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Small, More Fuel Efficient, Vehicles Gaining Popularity

July 30, 2011 Downtown, Economy, Environment, Transportation 29 Comments
ABOVE: New Fiat 500 on Washington Ave, in front of The London Tea Room

I’ve long been a fan of European cars. I was just 4 when an older brother got a “New Cars for 1971” magazine, for years I’d thumb through the pages skipping over the Mavericks and Novas to reach the foreign section.  There it was, the new Peugeot 504 sedan.   I’ve never had a Peugeot, but I have had 3 Volvos, 2 Saabs, 1 VW and 1 Audi.

I loved each of these European cars even though they weren’t fuel savers, or cheap to operate.  When the Mini Cooper came out nearly a decade ago I test drove one, same for the smart four two, and just recently, the Fiat 500. All cute, stylish and fun.  But the fuel economy just isn’t what you’d expect in such a small package. This will change:

After decades of fighting higher federal gas mileage standards, the big automakers have agreed to new standards that will require a average of 54.5 MPG by 2025.

High gas prices, new energy-efficient technologies and strong sales of small, high-MPG cars this year may have convinced the companies that the new standard — which is being announced today and will affect all vehicles an automaker sells in the Untied States — was both desirable and feasible. Automakers are already on their way toward meeting a 35.5 MPG average for 2016.

One reason Ford, GM and Chrysler may have gone along with the new regulation is that they got a lower standard for their profitable pickup trucks. The cumulative 2025 standard for cars is 60 MPG. But the lower truck requirement brings the overall average down to 54.5. (The White House had originally been pushing for a 62 MPG overall average, but Ford, General Motors and foreign automakers managed successfully lobbied for the lower figure.) (CBS MoneyWatch)

Auto makers already have vehicles and engines that will help them meet the new standards, they just aren’t sold here yet. Not everyone is happy though:

Volkswagen AG didn’t sign the agreement to support the Obama administration’s proposal, the Wolfsburg, Germany-based carmaker said in an e-mailed statement. The “positive impact” of so-called clean diesel, used by the company’s mid-size Passat TDI, which can get 43 mpg on the highway and travel almost 800 miles on a tank of fuel, doesn’t receive consideration in the proposal, Volkswagen said. (Washington Post)

Maybe in 2030 I can buy a used 2025 model of something with great milage? In the meantime I just might buy a lottery ticket now and then so I can get a new Fiat 500.

– Steve Patterson

 

Currently there are "29 comments" on this Article:

  1. Anonymous says:

    The federal government is, as usual, taking the easy way out, imposing unfunded mandates based on simplistic solutions to complex problems.  If congress had really wanted to have a positive impact, they would have raised the taxes on motor fuels, substantially, and redirected them to improving public transit – money talks, that’s why european cars are smaller and diesels are widely available.  But we live in a climate of “no new taxes”, so, instead, we’re going to get stuck with smaller, more-complex and more-expensive vehicles that require substantial investments in non-petroleum infrastructure – if our vehicle fleet switches from gas to electricity as its primary energy source, there are going to be huge impacts on the electric grid, and you better get used to paying monopoly prices for what is now a competetively-priced commodity.  And, you gotta wonder why the auto makers are willing to embrace a mandate that will result in more-expensive vehicles – more profits, for them, perhaps?!

    The Tesla roadster is already available and gets infinite mpg (it’s all electric), but it costs twice as much as the Lotus it’s based on and 4-5 times as much as a new Miata!  A Nissan Leaf (all electric) is twice as expensive as the Versa it’s based on; a Chevy Volt is nearly twice as expensive as a Cruze.  It’s not as if we don’t have choices, it’s just that we’re not making the “right” choices in the eyes of activists and politicians.  And you didn’t have to wait until 2030 to get extereme mpg – instead of buying your Corolla, you could’ve picked up a used Prius.  I could’ve purchased something other than my basic Tacoma (that gets better than 24 mpg), but I, repeat I, made the choice that a lower monthly payment and its usefulness as a tool more than offsets any increase in fuel costs.  And while I don’t really understand why anyone in their right mind would buy a $50,000 Ford Super-Duty quad cab to commute in and haul a family in, I respect their right to do so.  Life is, and should be, full of choices.  I don’t need my government telling me that I need to get 50 mpg, that someone I love can’t choose to have an abortion or that gays don’t deserve to be able to marry.

     
  2. JZ71 says:

    The federal government is, as usual, taking the easy way out, imposing unfunded mandates based on simplistic solutions to complex problems.  If congress had really wanted to have a positive impact, they would have raised the taxes on motor fuels, substantially, and redirected them to improving public transit – money talks, that’s why european cars are smaller and diesels are widely available.  But we live in a climate of “no new taxes”, so, instead, we’re going to get stuck with smaller, more-complex and more-expensive vehicles that require substantial investments in non-petroleum infrastructure – if our vehicle fleet switches from gas to electricity as its primary energy source, there are going to be huge impacts on the electric grid, and you better get used to paying monopoly prices for what is now a competetively-priced commodity.  And, you gotta wonder why the auto makers are willing to embrace a mandate that will result in more-expensive vehicles – more profits, for them, perhaps?!

    The Tesla roadster is already available and gets infinite mpg (it’s all electric), but it costs twice as much as the Lotus it’s based on and 4-5 times as much as a new Miata!  A Nissan Leaf (all electric) is twice as expensive as the Versa it’s based on; a Chevy Volt is nearly twice as expensive as a Cruze.  It’s not as if we don’t have choices, it’s just that we’re not making the “right” choices in the eyes of activists and politicians.  And you didn’t have to wait until 2030 to get extereme mpg – instead of buying your Corolla, you could’ve picked up a used Prius.  I could’ve purchased something other than my basic Tacoma (that gets better than 24 mpg), but I, repeat I, made the choice that a lower monthly payment and its usefulness as a tool more than offsets any increase in fuel costs.  And while I don’t really understand why anyone in their right mind would buy a $50,000 Ford Super-Duty quad cab to commute in and haul a family in, I respect their right to do so.  Life is, and should be, full of choices.  I don’t need my government telling me that I need to get 50 mpg, that someone I love can’t choose to have an abortion or that gays don’t deserve to be able to marry. Or, to put it another way, be careful what you ask for – requiring twice the current mpg just makes sprawl that more affordable!

     
    • arkiben says:

      It should be both higher fuel tax, and also more ambitious fuel economy standards.  In the same way the government can encourage taking the metro through a tax, they can encourage better cars through a standard. Where there are choices there are always parameters, always have been. And there must be lots of reasons the car companies are going along, and surely more profits is one, although I can’t believe you really think there’s something wrong with that.
      Part of the reason is they just got bailed out, no leverage to complain.  Part is they now clearly see what happened in 2008-2009 when they were caught making only bloated automobiles that suddenly nobody was buying. Not wanting to do that again, the standard means they can start selling fuel efficient cars now and in the meantime not be undercut by somebody who just keeps selling cheap gas guzzlers until the last second. It will give everyone some pain as they bring to market the technology (already existing) to meet the standard, but it will be equal pain to everyone in the market, and it creates a new barrier to entry for some of the less R&D capable manufacturers in China, India, etc.  In the long run the standard may give the companies that are selling in the US a global edge as they will bring to developing markets (no standards but coming someday) the technology that will have already been field tested and paid for by US drivers.  And life will still be full of choices.

       
      • moe says:

        Perhaps hopefully then the U S will have regained some market superiority in the world.  However I can hear it now;  unfunded mandates yet these same will complain of too much governement.

         
    • Douglas Duckworth says:

      Raising taxes imposes costs upon voters.  That is something the Republicans wish to avoid.  It also is not really good during a recession, rather government should spend more.  Regardless of the debate on when to raise fuel taxes (I agree it must be done), the federal government bailed out the auto industry so this isn’t an ‘unfunded mandate.’  They would not exist without President Obama.  If anything they should have imposed higher fuel regulations sooner. 

      The cost of electric cars, hybrids, etc., will fall as more of them are made and especially as the quality and cost of batteries improve.  This is why green roofs are almost the same price as normal roofing in Germany, yet in North America that isn’t the case.  Economies of scale will bring costs down eventually as more people purchase them.   

      Our entire fleet is not going to switch to electric cars anytime soon for a number of reasons.   By the time that happens we will have cars that put power back into the grid and local problems which can result from everyone on your block charging at once won’t be an issue. 

      “I don’t need my government telling me that I need to get 50 mpg”

      I suppose you are against the FDA inspecting food to ensure it isn’t contaminated or the EPA testing water to make sure it’s safe?

      “requiring twice the current mpg just makes sprawl that more affordable”

      Not if fuel prices rise faster than gains in efficiency.  
       

       
      • JZ71 says:

        “I suppose you are against the FDA inspecting food to ensure it isn’t contaminated or the EPA testing water to make sure it’s safe?”  There’s a big difference between requiring the production of safe food and water and the government telling me I can’t eat bacon because it’s not good for me.  I expect the government to set safety and emissions standards, I don’t expect them to tell me how to spend my money.

         
        • Douglas Duckworth says:

          Do you deny global climate change? Are you ok with buying foreign oil? Your ‘freedom’ to drive with 5 MPG has consequences for the rest of us. If government didn’t do anything we would continue to pollute without regard for the impacts upon everyone.

           
          • JZ71 says:

            I don’t deny climate change; I question whether focusing on mpg alone is the best way to actually reduce global warming.  The only way to achieve a fleet average in excess of 40 mpg will be through a significant reduction in vehicle weight (a tough sell to many consumers) and a shift to electric power, either through all-electric or plug-in hybrid technology.  And, for some reason, the advocates of electric propulsion seem to assume that all electricty comes from clean sources, which simply isn’t true.  Here in Missouri, where most power is generated with coal, a gas-burning hybrid contributes LESS, not more, CO than an all-electric vehicle:  http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/1108_2011_chevrolet_volt_vs_2011_nissan_leaf_vs_2011_toyota_prius_comparison/photo_52.html

            As we embrace sprawl, the miles we drive increase exponentially.  I fill the tank on my truck once every three weeks, averaging 22-23 mpg (not 5!) on my eight-miles-each-way commute.  There are people where I work who commute in from Illinois and St. Charles County every day, travelling three-four times as far as I do, filling their tanks twice a week.  Even if they drive a Prius, their total monthly gas consumption / CO  contribution is greater than mine  Ever-increasing vehicle miles travelled (VMT’s) are the biggest contributor to global warming, not my middle-of-the-pack mpg!

             
  3. Anonymous says:

    It should be both higher fuel tax, and also more ambitious fuel economy standards.  In the same way the government can encourage taking the metro through a tax, they can encourage better cars through a standard. Where there are choices there are always parameters, always have been. And there must be lots of reasons the car companies are going along, and surely more profits is one, although I can’t believe you really think there’s something wrong with that.
    Part of the reason is they just got bailed out, no leverage to complain.  Part is they now clearly see what happened in 2008-2009 when they were caught making only bloated automobiles that suddenly nobody was buying. Not wanting to do that again, the standard means they can start selling fuel efficient cars now and in the meantime not be undercut by somebody who just keeps selling cheap gas guzzlers until the last second. It will give everyone some pain as they bring to market the technology (already existing) to meet the standard, but it will be equal pain to everyone in the market, and it creates a new barrier to entry for some of the less R&D capable manufacturers in China, India, etc.  In the long run the standard may give the companies that are selling in the US a global edge as they will bring to developing markets (no standards but coming someday) the technology that will have already been field tested and paid for by US drivers.  And life will still be full of choices.

     
  4. moe says:

    Perhaps hopefully then the U S will have regained some market superiority in the world.  However I can hear it now;  unfunded mandates yet these same will complain of too much governement.

     
  5. Guest says:

    There is no way these cars should cost more than $10,000.  Buy from an American company and actually get what you pay for.

     
  6. Guest says:

    There is no way these cars should cost more than $10,000.  Buy from an American company and actually get what you pay for.

     
    • I’m impressed with the new Chevy Cruze and the Focus & Fiesta from Ford.

       
      • JZ71 says:

        But they both need to get 35%-40% better mileage than they do now to meet the new 50 mpg standard . . . And the hidden “cost” of better mpg is more-affordable sprawl . . .

         
        • arkiben says:

          It’s likely sprawl is already starting to reach it’s natural limits, ie distance and time.  The biggest barrier to living way out is not high fuel prices, that hasn’t stopped most people up to now, people can adjust their expenditures to adapt.  What the individual cant do is build wide road and bridges to the way out there.  Sprawl is really all about where do the funds for public services go, that’s another set of public choices.  If people want to live way out and drive a low to zero-emission car in for hours everyday, or even better take a train, I say go for it!

           
          • JZ71 says:

            I doubt it.  Sprawl around Chicago was bigger 50 years ago than sprawl is around St. Louis today, while sprawl around Chicago has doubled since then and continues to creep outward.  Look at the LA basin, Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Austin and Phoenix – they’re all where growth occured over the last 50 years.  You’re assuming that traditional, transit-based urban downtowns will somehow be what they were in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  The reality is that the SOV has given us the freedom to get away from the hub and spoke model of living, resulting in suburban office parks and the ascendency of suburban downtowns.  Without the affordable SOV, you wouldn’t have present-day St. Charles County, the concentration of office buildings in Clayton or the Monsanto campus.  People choose to drive their relatively-affordable SOV because they can; making it more affordable will do nothing to convince them to consider transit.  If anything, it will encourage even more sprawl and parking lots . . . .

             
          • arkiben says:

            I believe what you’re suggesting wont happen for a couple reasons.  First, driving around is not suddenly going to get a lot cheaper in the future.  The oil cartels and companies are very much looking forward to selling you half the gas for double the price.  Second, it doesnt make much sense to compare size of sprawl from city to city, each will have it’s own “natural” limit.  The last 50 years have been the boom time of sprawl but recently it’s slowed to a creep in many places.  Whether or not we’ve found it yet, there is a limit, granted less dependance on the hub and spoke model for working, but major sprawl is almost always within the orbit of some ecomonic hub, sprawl can only go so far from that hub before it doesnt make sense, and high-milage vehicles can’t change that calculation much.  It’s not my choice and I think its the wrong choice for lots of reasons other than oil dependance and air pollution, but its not the fact that sprawl exists somewhere that bothers me.  If people want to live the sprawl lifestyle in a way that has minimal impacts on my own choices, OK fine.

             
  7. I’m impressed with the new Chevy Cruze and the Focus & Fiesta from Ford.

     
  8. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Raising taxes imposes costs upon voters.  That is something the Republicans wish to avoid.  It also is not really good during a recession, rather government should spend more.  Regardless of the debate on when to raise fuel taxes (I agree it must be done), the federal government bailed out the auto industry so this isn’t an ‘unfunded mandate.’  They would not exist without President Obama.  If anything they should have imposed higher fuel regulations sooner. 

    The cost of electric cars, hybrids, etc., will fall as more of them are made and especially as the quality and cost of batteries improve.  This is why green roofs are almost the same price as normal roofing in Germany, yet in North America that isn’t the case.  Economies of scale will bring costs down eventually as more people purchase them.   

    Our entire fleet is not going to switch to electric cars anytime soon for a number of reasons.   By the time that happens we will have cars that put power back into the grid and local problems which can result from everyone on your block charging at once won’t be an issue. 

    “I don’t need my government telling me that I need to get 50 mpg”

    I suppose you are against the FDA inspecting food to ensure it isn’t contaminated or the EPA testing water to make sure it’s safe?

    “requiring twice the current mpg just makes sprawl that more affordable”

    Not if fuel prices rise faster than gains in efficiency.  
     

     
  9. JZ71 says:

    But they both need to get 35%-40% better mileage than they do now to meet the new 50 mpg standard . . . And the hidden “cost” of better mpg is more-affordable sprawl . . .

     
  10. Anonymous says:

    “I suppose you are against the FDA inspecting food to ensure it isn’t contaminated or the EPA testing water to make sure it’s safe?”  There’s a big difference between requiring the production of safe food and water and the government telling me I can’t eat bacon because it’s not good for me.  I expect the government to set safety and emissions standards, I don’t expect them to tell me how to spend my money.

     
  11. Anonymous says:

    It’s likely sprawl is already starting to reach it’s natural limits, ie distance and time.  The biggest barrier to living way out is not high fuel prices, that hasn’t stopped most people up to now, people can adjust their expenditures to adapt.  What the individual cant do is build wide road and bridges to the way out there.  Sprawl is really all about where do the funds for public services go, that’s another set of public choices.  If people want to live way out and drive a low to zero-emission car in for hours everyday, or even better take a train, I say go for it!

     
  12. Douglas Duckworth says:

    Do you deny global climate change? Are you ok with buying foreign oil? Your ‘freedom’ to drive with 5 MPG has consequences for the rest of us. If government didn’t do anything we would continue to pollute without regard for the impacts upon everyone.

     
  13. JZ71 says:

    I doubt it.  Sprawl around Chicago was bigger 50 years ago than sprawl is around St. Louis today, while sprawl around Chicago has doubled since then and continues to creep outward.  Look at the LA basin, Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Austin and Phoenix – they’re all where growth occured over the last 50 years.  You’re assuming that traditional, transit-based urban downtowns will somehow be what they were in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  The reality is that the SOV has given us the freedom to get away from the hub and spoke model of living, resulting in suburban office parks and the ascendency of suburban downtowns.  Without the affordable SOV, you wouldn’t have present-day St. Charles County, the concentration of office buildings in Clayton or the Monsanto campus.  People choose to drive their relatively-affordable SOV because they can; making it more affordable will do nothing to convince them to consider transit.  If anything, it will encourage even more sprawl and parking lots . . . .

     
  14. Anonymous says:

    I believe what you’re suggesting wont happen for a couple reasons.  First, driving around is not suddenly going to get a lot cheaper in the future.  The oil cartels and companies are very much looking forward to selling you half the gas for double the price.  Second, it doesnt make much sense to compare size of sprawl from city to city, each will have it’s own “natural” limit.  The last 50 years have been the boom time of sprawl but recently it’s slowed to a creep in many places.  Whether or not we’ve found it yet, there is a limit, granted less dependance on the hub and spoke model for working, but major sprawl is almost within the orbit of some ecomonic hub, sprawl can only go so far from that hub before it doesnt make sense, and high-milage vehicles can’t change that calculation much.  It’s not my choice and I think its the wrong choice for lots of reasons other than oil dependance and air pollution, but its not the fact that sprawl exists somewhere that bothers me.  If people want to live the sprawl lifestyle in a way that has minimal impacts on my own choices, I dont have a big problem with it.

     
  15. Anonymous says:

    I don’t deny climate change; I question whether focusing on mpg alone is the best way to actually reduce global warming.  The only way to achieve a fleet average in excess of 40 mpg will be through a significant reduction in vehicle weight (a tough sell to many consumers) and a shift to electric power, either through all-electric or plug-in hybrid technology.  And, for some reason, the advocates of electric propulsion seem to assume that all electricty comes from clean sources, which simply isn’t true.  Here in Missouri, where most power is generated with coal, a gas-burning hybrid contributes LESS, not more, CO than an all-electric vehicle:  http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/1108_2011_chevrolet_volt_vs_2011_nissan_leaf_vs_2011_toyota_prius_comparison/photo_52.html

    As we embrace sprawl, the miles we drive increase exponentially.  I fill the tank on my truck once every three weeks, averaging 22-23 mpg (not 5!) on my eight-miles-each-way commute.  There are people where I work who commute in from Illinois and St. Charles County every day, travelling three-four times as far as I do, filling their tanks twice a week.  Even if they drive a Prius, their total monthly gas consumption / CO  contribution is greater than mine  Ever-increasing vehicle miles travelled (VMT’s) are the biggest contributor to global warming, not my middle-of-the-pack mpg!

     
  16. Theresia says:

    My favourite car in the world!!!!!!

     
  17. Theresia says:

    My favourite car in the world!!!!!!

     
  18. A new car in the four cylinder model range these days is probably the
    smartest decision anyone can make when purchasing a new car. Rest assure
    your new car will be fuel efficient and have the “zip” to take on even
    the newest of V6 models based on technology, weight and torque.

     

     

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