plants for the manufacture of the products that we have mentioned above. 

We know this is not a pipe dream because it was at the start of U.S. involvement in World War II that a massive conversion of existing auto plants for war-time production was completed in just eight months. The obstacles that had to be overcome were not technical, but political. It behooves you and your administration to take on the threat of global climate change – and the dislocations in the automobile industry – with the same sense of urgency and gravity that President Franklin Roosevelt acted upon then.


“Additionally, it is our understanding that Chrysler and GM own a large number of patents for green technology. We encourage a thorough review of these patents and believe that any technology that GM and Chrysler own that they have no plans on utilizing in the next three years, be appropriated (again, as interest on investment) and uses found for these technologies. Your administration is in a position at this moment of great peril, to create a new paradigm — for addressing the US role in industrial manufacturing and taking the lead on combating global warming. We urge that — in this defining moment — you reiterate your pledge that ‘yes we can!’





The marketplace has proven itself time and time again to be an adequate mover on progress of important social issues like fuel efficiency and air quality, forcing the government to step in very lightly at times to suggest things. Obvious, this has not been enough!


Now with a recent “prod” the Ford and GM corporations are coming out with more new electric and hybrid vehicles in the coming years.  They would not have done this if it weren’t for the intervention of the federal government, and even so, it’s probably coming 20 years too late.



By ShellyT, Futurism Now! on July 26th, 2009





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