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75 mpg.
May 15, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

A new world record for fuel efficiency has been set. John and Helen Taylor drove a a 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE for 1,626.1 miles, averaging 84.1 miles per gallon, using hypermiling techniques. The EPA lists the vehicle at 31 mpg city and 43 highway. Meanwhile, youtube user "Fidallyb" is upset because the BlueMotion TDI Passat he rented while vacationing in Europe got over 78 mpg and yet isn't available in the United States. Here are five more fuel efficient cars you can't buy in the United States.

(and yes, he adjusted for differences between the Imperial and US gallons, and claims that the Bluemotion TDI is being kept out of the country because it will reduce tax revenues). According to YT commenters (granted, not the best research source) the BlueMotion TDI meets US emissions standards.
posted by mecran01 (133 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Diesel fuel has about 10% higher energy density by volume than gasoline (and correspondingly greater CO2 emissions), so 84 mpg diesel = 75 mpg gasoline. Still pretty impressive.
posted by miyabo at 11:48 AM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here's a New Yorker article from 2010 arguing that energy efficiency causes us to use up more fuel, thus canceling out the apparent benefits. "The problem with efficiency gains is that we inevitably reinvest them in additional consumption." (Only the abstract is free online; you need to subscribe to access the whole article.)

Wikipedia on the Jevons paradox.
posted by John Cohen at 11:50 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


This report argues that the "rebound effect" described by the Jevons paradox will only have a partial effect on the reduction of resource demand, between 10% and 40%, meaning that energy efficiency is still highly useful in reducing resource demand.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tip from their website kinda scares me. I have a long drive ahead of me today, but no way am I going to start doing this to get better gas mileage.

21
Use Handbrakes on Slopes
Some motorists fail to make use of handbrakes when stopping their vehicles on a slope. Instead they either ride their clutch (for manual transmission), or use the accelerator (for auto vehicles), to keep the vehicle from rolling.

posted by efalk at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2012


That New Yorker abstract mentions that modern economists don't think that's a modern problem. The closest thing to a relevant example they list is that we use as much electricity cooling buildings as we did total in 1955, which is a meaningless statement without a lot of other information.
posted by cmoj at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2012


My error here, I first read that as using the handbreak to drift down mountain passes, given the image it was paired with.
posted by efalk at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And here is James Barrett's response to the New Yorker piece. Excerpt: "Despite a 26% increase in GDP and a 7% increase in manufacturing output over that time period, both energy intensity and energy use fell for the sector as a whole and for almost all of the sub-sectors that I looked at. Try it for yourself.
So you’ll have to pardon my incredulity when I hear people like Owen claim that Jevons effects are everywhere, because everywhere I look, I can’t find them."

posted by mecran01 at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re: stopping on hills, why the handbrake? Why not the brake-brake?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was also hoping to see some outrage and/or debunking of the YT claims that highly efficient euro vehicles are being kept out of the US in order to protect our tax base. Carry on.
posted by mecran01 at 12:03 PM on May 15, 2012


Use Handbrakes on Slopes

What's wrong with the regular brakes?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:08 PM on May 15, 2012


Layman's opinion: if demand on a resource is reduced, the price will be reduced, and industry will expand to use more of the resource, unless legislation discourages it, or unless there is an alternative resource which is cheaper.

However, we don't get cheaper alternative sources of energy without R&D, and we don't get R&D without demand for energy efficient technologies.

So, while using energy efficient technologies may not immediately cause humanity to reduce carbon emissions, it does encourage research into cheap renewable energy, the results of which will lead profit-motivated companies to abandon fossil fuels, while making environmental legislation more politically viable. (It also results in greater economic growth.)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:09 PM on May 15, 2012


Stopping on slopes: I would assume that the brake-brake involves power brakes and therefore draws some energy from the engine, thus reducing fuel efficiency, while the handbrake requires none of that. But, IANACarMechanic.
posted by LionIndex at 12:11 PM on May 15, 2012



claims that the Bluemotion TDI is being kept out of the country because it will reduce tax revenues

Actually, they're just afraid it wouldn't sell, because historically, they didn't sell. That's why most eurocars come only with the bigger petrol burning mills. Look at the current (well, last, since the 2012s are out) generation of the BMW 3-Series. You want a 316i? 318i? 320si? 325i? Europe only. The smallest mill you get get in the US is the 328i, which is a 3.0L V6 with 228hp. You can get the 330i (254hp) and the 335i/335is (302/322hp*) and, if course, the M3 (Lots of HP).

In diesel, you now get, well, *one* -- the 335d. No 316d, 318d, 320d, 325d or 330d. That's better than before 2009, where you got zero.

For a long time, almost nobody but VW brought diesels over here, though you'd see the odd Mercedes with a diesel. Part of the problem was our diesel fuel. The EU mandated 50ppm sulfur, we mandated 500ppm. Since 2006, we've mandated ULSD, at 15ppm, and now more manufacturers are willing to bring over European engines. Volkswagen just built different engines, but there were sealing and fuel pump issues withe Volkswagen TDI engines before 2009. The 2009 and later are the European diesels built for ULSD, they run fine. If you have an earlier one, throw biodiesel into it every so often, it helps keep the seals intact.

But the European makers are still afraid to bring the small diesels (and for that matter, the small petrol) engines over. They know the US market wants MORE POWER.

Maybe with gas at $3USD permanently, that's changing.


* An engine you do not want. It likes to eat the high pressure fuel pump.
posted by eriko at 12:12 PM on May 15, 2012 [7 favorites]




My error here, I first read that as using the handbreak to drift down mountain passes, given the image it was paired with.
posted by efalk at 12:00 PM on May 15 [+] [!]


No, no, no. You don't use the hand brake to slow down, you use the hand brake to turn hairpin corners without slowing down.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:14 PM on May 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I would assume that the brake-brake involves power brakes and therefore draws some energy from the engine, thus reducing fuel efficiency, while the handbrake requires none of that. But, IANACarMechanic.

No, there is no power draw from the engine using the foot brake. I also don't see any justification for using the handbrake instead of the foot brake unless you consider that a large proportion of the population can't do a proper hill start with a manual transmission without using extra revs. So maybe that's the saving? Kind of.... minor.
posted by Brockles at 12:15 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's wrong with the regular brakes?

You don't have three feet.

If you're stopped facing uphill in a car with a manual transmission, it's hard to take your foot off the break, let off the clutch, and accelerate forward without rolling back a little bit (hopefully not into the car behind you). So many people will balance the gas and clutch to hold the car in place without using the brakes. They're putting more power to the engine and wasting more gas than if the engine was at idle.

Using the handbrake is like having a third foot to work the breaks while your other two work the gas and clutch.

I guess some people must have a similar problem with automatic transmissions and using the handbrake is probably easier/smoother than trying to work the brake and gas with your left and right feet.
posted by VTX at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


highly efficient euro vehicles are being kept out of the US in order to protect our tax base

We studied this back in my last year or two of high school, though the information was a bit dated at the time. It was believed that after many, many decades of muscle cars making the rounds on TV, movies, and other forms of popular culture (not to mention advertising) that the average American consumer just didn't want to drive a 'weaker' car. Ford attempted to market a phenomenally fuel efficient car back in the... 80's? 90's?

It flopped, the concept (in the US) turned out to be rather unmarketable. Now we're beginning, but only beginning, to see the light and turn to more fuel efficient cars. Sort of.

Busing around Vancouver, I see something like 14:2:1 cars:SUVs:trucks. It might be even more skewed than that. Driving around Pittsburgh...

So, getting back to the 'tax base' thing, it was more of a market pressure and less of an industrial pressure. Or so we thought. Also, if anyone can remind me of what that flop Ford car was I'd love to know (if it was even a Ford... my memory of 11th US history is crap).
posted by Slackermagee at 12:16 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This list seems weird.

Europe
1. Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion - 71mpg
2. Ford Fiesta Econetic - 63.5mgp
3. Mini Cooper D - 65mpg
4. Volvo S40 DRIVe - 62mpg
5. Subaru Boxer Diesel - 37mpg

US
6. Mercedes Benz S350 BlueTec - 31mpg
7. Audi A6 TDI - "high 20's"mpg

Except for #5, the two US versions get less than half the mileage, and the article ignores this. Instead, it starts fawning over how fast the car can accelerate.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 12:18 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was believed that after many, many decades of muscle cars making the rounds on TV, movies, and other forms of popular culture (not to mention advertising) that the average American consumer just didn't want to drive a 'weaker' car.

I think it's more likely that American car buyers have long memories and diesels used to suck.
posted by smackfu at 12:20 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I suspect the whole handbrake thing on slopes is that they turn the engine off to save fuel. You can't do that with either of the two other options.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2012


Does everyone in Europe buy diesel cars? If not, why not?
posted by smackfu at 12:21 PM on May 15, 2012


This report argues that the "rebound effect" described by the Jevons paradox will only have a partial effect on the reduction of resource demand, between 10% and 40%, meaning that energy efficiency is still highly useful in reducing resource demand. . . .

That New Yorker abstract mentions that modern economists don't think that's a modern problem. The closest thing to a relevant example they list is that we use as much electricity cooling buildings as we did total in 1955, which is a meaningless statement without a lot of other information.


The whole New Yorker article, which is quite long and thoroughly argued, responds to those points. The author sets forth the objections and explains why they're based on a limited view of the real-world situation.

It's problematic to try to devise an experiment to test the effect on demand in the short-term. You need to look at the broader context of how people's behavior changes over time. Yes, if the fridge in your home were to suddenly become more energy-efficient, you probably wouldn't use it that differently. That might sound like the perfect controlled experiment to disprove the author's argument. But it's not that simple. Over the long term, energy efficiency will make it easier for people to have multiple fridges in their home. Oh, and you'll stay at hotels with fridges that are always plugged in. You might not even think of this as an example of you "using energy," but chances are you'll think the hotel is a little nicer because of the fridge. So you'll be more likely to stay in that hotel in the future, which will generally encourage hotels to have fridges that are always plugged in, etc.
posted by John Cohen at 12:22 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


28
Accelerate Gradually: Maintain Consistent Speeds
Accelerate gradually when moving off. Fast starts burn a lot more fuel. Now, majority of countries roads are condusive to good fuel economy, with speed limits of 50 to 100 km per hour on most city roads and highways. Try to maintain consistent speeds, where the speed limit laws allow.


The first half of this tip is sort of wrong. Acceleration is the enemy of fuel economy so you should cover as much distance at a constant speed as possible. That means that you should accelerate quickly.

That doesn't mean that you should accelerate as fast as your car can as the engine will use a rich air/fuel mix and it offsets the gains. Every car is a little bit different but, in general, 65% to 75% throttle is close the ideal rate of acceleration.

It's also wrong because if you get rear-ended because you thought 45mph was the right speed to be going when you try to merge onto the interstate where everyone else is driving 70mph, you'll have wasted however much gas was in the tank of the two or more cars in the collision.
posted by VTX at 12:22 PM on May 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's more likely that American car buyers have long memories and diesels used to suck.

That is because the diesels that you get over here DO suck. They aren't representative. When I got over to Canada and the US from England and several years travelling through Europe for work (in rentals, so got a good cross section of new car experience) I could not believe how backwards the diesel market is over here. My boss at my first job in Canada in 2006 had a diesel VW Jetta and marvelled at the fuel economy to me. We had a brief discussion and I suddenly realised his mpg was shite for a VW diesel. We opened the bonnet and I discovered that the PD system that I had been used to (running a Diesel Race car for VW back in 2001) hadn't even got over here. This was an engine that was truly excellent (the dark side of diesels aside - noise, small rev range etc). We ran a back to back test between a VW 1.9 TDI Golf (150PS turbo) and a VR6 Golf. Both brand new.

The VR6 did 13mpg (UK), while the TDi comfortably blasted it into the rear view mirror and still produced 30mpg over a lap of Silverstone. And we were wringing the necks of the damn things. I think the TDi ended up being about 3 seconds faster than the VR6 and it was a potent car - the extra weight of the VR6 meant the handling was god awful, too. All understeer like a train. That TDi used to get easily 55mpg on the highway, and this is an engine that was on sale in 1999. 13 years ago. Yet this has (I think) only just got to the US. The high sulphur content was the blame I heard at the time.

But, rest assured, if US people think they know what a diesel car is, they are hideously mistaken. To say you are judging 10 year old technology is not at all a wild claim.

Also: Consider the life of a diesel owning car driver in the US. You can't even get diesel at a staggering number of fuel stations, so you end up traipsing through the slimy shit that is the commercial vehicle pumps and have that much more 'fuel range worry' because even though the GPS shows a fuel station, it may not sell diesel. It's crazy.
posted by Brockles at 12:27 PM on May 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


But don't you DARE park it in a designated "Hybrid" spot in your local parking lot! That's reserved for vehicles like the GMC Yukon Hybrid (21mpg) or the BMW X6 Hybrid (18 mpg). They're green.
posted by CaseyB at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2012 [20 favorites]


Hyper-milers tend to endanger other vehicles by tail-gating trucks to draft behind them, riding the white line (keeping at the edge of the lane, not the middle), and radically over-inflating tires (can cause a blowout at speed).

I would love a TDi hybrid. That would give amazing performance and mileage without tricks.
posted by w0mbat at 12:33 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


No matter how much driving you do now, you can only drive so much more per day, even if you buy four or five more cars. And outside of luxury car commercials, I have yet to meet anyone who says, "You know, my daily commute just isn't long enough."

While, I'm sure, there are those for whom, if they could suddenly drive just as much on half the gas, they'd shout "Road Trip!" every weekend, I think for the majority of the people the limiting reagent keeping them from driving more is time, not fuel costs.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with the regular brakes?

You don't have three feet.


You don't need three feet, nor do you need to ride the clutch constantly.

Stop on the upslope, foot on clutch and brake, as usual. To start forward again, release the clutch to the balance point holding the car. Then, move the right from brake to throttle. Finally, step on the throttle to start moving forward.

With even a little practice, you'll never roll back again. The only trick is to do all three steps fast enough to prevent to car from stalling, about a second or so. You only need hold the car on the clutch for the shortest of instants.

To be more on topic, I drove the VW Polo BlueMotion in the UK last summer and was seriously underwhelmed. It shuts off at stops to save power, and is supposed to be instant restart. "You'll never even notice," the rental agent said. What a load. Every start had a half-second or so delay, just long enough to seriously mess with my clutch timing. I stalled that car at just about every light, particularly ones where I wanted to start fast.

On the plus side, the clutch did have a roll-back lock, so the footwork I mentioned above wasn't necessary. Still, grrr. If there ever was an argument for an electric clutch, the BlueMotion is it. A total pain for someone used to a manual gas vehicle.
posted by bonehead at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Volkswagen is famous for teasing us with concept cars that never materialize, but they do have a 260 mpg diesel/electric hybrid. Of course, a fully faired recumbent gets even better mileage, as does walking or riding a longboard.
posted by mecran01 at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2012


Volkswagen is famous for teasing us with concept cars that never materialize, but they do have a 260 mpg diesel/electric hybrid. Of course, a fully faired recumbent gets even better mileage, as does walking or riding a longboard.

Yeah, but the gas is really expensive.
posted by Mayor West at 12:47 PM on May 15, 2012


Quick diesel review for my fellow NA members. I just rented a Fiat Punto 1.3 L. diesel in Sicily for three weeks. It had so much torque that shifting gears was unnecessary. Find yourself on a hill behind slower traffic inadvertently in fourth? That's fine just leave it. It will just chug along well below where a gas engine would require a downshift. It made it a pleasure to drive in heavy traffic where you'd be engaging the clutch constantly. For a small cheap shitty rental car it had loots of features, a hill assist clutch, and my favourite feature, while in traffic at a light or congestion, come to a halt, take your foot off the clutch and the engine stopped, re-engage and the car started back up.

It used basically zero fuel, which in turn allows a smaller fuel tank and thus much more room inside, esp. in the back and in the cargo area. We could get four suitcases and two carryons into the back, and still close the tonneau so it could not been seen from outside.

I honestly will investigate diesel options for my next car. I will insist on diesel next time I rent in Europe.

How little fuel it used was truly shocking.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


But don't you DARE park it in a designated "Hybrid" spot in your local parking lot! That's reserved for vehicles like the GMC Yukon Hybrid (21mpg) or the BMW X6 Hybrid (18 mpg). They're green.
posted by CaseyB


See, here's the crazy thing: you'd save more gas by trading in your 10mpg guzzler for a 12mpg guzzler than you would by trading your 30mpg car for a 40mpg car. As much as I dislike SUVs, the big efficiency gains are to be made at the bottom end of the ladder.
posted by workerant at 12:50 PM on May 15, 2012 [8 favorites]


To be more on topic, I drove the VW Polo BlueMotion in the UK last summer and was seriously underwhelmed. It shuts off at stops to save power, and is supposed to be instant restart. "You'll never even notice," the rental agent said. What a load. Every start had a half-second or so delay, just long enough to seriously mess with my clutch timing. I stalled that car at just about every light, particularly ones where I wanted to start fast.

Interesting, I never had that problem on the Passat Bluemotion I drove over there last year.
The only time I managed to stall it was when I muffed up the roll into a roundabout.
Basically was doing an all-american California stop and the thing decided I'd stopped enough to kill the engine.
I can't imagine any timing that would cause a stall at every light unless you were trying to jack-rabbit every one.
Unfortunately, my TDI doesn't do start/stop so I can't go experiment!

Loved that car though, it was just nicer all around than the Sportwagen TDI I drive over here.
Really wish VW would send the U.S. more of the unusual models, but history has proven repeatedly that the U.S. market isn't too interested in them.
posted by madajb at 12:59 PM on May 15, 2012


I would love a TDi hybrid. That would give amazing performance and mileage without tricks.

In Europe, Peugeot has just started selling diesel hybrids. They manage 75 miles per Imperial gallon in combined cycle tests.

Does everyone in Europe buy diesel cars? If not, why not?

Not everybody, but most people. However, diesel cars tend to be somewhat more expensive to buy (because of the high-pressure injection pumps, and the almost ubiquitous turbocharger), and most European countries also tax diesel cars more, to compensate for the lower taxes on the fuel (diesel is the fuel of choice of farmers, truckers and fishermen, three groups famously apt to raise hell when provoked, so raising taxes on diesel fuel is sort of complicated). If you don't drive much, the fuel economy of a diesel car may not be worth the price difference.
posted by Skeptic at 1:03 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have a diesel Ford SMax people carrier, the equiv of a minivan in the US. I think they're talking about bringing the SMax to the US, actually. I love it. Love. That puppy has so much power, I have no worries about overtaking on smaller roads. Handling is great. So worth it, esp since diesel is cheaper here (by about 2 euro cents per litre).

As for the handbrake thing, if you can't use your handbrake at a stop/hill/whatever, you will not pass the Irish driving test. I don't get it either, but some people have said that it's safer if you're rear-ended. My driving inspector didn't notice (or possibly care) that I didn't do it on the roundabout at the top of a hill, but it is the norm here at all stops to use a handbrake. Maybe reduce leg fatigue as well?
posted by piearray at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2012


Slights off topic, but why are there no fuel-efficient pickups anymore? I was sorta in the market recently, and the best to be had here in the US was about 25mpg. I know a lot of businesses would love a small, efficient pickup or truck base for a van, and as a commuter I'd have liked to pick up a vehicle that could haul my crap and serve as a daily driver, but instead I got a small fuel efficient car, and added on a trailer hitch.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:07 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd really like to see a trip log with an average speed.
I mean, I drive basically like they recommend*, and there's no way I'm getting close to doubling the EPA rating for my car.
I suspect they may have toddled along a bit under the speed limit.

* Which basically boil down to 'don't drive like an ass'
posted by madajb at 1:08 PM on May 15, 2012


It seems like they wasted a whole tank of gas just to break a record.
posted by snofoam at 1:20 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Except for #5, the two US versions get less than half the mileage, and the article ignores this. Instead, it starts fawning over how fast the car can accelerate

The Euro models with the stunning fuel economy have smaller engines. When the Euro diesels show up in the US, it's inevitably the largest engine in the range because of the belief that Americans demand power.
posted by aenea at 1:26 PM on May 15, 2012


Slights off topic, but why are there no fuel-efficient pickups anymore?

I'm not even sure "anymore" applies here. EPA list of every pickup truck since 1994. There's really nothing very impressive in there, maxing out around 24 MPG combined.

Here's all the diesels for comparison
posted by smackfu at 1:27 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


if demand on a resource is reduced, the price will be reduced, and industry will expand to use more of the resource, unless legislation discourages it,

Gasoline prices around the world pretty much explains why that occurs. As a global commodity, oil is roughly the same cost for everyone, yet there is a tremendous range in prices. (Mean = $6.39/gallon; Standard deviation = $2.49/gallon) As $4.19, the US price is 35% below the average.

More interestingly, things like wealth disparity and quality of life are correlated with the price of gasoline, for it is both a necessity and a luxury. As you state, if demand on a resource is reduced, the price will be reduced and consumption will climb. Countries with low prices don't think about things like car weight (take a look at an Italian police car compared to an American police car) or behaviours. Norwegian truckers do not sit with idling engines. Necessity versus luxury.

High MPG cars exist directly in relation to European gas prices, but also European infrastructure design. The train network is obviously more functional, however the tax on resources means that cities have been designed differently. Often, there's park-and-ride models or other mixed-use transport options, thus you're sitting in the car less time, and therefore the car can be less comfortable -- reducing its size.

America is stuck in a tricky place, for the country has literally been built around the automobile. There's little option to driving, thus the 'addiction' to oil. Higher MPG cars are part of the solution, but why buy them? As long as gas is inexpensive, the majority of the population will continue to go for the cheaper option. I've always said that the reason the high-efficiency diesels are not popular in the US is because there is not demand for them. The market is the market. If gas doubled to Norwegian prices, I bet you would see fleets of the high MPG diesels everywhere.

So you're right on both counts... well, maybe right. I don't know how much decreased US demand will affect the price of oil. Check out India on the list -- even India has a higher price pr gallon than the US. Adjusted for currency, that is a huge difference. Any reduction in US demand and subsequent price would probably be absorbed by developing nations. US demand has actually dropped -- and more domestic supply has come on-line, yet the oil price doesn't seem affected much.

But certainly legislation would help. I do wonder what would happen if the US doubled the price of oil to pay for universal healthcare. Smaller cars, healthier, happier people. What could possibly be the downside? ;)
posted by nickrussell at 1:39 PM on May 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


It seems like they wasted a whole tank of gas just to break a record.

I for one don't have a problem with utilizing resources, if the outcome is that we find a way to drastically lower the use of resources in the future. See: photovoltaic cells and solar energy.

I understand the problem though - every time I read Eddward Abbey's, "Monkey Wrench Game", I always get weirded out that they used all sorts of modern day equipment to stop the western expansion.

Then I realized that just hugging a tree doesn't really do what you want it to do. Or does it? I guess making salt worked for Ghandi.

But in this example of hyperdriving a car to show how far you can go, what's the alternative - make a computer model - a very complicated, computer model? Well, what's producing all that energy for you to run that supercomputer?

I'm babbling, but I hope you see my point.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:48 PM on May 15, 2012


*Monkey Wrench GANG
posted by alex_skazat at 1:48 PM on May 15, 2012


I for one don't have a problem with utilizing resources, if the outcome is that we find a way to drastically lower the use of resources in the future.

The article gave me the impression that they really like to drive and that hypermiling is just a way to make it more interesting/something to obsess over. The fuel-efficiency part is just an angle to try to get attention and how they can convince VW to loan them a car. It has almost nothing to do with creating a more efficient future. It's not like they are innovating some hypermiling techniques that someday everyone will use.
posted by snofoam at 1:58 PM on May 15, 2012


Another issue is the difference in fuel prices. This varies by region, but in the Atlanta area, Diesel costs around 40 cents more per gallon than Regular. Combined with the find-a-station-that-sells-diesel game, that's not going to motivate a lot of people to buy a diesel car.
posted by Fleebnork at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2012


Brockles: "That is because the diesels that you get over here DO suck. They aren't representative. "

As others have mentioned, this was due to the US's terrible standards for diesel fuel pre-2006.

The common rail Diesel engines that VW have been selling in the US for the past few years are based on the same technology that they're using in the rest of the world, and significantly reduce many of the traditional disadvantages of diesel engines over petrol engines. It's more efficient and more powerful. A similar technology has gradually been making its way into gasoline engines too.

VW chose not to use BlueTec for its diesel vehicles, opting to use more traditional emissions-reduction systems instead. BlueTec's greater (and costly) maintenance requirements would have tarnished the technology's image among frugal buyers in the US, where VW's diesels had gained a reputation for being reliable and unkillable (unlike, say, the rest of the car; good god, VW had some major quality-control issues in the late 90s and early 2000s). In my mind, this was a good call by VW.

I've done a bit of driving in a Jetta TDI wagon, and it's pretty great in almost any imaginable driving scenario. It felt more responsive on the highway than my V6 Audi, which theoretically has 60 more horsepower.

Also, when comparing mileage figures, remember that 1 UK gallon is equal to 1.2 US gallons. That tends to skew the numbers considerably if you're not careful.
posted by schmod at 2:01 PM on May 15, 2012


In case anyone is wondering how they actually did this, they have posted 30 tips here on their site. I'm going to guess that the ones that most people ignore and that cost them them most mileage are these:
Avoid High Speeds
The faster you go, the more wind resistance you’ll encounter and the more fuel your vehicle will consume just to maintain speed. Driving just 5mph over the speed limit can affect fuel economy by up to 23%.
Use Air Conditioning Sparingly
Air conditioning puts added strain on the engine and uses fuel to operate, so limit use to particularly hot or cold days. When possible use the fan instead.

But I doubt if these 30 are the only things that got them 84 MPG.
posted by beagle at 2:04 PM on May 15, 2012


For those that don't know, the handbrake usually works via a very simple cable system that is operating the rear brakes, versus the pedal using the hydraulic system at all four wheels. Even in power brakes the "power" is only a function of utilizing vacuum created by the engine. I wouldn't think the loss of vacuum through braking would be enough to cause a power loss.
posted by Big_B at 2:24 PM on May 15, 2012


But I doubt if these 30 are the only things that got them 84 MPG.

I can only guess the biggest factors affecting their fuel usage were things like "draft big trucks, if you stay within 20 feet of the back of a large truck, you hardly use any gas" and "never touch the brakes, it wastes momentum that you burned precious fuel to acquire. Slow down by coasting from as far back as possible and take turns as quickly as possible to avoid losing momentum." But these things sound dangerous so they don't publish them.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2012


you'd save more gas by trading in your 10mpg guzzler for a 12mpg guzzler than you would by trading your 30mpg car for a 40mpg car.

Yes! Now I can justify that BMW 7-Series ActiveHybrid I saw the other day! Just need to come up with a little cash...
posted by Big_B at 2:26 PM on May 15, 2012


Diesel fuel has about 10% higher energy density by volume than gasoline (and correspondingly greater CO2 emissions), so 84 mpg diesel = 75 mpg gasoline

This makes no sense. Regardless of how much energy density there is, a gallon is a gallon and a mile is a mile.

I've been screaming about Bluemotion for a decade now, to no avail. Even when we get high-mileage cars they suddenly become low-mileage once they hit our shores, because we aren't allowed to have the efficient engines. A Smart Car in the US gets terrible gas mileage; so does the new Fiat 500. The Scion IQ isn't bad (34 city), but if it was built to a European standard it would get ten MPG more at least.

The stupid thing is, Americans spend billions subsidizing electric cars, which are environmental nightmares -- the electricity they use mostly comes from coal-fired power plants, for starters. If you apply that to scale, a widespread adoption of electric cars would increase greenhouse gases astronomically compared to hyper-efficient small-engine gas or diesel cars.

I love our Jetta TDI Wagon to death, and want to get another even more efficient car, but essentially none are available. Makes me want to SCREAM. All those 300-horsepower dinosaurs hauling around one 112-lb woman and a bag of groceries....
posted by Fnarf at 2:29 PM on May 15, 2012


Ford attempted to market a phenomenally fuel efficient car back in the... 80's? 90's? It flopped, the concept (in the US) turned out to be rather unmarketable. Now we're beginning, but only beginning, to see the light and turn to more fuel efficient cars. Sort of.

This is an on going problem. See for example the legendary Chrysler /6 which was designed to be an Aluminum block engine and was to be paired with a light weight Dart body. Gas is just too cheap.
posted by Mitheral at 2:50 PM on May 15, 2012


I've done a bit of driving in a Jetta TDI wagon, and it's pretty great in almost any imaginable driving scenario. It felt more responsive on the highway than my V6 Audi, which theoretically has 60 more horsepower.

There's nothing theoretical about your Audi's horsepower. The responsiveness you feel in the Jetta is the torque of the diesel engine. Diesels tend to be very torquey even at low RPMs, so you feel that push in the back sooner when you press the accelerator. A V6 driving on the highway is using its top gear, which is set up for fuel efficiency and low RPMs. When going to pass, the V6 will need to bring up the RPMs to hit its powerband and possibly downshift a gear before you feel a similar push.

On the other hand, the V6 Audi will almost certainly (I'm saying this without knowing which model you have) be faster in reality, even though the diesel Jetta "feels" more responsive. The Jetta TDI has a 0 - 60 time of around 9 seconds, which is on the slow side for the average car these days.

Obviously, the TDI isn't about 0-60 times, it's about fuel efficiency.

The point I'm illustrating is that a lot of torque feels powerful, but that feel doesn't actually translate into true speed.

This was probably more car-guy babble than is germane to this thread.
posted by Fleebnork at 2:51 PM on May 15, 2012


This makes no sense. Regardless of how much energy density there is, a gallon is a gallon and a mile is a mile.

OTOH, comparing MPG(gas) and MPG(diesel) isn't very useful if the G(gas) and G(diesel) cost different amounts. Because it's not like we really care which car gets the better mileage per volume of fuel. We care which car gets the better mileage per dollar. (I suppose some people may care which car gets the better mileage per gallon of crude oil, but that's not the same thing either.)
posted by smackfu at 2:56 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The price of different fuels changes all the time and in different places. When we bought our TDI diesel was cheaper than gas, then they see-sawed for a while, then gas got cheaper and stayed there. If everybody had a diesel car the prices might be very different. Diesel is cheaper than petrol in most of Europe, for instance.
posted by Fnarf at 3:00 PM on May 15, 2012


VW chose not to use BlueTec for its diesel vehicles, opting to use more traditional emissions-reduction systems instead. BlueTec's greater (and costly) maintenance requirements

The thing is, it's not just the engine bits.
It's aerodynamic mirrors, under body trim, lightweight wheels, etc, none of which you can buy over here even if you wanted to.

I mean, I understand VW wants to pretend they are the cheap people's car still, which is all fine and good, but at least let those of us who want it order a euro-spec car, even if it's special order and takes 6 months to get here.

(VW is BlueMotion, btw, BlueTech is Mercedes. But you knew that)
posted by madajb at 3:06 PM on May 15, 2012


Acceleration is the enemy of fuel economy so you should cover as much distance at a constant speed as possible. That means that you should accelerate quickly.

Wrong. It's more fuel-efficient to accelerate gradually than to accelerate quickly. Also a bit less stress on all the hardware - engine, tranny, drivetrain.

Not counting the necessity of accelerating quickly to traffic speed when merging onto an expressway of course.

Another idea - given that on a normal expressway with light to medium traffic moving at a more or less constant speed...when you brake on an expressway, you're essentially throwing away the energy required to get back up to traffic speed. So, I always aim to keep my speed as steady as possible, by leaving reasonable gaps that allow me to react sooner to changes. (It has the minor side benefits of being safer and less stressful). My personal "game" is that if I have to brake on the expressway, I'm not anticipating changes well enough, and I'm allowing enough space to react more gently. Again, of course braking whenever necessary.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:21 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


at least let those of us who want it order a euro-spec car, even if it's special order and takes 6 months to get here.

It costs millions of dollars to certify a car for sale in a country - each particular model has to be shown to meet national emissions standards. Even if the engine is the same, if you want to sell a wagon and a sedan, you have to spend millions certifying each one for emissions and safety.

There isn't some vast conspiracy to deny people cars they want to buy. Automakers don't sell many small, efficient cars in the U.S. because gas prices are low and Americans want to drive big cars. Europeans, who pay $6-8/gallon for gas, drive on narrow roads, and park in small spaces in crowded cities, will pay high prices for small, efficient cars. That has not traditionally been true of Americans (those participating in this thread not being a representative sample of American drivers, to say the least). If that changes in a big way, the cars being sold will change.

Others have also pointed out that European diesels don't meet U.S. emissions standards - many automakers have to fit more expensive equipment to get their diesels certified. That adds more cost, on top of the fact that diesel engines cost more to build. With Euro 6 emissions strandards, the engines sold in Europe at least won't need much modification to sell in the U.S., but there will still be the question of whether Americans want to drive diesels. Keep in mind that European governments (except the U.K.) tax diesel less, while the U.S. taxes it more than gas.

Diesel hybrids are hugely expensive. You'd have to do way more driving than the average person to see the payback.
posted by Dasein at 3:22 PM on May 15, 2012


Fleebnork: "Diesel costs around 40 cents more per gallon than Regular. "

Currently. Though they're correlated over the long-term, diesel prices don't follow the same price fluctuations as gasoline. For one thing, the supply-and-demand patterns are influenced by very different factors.

Sometimes it's cheaper, sometimes it's more, sometimes it's about equal.

Also, the range of a tank of gas in a diesel VW is something crazy, on the order of 500 miles. If you manage run out of gas with that, it's your own damn fault. Odds are, you'll pass a gas station that sells diesel at some point during the 125 miles that you'll get out of the last quarter of your tank.
posted by schmod at 3:22 PM on May 15, 2012


Was the tiny Ford car the Festiva?
posted by drezdn at 3:24 PM on May 15, 2012


Fleebnork: "There's nothing theoretical about your Audi's horsepower."

The 'theoretical' part comes from the age of the car. It's definitely not performing as well as it did when it was new, and I can say this with a fairly high degree of certainty.

I've also driven cars with VW/Audi's 2.0T engine, which has similar power output numbers to the ones listed for my V6, and it's definitely faster and more responsive than the TDI or my aging V6.
posted by schmod at 3:26 PM on May 15, 2012


when you brake on an expressway, you're essentially throwing away the energy required to get back up to traffic speed

There is a special circle of hell for people who brake on the freeway (barring emergencies). It is prima facie evidence that you are following too close and/or driving too fast for conditions. That's what starts traffic jams, too -- bunching and unbunching. It's like turbulence in a stream of water.
posted by Fnarf at 3:48 PM on May 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


All those 300-horsepower dinosaurs hauling around one 112-lb woman and a bag of groceries....
posted by Fnarf at 2:29 PM on May 15 [+] [!]

This motorcyclist thinks that's kind of a funny comment in a thread about 3200+ lb cars, regardless of their fuel efficiency. :)
posted by TheNewWazoo at 3:54 PM on May 15, 2012


Yeah, well, you don't have to have a death wish to care about the environment.
posted by Dasein at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


It costs millions of dollars to certify a car for sale in a country - each particular model has to be shown to meet national emissions standards. Even if the engine is the same, if you want to sell a wagon and a sedan, you have to spend millions certifying each one for emissions and safety.

Indeed, but I'm not talking about emissions/engines (as far as I know, the common rail diesel sold in the U.S. is the same as the one sold in Euro markets), I'm talking about the trim and other design details that gain you a mpg here and a mpg there.
For example, aerodynamic side mirrors or low rolling resistance tires. With things like the aerodynamic front bumper, there are obviously different crash standards to deal with, but that doesn't change the fact that many of the bits are bolt-ons that we are denied in the U.S.

There isn't some vast conspiracy to deny people cars they want to buy. Automakers don't sell many small, efficient cars in the U.S. because gas prices are low and Americans want to drive big cars

Americans want to drive _nice_ cars, which is an entirely different thing.
Carmakers (and VWoA is certainly guilty of this) have a habit of making their small cars into econoboxes that, quite frankly, are horrible to drive and horrible to own. 60mpg is no good if you're miserable when you're doing it.
VWoA management seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the small, fuel-efficient, but well equipped car segment. For a company that popularized the hot-hatch segment, they've done a fine job of abandoning it in the U.S.
posted by madajb at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2012


Hidden beneath all the car nerdery I like the description of the Taylors themselves - John has this great list of special driving techniques to refine and Helen is sitting there in the passenger seat "monitoring social media". Over the 3 day journey couple also talk about how they can best continue to evangelize efficiency to the world - and they learn some German. No doubt Helen has left her extra set of shoes at home to save weight (tip 24) and John is keeping calm (tip 19) when he finds himself in a rush hour traffic (contravention of rule 16). Getting that much mileage out of a tank of gas really is an achievement - but it seems like they also manage - in an endearingly eccentric way - to extract the maximum mileage from the idea.
posted by rongorongo at 3:56 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This motorcyclist thinks that's kind of a funny comment in a thread about 3200+ lb cars, regardless of their fuel efficiency. :)

While my state has no motorcycle passenger age law, my kid still has trouble remembering to hold on when given a piggyback ride, so it may be a few years yet before she's ready for her first rally.
posted by madajb at 4:00 PM on May 15, 2012


Americans want to drive _nice_ cars, which is an entirely different thing.

I know it's a different thing, and I disagree. It's true that one factor in people not buying small cars is that until recently, they weren't as nice inside, and were awful to drive. But the default preference for most American drivers is to drive as large a vehicle as is affordable. I think that Americans will move to more efficient midsized cars in much greater numbers than more-efficient subcompacts. Cars like the Camry Hybrid (relatively low price, great fuel efficiency), and even base, four-cylinder models that get relatively good economy for a low price, are going to sell better because they better suit lifestyles that involve lots of shopping being transported in the car, long interstate trips, etc. It seems to me that when they're a gas spike, people stampede to the really small cars, then when they get used to the gas prices, they realize that a four-cylinder midsized car represents a better tradeoff in terms of size/efficiency.

VWoA management seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the small, fuel-efficient, but well equipped car segment.

Really? The only manufacturer that offers affordable, compact diesels has that blind spot? I don't understand that logic at all. Aren'you pretty well describing a Golf TDi?
posted by Dasein at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can someone please explain to me why, in Canada, we use L/100km as a substitute for MPG? It's not the metric system I mind; it's the fact that it's not a direct conversion, but a flippy-floppy backwards and upside-down brain-hurty confusion causer.

Maybe that's the point?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:29 PM on May 15, 2012


If you own a Chevy Volt, you may be getting better mileage than that diesel TDI on a daily basis without hypermiling. About 37% of the Volts that report their actual driving habits to VoltStats have an MPG equivalent of 75 mpg or more. The median is over 70 MPG, and the top tier are in the 80-90 MPG range. Electricity is just better for most daily driving.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 4:37 PM on May 15, 2012


I like the idea of everyone having fuel efficient cars, but the reality is you are doing the earth a larger favor by holding on to whatever car you currently own as long as possible. That fuel efficient car you want to get is great, but if your car is still fine, your carbon footprint really needs to include the energy used in manufacturing the car.

I worked for a wealthy woman who had several nice cars, and last year she bought a Nissan Leaf and commented at how it just felt so great to know she was driving around in complete carbon neutrality. Since she was my boss, I didn't really want to piss her off by letting her know that:

1. manufacturing an electric car is not a carbon neutral activity

2. zero emissions doesn't mean zero total emissions, it just means zero from the engine. The emissions have been transplanted to a coal-fired electrical plant instead.

But yeah, one day, when most cars are fuel efficient, and power plants are cleaner, that'll be cool. I'll buy one then.
posted by braksandwich at 4:43 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not only the electricity, braksandwich, but the emissions of copper and other metals from the brake linings, rubber from the tires, etc. The runoff from a large parking lot is a disgusting toxic stew.
posted by Fnarf at 4:49 PM on May 15, 2012


Witness the griping in full-size trucks about urea now. Simply put, Americans are terrible at car maintenance. They want an appliance.
posted by narcoleptic at 5:06 PM on May 15, 2012


We own a VW TDI Sportwagen and absolutely adore it. It gets great gas mileage no matter how it's driven and it has ots of low-end torque. We drove it home from Charleston, SC to St Petersburg, FL on half a tank of gas. My wife and I were convinced the gas gauge was broken but then preceded to drive on the remaining gas for another 4 or 5 days. Amazing.

Also, speaking of fuel efficient cars that aren't available in the states, how come Toyota won't sell a diesel Hilux in the US? There's more 4-door SR5's and Tacoma's on the road in my neck of the woods than any other truck and yet Toyota won't sell the diesel version. WTF?
posted by photoslob at 5:12 PM on May 15, 2012


Can someone please explain to me why, in Canada, we use L/100km as a substitute for MPG?

MPG and L/100km are reciprocals of each other (with a correction factor). L/100km provides a more intuitive comparison of the difference between two fuel efficiency ratings.

For example, do you save more gas switching from 10 MPG to 15 MPG or from 30 MPG to 35 MPG? In both cases it is a 5 MPG difference which misleads you into thinking the differences are the same.

When expressed as L/100km, the same two comparisons are from 16 L/100km to 12 L/100km or from 8 L/100km to 7 L/100km.

You can quickly see that you save 4 L/100km in the first case and only 1 L/100km in the second case. It is immediately obvious that the first change in fuel efficiency is four times bigger than the second.
posted by JackFlash at 5:13 PM on May 15, 2012 [10 favorites]


I am completely sick of handwaving about the Jevons effect being used to "justify" non-movement in pursuit of energy efficiency.

The Jevons effect only happens if you assume that the price of the resource being used more efficiently either doesn't change, or drops due to reduced demand. Sound public policy would apply gradually but steadily increasing levies to artificially jack up the prices of those resources whose use is detrimental to the community as a whole, such as the fossil fuels whose extraction causes global warming. If those measures were combined with removal of legislative roadblocks to efficiency, they would naturally result in relentless pursuit of it.

The net effect would be a redirection of wealth that's currently literally burnt toward availability for stuff like e.g. fixing roads, and a reduction in the use rate of resources with damaging side effects.

In the case of fossil fuels it's particularly easy to figure out where to apply the levy: it should be applied to the organizations that actually dig the stuff up. There are not many of those, relatively speaking, so administration of the levies need not be complex. And if the levies did indeed rise gradually and predictably year on year, this would generate strong and predictable pricing signals that would drive a cutover from fossil fuels over time. And there would be no Jevons backlash, either.

Why is this so absolutely obvious to me, and so absolutely not to legislators everywhere?
posted by flabdablet at 5:15 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If anyone produced efficient cars that were affordable to the lower classes in the US, they would sell like hotcakes. It's a shame that the really economical cars are only really available to people who can afford to pay for lots of gas every day and not the folks who are really hampered by fuel costs.

That's why Yugo had a great showing here for a while and why Hyundai is now a major player. They broke into the market with some modesty and people with modest incomes purchased them. I know it doesn't sound profitable, but the profit comes in the long run after the market has been influenced and brand loyalty has been established.

The only reason American auto makers aren't leading the field in automotive technology is because the federal hand outs for that are tiny compared to the subsidies that promote consumption.

(Ok, there are other reasons too, like not having the best engineers in the world.)
posted by snsranch at 5:16 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sys Rq--
I drive rentals for work...a LOT. A couple months ago I got put into a...something, I don't even remember WHAT, that had been driven down from Canada. I always keep track of my mileage, even when work is footing the bill. Not only was the interface in Quebecois, which I could at least navigate (I never did find a language chooser), but the default mileage setting was L/100Km. It took me an embarrasingly long time to figure out what it meant and convert it so it made sense to me. L/100Km would make perfect sense...if we used Liters or Litres or Kilometers or Kilometres. (I'm not saying we shouldn't, I'm just saying we don't.)
posted by TomMelee at 5:19 PM on May 15, 2012


Can someone please explain to me why, in Canada, we use L/100km as a substitute for MPG? It's not the metric system I mind; it's the fact that it's not a direct conversion, but a flippy-floppy backwards and upside-down brain-hurty confusion causer.

Good question - this is not something that's well-understood. MPG is terrible way to measure fuel consumption. Here's a question: what saves you more gas, going from 10 mpg to 11 mpg, or 40 mpg to 50 mpg? 40 to 50, right? That's a 10 mpg jump, rather than a 1 mpg jump. But that's wrong.

Over 100 miles at 10 mpg, you'd use 10 gallons; improve to 11 mpg and you only use 9.09 gallons - saving you 0.91 gallons.

Over the same 100 miles at 40 mpg, you'd use 2.5 gallons; at 50, you'd use 2 gallons - a savings of only 0.5 gallons, or about 45% less fuel savings on a 10 times greater increase in miles per gallons.

Miles per gallon misleads consumers and distorts the marginal benefits of fuel savings. People like Tom Friedman get all excited about high fuel economy numbers - 50, 60, 100 miles per gallon! - when we're talking about relatively small fuel savings - diminishing returns for very high costs. If you want to save fuel, you could go from a nationwide average of 20 mpg to 30 mpg, and save about 1.7 gallons per 100 miles, for not too much money; or you could go from 30 mpg to 50 mpg, at enormous cost, and save about 1.3 gallons per 100 miles.

So that's why everyone should measure fuel consumption in units fuel per units distance, not distance per units fuel. As for litres and kilometres? When Americans pull their heads out of their collective ass and embrace the metric system, let me know, and I'll waive to flying pigs from the seat of my flying car as I travel over the gay pride peace parade in Jerusalem.
posted by Dasein at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Really? The only manufacturer that offers affordable, compact diesels has that blind spot? I don't understand that logic at all. Aren'you pretty well describing a Golf TDi?

VW makes at least 2 models smaller than a Golf. Their Audi arm makes at least one (2 if you count the A3).
In the U.S., you have a choice of one diesel engine in the Golf as opposed to the 5 in the UK.
The U.S. also gets the cheap trim with little choice to change it. As well, we are often denied the "special edition" models sold in the Euro market.

I understand what you are saying about Americans and large cars, and for a big segment of the population, that's true.
But I think of it like the iphone. A lot of people didn't know they wanted one until it came out. "Luxury" small/city cars are the same thing. VW (or whoever) could capture the under-served market of people who want small cars, but aren't willing to drive cars with a tape deck and crank windows.
And as gas prices continue their inevitable climb, they'd be well-positioned to ride that wave.

But hey, they are the number 1 or 2 car company in the world, so they probably have reams of market research proving me wrong!
posted by madajb at 5:36 PM on May 15, 2012


We've had our Golf TDI Wagon (Jetta Sportwagen in the US) for just over a year and it rocks. The 2-hour weekend road trips to my parents' place barely dents the tank and we can go there and back several times, whereas our previous Mazda6 V6 was an absolute pig and we'd barely make the trip once.
I have to say, however, that the torque is really addictive and is probably offsetting some of the good mileage I could be getting. It's too fun though, zooming off from a green light as the shouts of "Turbo!" come from my kids in the back seat.
Diesel fuel prices here in Toronto have been fairly consistently comparable to or cheaper than gas for the last year or so. The few times it's been more expensive have been when there's been a gas price drop, which never lasts long.
posted by chococat at 6:09 PM on May 15, 2012


Converting to metric, the couple achieved 84 mpg is equivalent to 2.8 litres per 100km. It's really good, considering it's real world driving and they got caught in some jams.

For comparison, combined cycle figures for the newest model Fiesta Econetic is 3.3 litres per 100km.

I'm driving a stock standard diesel Fiesta and total average fuel use over 4 months is 4.3 litres per 100km. However I've done some "drafting" tests and my best record is about 2.7 litres per 100km over a 20km highway route drafting two car lengths behind a big truck.

---

Re: the accelerating too hard thing - it is correct that accelerating slowly is better for overall fuel economy. It has to do with the performance curves which are hard to visualize because they're in several dimensions, but the gist of it is that you can achieve better efficiency at low RPM + low power and there's no way to get to that part of the curve when putting on hard acceleration, and getting to top speed faster isn't worth the extra few seconds you get at cruising. (anecdotally confirmed by several years of watching my instant fuel flow gauge with some interest)

I quite like the instant-fuel flow gauge. It's surprising what actually affects it: idling the Fiesta engine consumes 0.2 litres per hour, while idling a larger engine like in a Mondeo consumes 0.9 litres per hour. Turning on headlights adds about 0.1 litres per hour at idle. Turning on air cond adds about 0.2 litres per hour at idle.

So this means a Fiesta with all power draw items off idles at 0.2 litres per hour, and when it's a hot summer night and I'm having my headlamps + air conditioner on, it's idling at 0.5 litres per hour.

Many new cars have DFCO (deceleration fuel cutoff) so it's better to coast down in gear rather than coast down in neutral. It may have been the conventional advice to shift to neutral in the past to get a longer coast down, but with DFCO if you start coasting down in gear you can see the instant fuel gauge immediately cut to zero. Effectively this means the car is powering its electronics and hydraulic systems by harvesting kinetic energy from your coast down. The moment you put the clutch in or switch to neutral the computer starts putting fuel in the engine again - when the engine is disconnecting from the road, it needs fuel to run in order to supply power to the brakes / steering / electricals. Again, you can see this sudden jump in fuel use if you have an instant fuel fuel.

You can get ridiculously good fuel economy at low speeds at high gears. Doing say 40kmph at 3rd gear will get you better than highway economy, or 60kmph at top gear. Most people believe for some reason that doing highway speed driving is the best for fuel economy, when really it's not because of the speed, it's because of the start / stop nature of urban driving. Its definitely worth drafting trucks if you're planning to do 100kmph on a highway for long periods of time - the instant fuel gauge shows definitely improvement.
posted by xdvesper at 6:12 PM on May 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I have a diesel Ford SMax people carrier"

Drive Max.

Drive SMax.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:32 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I saw this video a few days ago on Reddit. Another user posted a link debunking the claims of the video.

The VW Polo is coming to the US in 2013, but still won't feature the smallest engine VW makes (at least according to what I've read), and I'm pretty sure it comes down to Americans not accepting lower performance for slightly higher mileage.

The smallest (and most fuel efficient) diesel VW makes has about the same horsepower as a SmartCar, but in a vehicle twice the weight.
posted by borkencode at 8:20 PM on May 15, 2012


It felt more responsive on the highway than my V6 Audi, which theoretically has 60 more horsepower.

I have to say, however, that the torque is really addictive and is probably offsetting some of the good mileage I could be getting. It's too fun though, zooming off from a green light as the shouts of "Turbo!" come from my kids in the back seat.

it has ots of low-end torque.


I sincerely need to borrow someone else's wagen, 'cause I've been driving mine for almost 3 years now, and while it has served well, it has never approached anything that could be called "zooming".
posted by madajb at 8:47 PM on May 15, 2012


If only ingenious Americans could invent a fuel efficient car. Something small and light and inexpensive. Maybe 3 cylinders? Maybe we could get 45 or 50 mpg out of it. Why can't America invent a car like this with 2012 technology? Especially when we managed to do it with 80's technology.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 9:58 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Barry B. Palindromer: "If only ingenious Americans could invent a fuel efficient car. Something small and light and inexpensive. Maybe 3 cylinders? Maybe we could get 45 or 50 mpg out of it. Why can't America invent a car like this with 2012 technology? Especially when we managed to do it with 80's technology."

My family had 3 of those over time. They were fucking fantastic. Nothing but bare bones. Perfect. If only the engines were more durable.
posted by klanawa at 11:19 PM on May 15, 2012


My 660cc, 3 cylinder, 800kg Daihatsu Mira was built in 1995, cost me $3250 used, has a shade under 200,000km on the clock and uses 4.5l/100km of unleaded 91RON petrol on the highway if I keep the speed under 80km/h. Even at 100km/h it only drinks 5.1l/100km.

It occurred to me the other day that when that car was new, people were just cutting over from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95.
posted by flabdablet at 11:45 PM on May 15, 2012


If only ingenious Americans could invent a fuel efficient car. Something small and light and inexpensive. Maybe 3 cylinders? Maybe we could get 45 or 50 mpg out of it. Why can't America invent a car like this with 2012 technology? Especially when we managed to do it with 80's technology.

No, you didn't. The Japanese did: the Metro was a rebadged Suzuki.
posted by Skeptic at 1:33 AM on May 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


The dearth of bare bones cars is a shame. I'm driving a '92 Storm and basically the only option on the car is the rear window defroster. Simple transportation that allows one to concentrate on driving. And even though it only has 95hp that power is more than adequate because it only weighs 2100lbs. And I still get 7ishL/100 in mixed driving. Also I like that body style though I understand it if fairly polarizing.
posted by Mitheral at 5:31 AM on May 16, 2012


Such dedication has earned them the unofficial title of the world’s most fuel-efficient couple.

Does that include flying from Australia to the US and back?
posted by crazylegs at 6:26 AM on May 16, 2012


Wrong. It's more fuel-efficient to accelerate gradually than to accelerate quickly. Also a bit less stress on all the hardware - engine, tranny, drivetrain.

I'm pretty sure I'm right and I have some math to prove it.

I'll use my car (2005 Nissan Altima 3.5SE) as an example since I have I know the numbers I'm using are somewhat accurate. Under gradual acceleration, my car will about 8mpg, 2mpg under hard acceleration, and 30mpg at constant speed at 60mph. We'll assume constant acceleration.

There are two scenarios.

1. I accelerate gradually up to 60 mph over the course of 1/2 mile and then continue at 60mph for another 1/2 mile. I use (8 mpg/.5 mi)+(30 mpg/.5 mi)= .0792 gal

2. I accelerate quickly (almost as fast as the car will go) to 60 mph which takes 10 seconds and covers .0833 miles and then continue at 60 mph for the rest of the 1 mile. I use (2 mpg/.0833 mi)+(30 mpg/.9167 mi)=.0722 gal

I wish I had more reliable data about the mileage I get under acceleration because I only have access to the instant mpg and average (I'd like to have a graph of the instant mpg over time in seconds) but either way, the difference isn't huge. If I had that, I could find the sweet spot where I get the best trade-off. Even then, every car will be a little different.

I can't speak with any authority on the wear and tear issue but I suspect that it doesn't really matter that much as long as you don't constantly try to push the gas pedal through the firewall but we'd need to consult an automotive engineer to really get at that answer. I know that brakes, at least, are counter intuitive this way. Braking harder and stopping faster (firm but not hard) causes less wear than stopping gradually. It's similar to the acceleration thing, there is a trade-off between the amount of time friction is being applied and the force of the friction applied and you get less friction (and therefore heat) overall by stopping more firmly than most people are used to.

In the grand scheme of things, you're better off not really worrying too much about your rate of acceleration. Avoid speeding up (which means avoiding slowing down) when you can but mostly you want to accelerate at whatever speed is safe (which means getting up to at least freeway speed when you're getting on the freeway).
posted by VTX at 6:27 AM on May 16, 2012


The dearth of bare bones cars is a shame.

This dearth is pretty much a US only phenomenon. In the European market, there are currently several ultra-basic cars:

The whole Dacia range: Logan saloon and estate, Sandero hatchback, Duster SUV.
The Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 108/Citroën C1 (same car, different badges)
The VW Up!/SEAT Mii/Skoda Citigo (as above)
...
posted by Skeptic at 6:36 AM on May 16, 2012


Why can't America invent a car like this with 2012 technology?

Because there isn't a chance in hell that Geo Metro would pass today's crash standards, or a chance in hell that anyone would buy such a tin can econobox. Safety equipment is heavy; A/C, modern electronics, and all the other things people demand in their cars adds weight.
posted by Dasein at 6:45 AM on May 16, 2012


A couple of points on further reflection:
1. The model of car that the Taylors drove has a tank with a capacity of 18.5 US gallons - or 70 litres. If they drive 1,626.1 miles at 84.1 miles per gallon than that comes to 19.33 gallons - which does not quite fit in the tank.

2. The EPA stated fuel consumption for the car is 43 MPG on the highway. Even allowing for the flattening curve of fuel used for increasing MPG figures mentioned above - and assuming the care only ever travels at it most efficient stated rate - this would predict that the car would have used about 39 gallons for the trip. So either hyper-miling is an incredibly effective technique - or the EPA figures are over-conservative.
posted by rongorongo at 6:50 AM on May 16, 2012


the reality is you are doing the earth a larger favor by holding on to whatever car you currently own as long as possible.

This was true, but isn't now.

We're in a precarious moment for the global auto industry. Nissan and GM specifically have made huge expenditures on R&D for new electric platforms, but the cars they've created are only selling modestly. Last year, GM trumpeted expectations for selling 60,000 Volts in 2012; last month they sold about 1400, which puts them on track to sell only about 28% of that number. The Leaf is doing far worse, selling only 370 units in April. These are not good numbers, especially for the Leaf.

The money that goes into creating these electric drivetrain vehicles has huge ripple effects, especially in the battery industry, where we are on the cusp of some transformative technologies that have the potential to bring the cost of batteries way down, and make electric vehicles more affordable.

But if this current generation of electric cars doesn't sell, all bets are off. You could see an echo of the EV1, where electric cars become a corporate taboo, and the flow of money to improve batteries and our infrastructure slows to a trickle again. This could mean decades more of the gasoline paradigm, and would be far worse for the Earth by any metric.

But yeah, one day, when most cars are fuel efficient, and power plants are cleaner, that'll be cool. I'll buy one then.

Of course, when you play the waiting game like that, the day may never come.

You can't put the blame on power plants. A recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that for 82 percent of the population, EVs will produce equal or lower global warming emissions than the most efficient gasoline hybrids. And even utilities in coal country often offer green electricity at slightly higher rates (which are offset by the savings of driving on electrons).

Right now, the federal government provides a big tax credit for EV buyers -- $7500 for the Volt or the Leaf. Some state governments offer thousands more. It's a good time to buy or lease an EV, and tomorrow may not be, especially if Republicans are successful in killing off the tax credit. Sales of EVs over the next two years will cast a shadow over the next two decades. If you're in the market, waiting could be costlier than you think.
posted by Missiles K. Monster at 6:53 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you own a Chevy Volt, you may be getting better mileage than that diesel TDI on a daily basis without hypermiling. About 37% of the Volts that report their actual driving habits to VoltStats have an MPG equivalent of 75 mpg or more. The median is over 70 MPG, and the top tier are in the 80-90 MPG range. Electricity is just better for most daily driving.

This is absolutely not true yet. It is better for the owner of the car commuting shirt distances to drive electric, but the total energy picture is still massively out of whack, especially when you consider R&D costs (in terms of energy, money and waste disposal of batteries etc) and general costs (increased production costs, increased transportation of raw materials due to lesser available materials being required that involves more global shipping etc). In addition, compared to European vehicle economy figures (as mentioned above) the Chevy Volt is, at best, equivalent. It certainly isn't in any way 'better'. It is not the awesome step forward it is touted to be by a long way.

Their single biggest flaw is that if they are operated in a predominately coal-fired power station area, they really aren't much of an improvement. If they operate within a Hydro electric region, their viability in the fullest terms jumps enormously. The world doesn't have the renewable and sustainable power supply to make electric cars the answer yet. Especially given the massive handicap that the buying public (and especially and particularly the US) demand with their big, heavy and cumbersome vehicle demands. Until the US market consider a 2000lb commuter car as 'too heavy' (which is is) then electric cars are seriously viable. While the Chevy Volt weighs 3,750 for what amounts to a 'commuter car' with 4 seats, then trying to force electric propulsion is is stupid and bullshit propaganda.

Electric cars CAN give fancy numbers, but only over a proportion of driving habits. Electric cars are entirely unsuited for long journeys (ie over 100 miles). They are entirely inappropriate for any heavy hauling (from towing to light vans to pick ups and definitely for commercial hauling).

Until the public have realistic expectations of their vehicles, electric is at least 10 years away as a realistic, genuinely cleaner alternative. Nothing on the market at all at the moment is genuinely better. It just gives better MPG numbers in the short term and equivalent costs behind the scenes. They are not a game changer yet.

Electric vehicles would make more sense in Europe - the cars are smaller and average ranges lower. Yet the more free engine availability means that electric vehicles don't make sense because there still are massive gains in IC engine efficiency that can still be made. So with freedom to explore that, you see forecourt vehicles with no range limitations producing the same economy as a car that can only go 350 miles on a tank. But these vehicles are cheaper to produce, to maintain and also don't require massive servicing costs with battery replacement (and disposal) in 5 years. They also don't require nasty mining in far off places that require large shipping costs either. Yet they get the same economy.

People need to consider the system as a whole - the cost and pollution and impact of the entire life of the car. Development cycle, through production, through usage, through production of ancillaries and consumables through usage right on to disposal. Electric vehicles are trying to compete in a system that doesn't suit it (fat, inefficient cars) with an infrastructure that doesn't follow the same philosophy (fossil fuel electric consumption). Yet a remarkably large amount of Government subsidies and buying public thinks its a total slam dunk win. It is far from that at this point.
posted by Brockles at 7:27 AM on May 16, 2012


The world doesn't have the renewable and sustainable power supply to make electric cars the answer yet. Especially given the massive handicap that the buying public (and especially and particularly the US) demand with their big, heavy and cumbersome vehicle demands. Until the US market consider a 2000lb commuter car as 'too heavy' (which is is) then electric cars are seriously viable. While the Chevy Volt weighs 3,750 for what amounts to a 'commuter car' with 4 seats, then trying to force electric propulsion is is stupid and bullshit propaganda.

Electric cars CAN give fancy numbers, but only over a proportion of driving habits. Electric cars are entirely unsuited for long journeys (ie over 100 miles). They are entirely inappropriate for any heavy hauling (from towing to light vans to pick ups and definitely for commercial hauling).


That may be true, but it is inconsequential. Electric cars don't have to be "the answer", and they really don't have to be the answer right now. Change happens in increments. As more electric (or almost electric) cars get purchased, the choke points of the current infrastructure will be found and corrected. Older coal plants will be cleaned up and/or shut down as other cleaner sources come online. Every little bit helps.

Also, electric cars don't have to be appropriate for every possible usage scenario to be viable, any more than railroad locomotives or bicycles are appropriate for every driver. And hybrid electrics like the Volt are plenty suited for long distance travel. The Volt isn't meant to be a commuter car, it is meant to be a midsize car that gets great mileage. As far as I can tell, it is about the size of the Impala, with similar utility.
posted by gjc at 7:47 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


As far as I can tell, it is about the size of the Impala, with similar utility.

Uh, what? It's based on the Cruze platform; the Impala is two platforms bigger. The Volt has only four seats, making it impractical for a lot of people who need five occasionally. It's smaller than a Cruze for twice the price. It's a great concept in terms of fuel savings without range anxiety, but the price is nowhere near making economic sense for drivers.
posted by Dasein at 7:51 AM on May 16, 2012


Because there isn't a chance in hell that Geo Metro would pass today's crash standards, or a chance in hell that anyone would buy such a tin can econobox. Safety equipment is heavy;

WRC cars weigh 1200KG and they include a cage, turbo and 4wd. There is no reason a 2000-2200 lb car with a small FWD powerplant couldn't be constructed and still be safe. But you are right that they wouldn't include crap like A/C, 18 speaker sourround sound navigation, 65 cup holders, heated seats, 18" wheels, sunroofs, power folding mirrors, power seats etc.

The model of car that the Taylors drove has a tank with a capacity of 18.5 US gallons - or 70 litres. If they drive 1,626.1 miles at 84.1 miles per gallon than that comes to 19.33 gallons - which does not quite fit in the tank.

You can fit a lot of fuel in the filler pipe and fuel filter. And filling up while the fuel is cold allows you more than the nominal capacity (fuel is sold volume corrected to a specific temperature; 15C in Canada).
posted by Mitheral at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2012


But you are right that they wouldn't include crap like A/C, 18 speaker sourround sound navigation, 65 cup holders, heated seats, 18" wheels, sunroofs, power folding mirrors, power seats etc.

Take a look at the specs for a Honda Civic. Base DX model with manual transmission is 2608 lbs. Moving to the EX-L model adds auto transmission, moon roof, power side windows, power door locks, heated leather seats, six speaker audio, and alloy wheels. How much do you think that adds to the weight? 165 pounds, or about 6%. Sure that hurts fuel mileage a bit but the 2600 base hurts it a lot more.
posted by smackfu at 8:17 AM on May 16, 2012


That may be true, but it is inconsequential.

Not at all. The consequences are far reaching and have great consequence. Development is being pushed in a direction that is not necessarily in the best interests of the public or energy consumption as a whole. We are a long, long way from seeing the most we can get from an IC engine, yet the public perception is IC is dead and electric cars are better. They just... aren't. Too many things (including buyers perception of vehicle size and weight) need to change to make cars as a machine more efficient regardless of propulsion method. We'd likely get better use of the dwindling amount of fossil fuels if we put them into better burning diesel or petrol cars than into massively inefficient cargo ships carrying batteries halfway across the world while using up more crude oil in the process than the many hundreds of IC cars would.


Electric cars don't have to be "the answer", and they really don't have to be the answer right now.

But they are being touted as such by manufacturers and government alike. And they will - for reasons not really pertaining to the suitability of electricity as propulsion - suck and cause more damage to the environment and cost to the public and manufacturers. This is quite likely to cause them to be dropped for a longer period as 'not working', when they should have less (but more sustained) development money spent on them and be introduced when they are genuinely viable, not just 'good enough for now'.

Electric may well be the answer (likely is) but it is a long way from being the answer yet and we may poison the well of public acceptance by forcing it too early. That is short sighted, stupid and driven by government incompetence/pressure/lack of understanding and marketing. That is not a good basis on which to make a genuine progression.

Because there isn't a chance in hell that Geo Metro would pass today's crash standards, or a chance in hell that anyone would buy such a tin can econobox. Safety equipment is heavy;

My best friend works as Head of Department of an automotive consultancy of significant repute. His brother in law (also a friend of mine) works as Head of Crash for a luxury car manufacturer. We had a very long discussion about that very issue over the last few months. Safety equipment is not in the slightest bit as heavy as you think it is. It is total fallacy. They estimated that they could make (for instance) a Nissan Micra from 1988 (675Kg/1490 lbs) comply to current crash safety legislation by significant redesign and the additional weight in the order of 40kg (88lbs) at a maximum. This would make a car that did 45-50mpg all day long more than 20 years ago as safe as any small car today and it'd weigh 715kg/1576 lbs. It'd be the same as carrying a small passenger in terms of weight cost.

My friend's department have lobbied hard to produce a proof of concept car (they were going to use a Golf GTi Mk1, as it happens because it's a bit more interesting than a Micra...) for demonstration and display to the industry and journalists. They have done a LOT of work on this on their own time because it offends them greatly that this perception that weight=safety is why cars must continue to be heavier and this is all about safety is utter nonsense. Part of the issue is that to allow a 3000lb car to have the crumple zones to satisfy legislation is a smoke screen. If it wasn't 3000+lbs it wouldn't need as much crumple zone to comply.

The vast majority of the extra weight since the late 80's is in luxury items. They estimate over 20 kg (44lbs) just in carpeting in a modern car - by which they mean the cheap ones, not the Jaguars/Lexus/Mercedes. Plus sound deadening panels. Plus, plus, plus.

Cars DO NOT NEED to be such heavy, wasteful beasts. This 'but it makes us safer' drum rings very, very hollow to anyone that actually understands the engineering and the physics involved.
posted by Brockles at 8:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fast acceleration versus slow acceleration: it has been discussed above, but I thought I'd clarify. The instant fuel efficiency of an engine is mapped on a table called brake specific fuel consumption. The fuel consumption is mapped against the RPM and the power being delivered (or asked of) the engine.

(Looking at it from a different angle: if your metric is miles per gallon, you are getting negative MPG when you are idling, and very low MPG when you are just off idle, because the engine is consuming fuel to do almost no useful work. Same thing at the high RPMs, the engine is using way more fuel than it needs to per unit of power delivered. Peak efficiency is somewhere in the middle.)

Which ends up meaning that fuel consumption (per power delivered) is lowest when the engine is at its peak torque and the throttle is wide open.

So, to accelerate in the most efficient way, you need to choose a rate of acceleration where you are using the least amount of fuel to achieve the goal. If you need to get to 60 MPH, you can floor it and get there in 8 seconds. But doing that means you are using fuel at say 2 mL per second. So 16 mL of fuel to achieve your goal. So, you accelerate very slowly, at a rate of 0.2 mL per second, and it takes 60 seconds to get there. Except you have used 12mL of fuel to get there. But somewhere in the middle, there is a sweet spot where you use perhaps 0.5 mL of fuel per second and get there in 20 seconds. You have used 10 mL of fuel to achieve your goal.

Converting all of that into practical advice, choose a higher gear than seems appropriate and floor it. You want that sweet spot where the engine feels like it is lugging a little bit.
posted by gjc at 8:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not at all. The consequences are far reaching and have great consequence. Development is being pushed in a direction that is not necessarily in the best interests of the public or energy consumption as a whole. We are a long, long way from seeing the most we can get from an IC engine, yet the public perception is IC is dead and electric cars are better. They just... aren't. Too many things (including buyers perception of vehicle size and weight) need to change to make cars as a machine more efficient regardless of propulsion method. We'd likely get better use of the dwindling amount of fossil fuels if we put them into better burning diesel or petrol cars than into massively inefficient cargo ships carrying batteries halfway across the world while using up more crude oil in the process than the many hundreds of IC cars would.

Minor quibble: cargo ships burn heavy fuels that are basically the leftovers from refining the rest of the fuels, and those big diesels are among the most efficient engines (per unit of power) in the world. For the most part, they aren't burning fuels that could ever go into a car.

But anyway, even if we are a long way away from squeezing the most out of IC engines, we are also a long way away from squeezing the most out of battery power. What's wrong with doing both? Especially as fossil fuel costs rise, there is going to be less and less return for any efficiency gains in IC engine development. I mean, right now, in the infancy of the electric car game, their costs are more or less equal.

As for IC engines, they are still lossy when accelerating and idling. They have narrow power bands where they are at their most efficient. It seems to me that in the near-term, hybrid electrics are the best of both worlds. As fuel cell technology matures, switch out the IC engine for a fuel cell, and the transition will be seamless.

You aren't going to change people's desires. All you can do is build cars that meet those desires in the most efficient way possible for the technology available at the time.
posted by gjc at 8:49 AM on May 16, 2012


See, here's the crazy thing: you'd save more gas by trading in your 10mpg guzzler for a 12mpg guzzler than you would by trading your 30mpg car for a 40mpg car. As much as I dislike SUVs, the big efficiency gains are to be made at the bottom end of the ladder.

This is exactly why I let myself get really fat before losing weight!
posted by srboisvert at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012


Take a look at the specs for a Honda Civic.

The Civic is huge. It is 15" longer, 2" wider, and 5" taller than my Storm with a 10" longer track. It's also fitted with 15" tires which may be required to clear calipers but are probably just for show.
posted by Mitheral at 12:23 PM on May 16, 2012


You have an interesting definition of huge.
posted by smackfu at 12:42 PM on May 16, 2012


In terms of overall volume, that is a MUCH larger car. The Civic doesn't look very big on it's own put if you put it next to the Geo, it would be obvious how much bigger it is.
posted by VTX at 12:47 PM on May 16, 2012


10" longer track

Track is a measurement of width of the wheels. I assume you mean wheelbase? Regardless, the Civic is really a very large car now, considering it's initial market slot. It is now the same kind of size as the Accord used to be, but all models seem to constantly creep upwards in size and the only option is to include smaller models at the bottom of the range. Look at BMW - the 3 is now 5-series sized, the 5 is now 7 series sized and they had to stick the 1 series in because all their cars were huge.

Same with VW and the Lupo.
posted by Brockles at 1:04 PM on May 16, 2012


Anyways.... that just proves my point. The fancy options are not why the car weighs so much, it's because it's a bigger car.
posted by smackfu at 1:08 PM on May 16, 2012


I had no idea that diesel vehicles are the exception rather than the norm in the US. In the UK, if you drive a lot for your job (like I do) a 2-litre plus diesel is mandatory unless you can afford the eye-watering fuel costs that come with a petrol engine and/or you're stupid. My own VW Golf 2.0TDI supplies massive globs of torque and will sit at 80mph+ on the motorway all day long, just sipping from the fuel tank. Even factoring in the occasional bout of heavy footedness (as someone else mentioned, the acceleration is addictive), my expense claims show a consistent average of 55-60mpg.
posted by NeonSurge at 1:36 PM on May 16, 2012


The prices just aren't as eye-watering in the US. The UK recently hit 140p per liter? That's $8.50 per US gallon, double what we are paying.
posted by smackfu at 1:45 PM on May 16, 2012


But at least you have an excellent privatized train syst....
posted by smackfu at 1:46 PM on May 16, 2012


It wasn't until just recently that our standards for diesel fuel caught up to what has been in Europe for a while. We had allowed for much higher sulfur content so the really great diesel engines that they've had in Europe wouldn't run on US diesel fuel. The ones we had were older designs that smelled funny and sounded like a dryer full of rocks.

Combine that with the smaller difference in price and there weren't a whole lot of advantages until you got big trucks towing big things.
posted by VTX at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2012


there weren't a whole lot of advantages until you got big trucks towing big things.

Incidentally, your trucks have god awful engines in them compared to Europe. Presumably through the same fuel issues (and size of loads, of course). The fuel economy and smoke emissions are horrific in big rigs. That and the obsession with 1960's styling and lack of any aerodynamic consideration at all mean the commercial trucking fuel costs are WAY higher than they should be.

Compare the two trucks typical British truck and trailer here to a Typical US one here. Note the almost total lack of fairing or airflow restrictions under the trailer. In addition, there is a massive gap between the tractor unit and the trailer that you just don't see in Europe or the UK. There is very little done to reduce drag at all in the US. They are only recently starting to put perfunctory little fibreglass deflectors on now, but with that horrific ugly old-school Peterbilt up front (or similar) you're on small gains.

Don't get me started on how the horrific aero footprint of the US trucks (and almost universal lack of any spray control) means they are dangerous 150 foot long and 30 foot wide balls of spray whenever the roads are wet, either. All part of the same issue.
posted by Brockles at 1:57 PM on May 16, 2012


Conventials like that pictured Peterbuilt are starting to fall by the way side. At least around here, with the exception of logging trucks, you see more Aeros than convential cabs.

But talking about towing on of the things that drive me nuts is Europe gets to tow bigger loads with the same car. So where a family in the UK will haul a caravan with a station wagon here most cars aren't even rated for towing or are rated at a paltry 1000lbs nessecitating a much larger tow vehicle. Often the exact same car in Europe will be rated to tow 3000-3500 lbs and sometimes with a smaller engine.
posted by Mitheral at 3:03 PM on May 16, 2012


They estimated that they could make (for instance) a Nissan Micra from 1988 (675Kg/1490 lbs) comply to current crash safety legislation by significant redesign and the additional weight in the order of 40kg (88lbs) at a maximum.

This is interesting, but I have to say, I struggle to believe it. The Chevy Sonic's base model sedan (the LS) weighs 1,237 kg - that's without air conditioning or power windows. Option up to the LTZ model, and it's 1,273 kg - only 36 kg more, but almost double the Nissan Micra's weight. I have trouble believing that all that extra weight is the result of unnecessary luxuries like...carpets. I suspect that airbags, steel safety cages, and emissions control equipment play a much larger role.
posted by Dasein at 3:50 PM on May 16, 2012


What's with the cattle-guard on that Peterbuilt (Mitheral's Aeros link) (or for almost any truck, for that matter)
posted by Nauip at 4:54 PM on May 16, 2012


I suspect that airbags, steel safety cages, and emissions control equipment play a much larger role.

There are no steel safety cages in modern cars. The chassis is the structure and is the only crash 'cage'. The reason they start off so heavy is that the cars are too big in the first place, and filled with countless extra luxury items that people feel they 'need'. The argument they wanted to disprove is that care are heavy because of all the additional safety features required by legislation. This is an urban myth - perpetuated by the motoring press, admittedly - and not at all the truth. Advances in design and production methods mean that passing crash safety legislation with a small light car really isn't that hard. The extra weight in the car is not for crash safety.

Emissions control equipment really aren't all that big and heavy. It's a catalyst, a little bit of exhaust gas recirc and a few valves. It really isn't a massive additional system other than in complexity and cost.

Airbags? Yes, they're pretty heavy. But not THAT heavy. That's the point.
posted by Brockles at 5:59 PM on May 16, 2012


There's two things at work - most numbers saying incredible things like "A Honda Accord's weight has increased by 50% in the last 20 years" are wildly inflated, because they're not comparing the same car: it's moved up a size class.

On the other hand, you can't just slap some airbags on a car from 20 years ago and suddenly have it compliant to current NCAP crash standards. Even for the same size class, cars have gotten heavier, and not just due to airbags.

There's a lot more structure in place today to prevent cabin intrusion than there was 20 years ago. Also driving dynamics: you need a stiffer chassis for better cornering, more insulation / damping to reduce noise and vibration.

My take on it is that we are demanding a lot more out of the same car as we did before, so it has to weigh more. As cars need to meet tougher emissions and safety standards, it gets more expensive to engineer. It costs something like a billion dollars to design a new Euro5/Euro6 compliant engine: a new platform would be something like two billion, so you're looking at maybe 3 billion dollars for an all new global platform + powertrain from which you can then spin off multiple designs (sedan, wagon, suv, etc) each with their own costs.

In response to this, most companies are switching to global platforms, where they try to create a universal design that gets sold in like 200 countries around the world. This saves design costs, since they only need to validate the design once, but then now the car has to be over-engineered - it needs to be survive a lifetime in both very humid and very dry conditions, for example, run on varying fuel quality, take hot and cold temps well, salty conditions, etc. It has to be over-engineered for the guys in Europe who may regularly take their car to 200kmph on the autobahn, while being sold in Asia where it spends most of its life doing 60kmph in city driving. All this adds weight to car that would otherwise be specced strictly for local conditions.
posted by xdvesper at 6:52 PM on May 16, 2012


Nauip writes "What's with the cattle-guard on that Peterbuilt "

There is a pretty significant risk of hitting a deer/moose/elk/sheep when you do a lot of night highway driving and the bull bar helps to mitigate damage to your truck. Damaging your truck is a double whammy because a) expensive damage and b) your truck can't roll while you are getting it fixed which costs you money. Also; It looks cool.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 PM on May 16, 2012


Dasein writes "This is interesting, but I have to say, I struggle to believe it. The Chevy Sonic's base model sedan (the LS) weighs 1,237 kg - that's without air conditioning or power windows. "

Once again the Sonic is not a small car. A K-10 Micra is Fiat 500 sized. And the new 500 weighs as little as 865 kgs. Mind you that's 190 kilos difference not 40 but that sounds pretty decent for safety improvements including seven air bags.
posted by Mitheral at 7:15 PM on May 16, 2012


Compare the two trucks typical British truck and trailer here to a Typical US one here

Interestingly, the British truck looks very old-fashioned to my American eyes. We used to have a lot of cab-over trucks like that in the '70s and '80s but they disappeared in the last twenty years or so.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 PM on May 16, 2012


Brockles, I guess my question is whether they're talking about a car that could meet government safety standards just enough to be legal for sale, or enough to get, say 4 stars in the new NHTSA crash tests. It seems to me that the latter, not the former, is the effective requirement imposed by the government, as opposed to simply the bare legal requirement (because no one's going to buy a car with a one-star safety rating). Regarding the safety cage, I know that it's not a cage like in racing, but you do need to beef up the a-pillars quite significantly from what they used to be to pass modern crash standards; same with the door structure. I wonder how much weight that adds?

Mitheral, I take your point about how cars can be really tiny, but then they're so tiny that they're not really practical for most people.
posted by Dasein at 8:54 PM on May 16, 2012


How could we get this far into the thread without mentioning the Gizmag report on the hybrid Porsche 918 Spyder. Fuel consumption of 3l/100km, via a kinetic energy recovery system. very sexy. Well, you would hope so for a car costing that much.
posted by wilful at 10:46 PM on May 16, 2012


I guess my question is whether they're talking about a car that could meet government safety standards just enough to be legal for sale, or enough to get, say 4 stars in the new NHTSA crash tests.

They were talking about getting a 1985 car to pass to the same standards as the same 2011/12 car. So the same ratings, not just scrape through the test.

This is, don't forget, a group of engineers absolutely at the top of their game in the field. They're not making wild claims with no real world knowledge of the requirements and procedures. To scrape through something wouldn't make their point and would allow people to dismiss their project, and they're not that stupid as to allow that if they want to slam home the logic to people that are determined to believe the opposite. One of them is the head of crash safety at a multi-million pound company that has to crash million pound prototypes against a wall before they can sell their cars. They had a pretty well formed proposal with the 3 or 4 other colleagues that were looking into this.

Incidentally, the consultancy decided not to do the project because it didn't feel that it could get any manufacturer interested in it (ie paying for and using the research) - pointing out that cars are big and fat and heavy for other reasons than safety doesn't help a motoring customer perceptive that 'Ill buy that nice big new version becausei t must be safer'. Once again stupid marketing forces inappropriate cars onto people that genuinely believe they are getting something that aren't for it. I mean, who can possibly argue that 1000lbs of car per occupant is required for safe and comfortable transportation? My race cars weigh around that and they've been thrown against walls at 100mph and everyone walked away fine.

Regarding the safety cage, I know that it's not a cage like in racing, but you do need to beef up the a-pillars quite significantly from what they used to be to pass modern crash standards; same with the door structure. I wonder how much weight that adds?

A lot less than you think. And it is by far not the biggest factor in cars getting heavier. Model size creep and 'everything has to be bigger next time' perception definitely is. People have been told - so much that you are struggling to believe the opposite - that the extra weight is all for safety. I even believed it myself at one point. Some pretty smart people who do this for a living have shown me pretty clearly that this is not the case.
posted by Brockles at 7:08 AM on May 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interestingly, the British truck looks very old-fashioned to my American eyes.

Exactly the opposite to mine. Having been in a few of both examples, the perception that US trucks are old fashioned perpetuates inside. They are horrible piles of crap in terms of visibility compared to a Euro truck and loads heavier than they need to be. I've no idea why something that is basically a driver and engine bracket needs to be so damned long and heavy. So much wasted space. Especially when you lift up the engine cover and see that there is masses and masses of room under there and vast areas of empty space under the chassis. Bizarre.
posted by Brockles at 7:12 AM on May 17, 2012


Brockles, are your race cars modified versions of a factory car, built from scratch as a race car, or factory cars sold with the understanding that they will be modified and raced?

In other words, do you take the same car that a normal consumer would buy in a dealership and turn it into a race car or do you start with something else?

If it's the former, I think a neat project would be to save everything that you take out of the car and separate them in three groups:

1. Stuff needed to legally drive the car (any airbags that get removed, structural components that race cars don't need, etc.)

2. Stuff that most people will want to have (the A/C system, radio, passenger seats, etc)

3. Everything else which should be the stuff that nobody needs.

To really do it right, you'd need to keep track of weight differences of components that get replaced such as lighter suspension components, racing harnesses, or a racing seat as well as the weight of stuff that gets added (mostly the roll cage I think).

I know that a race car can be made far lighter than the passenger car of the same model but I wonder how much of that is because race cars need a lot less stuff, how much is because race cars have different priorities, or because consumer cars are bloated.

Some of the issues aren't a problem with consumer preferences. For example, there is a TON of platform sharing to save costs but this means that some components are engineered to work with the most demanding model and are heavier than they need for everything else.

For instance, the FM platform from Nissan is used in everything from the 4-cylinder Altima to the Nissan Quest Minivan. As a result, suspension components like the A-arms for the front strut suspension are heavy duty enough for the Quest and heavier than they need to be for the Altima. The Altima would probably handle and ride better with lighter components but they would lose more from having to make two different A-arms than they might gain in sales.

Race cars can also do without any sound deadening material. A normal car should probably have some sound insulation but it probably needs less than most cars have.

I'd be really curious to find out where weight could really be saved.
posted by VTX at 8:01 AM on May 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've never driven a highway tractor but I've hung around in that world eenough to shed some insight into the desire for a long truck.The real question is why COE and Bulldog cabs aren't more popular. The smaller, tighter roads in Europe probably significantly drive that layout. On the other hand a cab over is harder to work on and kind of a pain in the ass because everything that isn't secured in your cab falls forward when you tip the cab to access the engine. Also a cab over has less crumple zone than a convential cab.
posted by Mitheral at 8:08 AM on May 17, 2012


Brockles, are your race cars modified versions of a factory car, built from scratch as a race car, or factory cars sold with the understanding that they will be modified and raced?

I've built and raced (but not driven) all of the above. Everything from multi million dollar purpose designed Le Mans Prototypes right through to restricted modifying of a few road cars in my garage for a friend to race (a 1993 Mini Cooper for one).

I know that a race car can be made far lighter than the passenger car of the same model but I wonder how much of that is because race cars need a lot less stuff, how much is because race cars have different priorities, or because consumer cars are bloated.

It is, predictably, complicated by regulations. In various series that use road car basis, the regulations dictate how much of the original metalwork/chassis that you keep. At one end if you have the option, you don't use the original chassis at all (full purpose designed race cars) or at the other you have a factory car where you are allowed to remove certain components and add a roll cage in addition to the full structure of the original car.

You won't get the lighter, stronger, race car by just modifying the original chassis without essentially cutting away large swathes of pressed steel to an extent that the original chassis pretty much doesn't exist. At the most extreme end you actually build a roll cage chassis (like in WRC cars and the old touring car regulations) and essentially just trim and weld the outer body panels onto this chassis as best you can. This way you usually get far greater strength gains for the same or slightly heavier basic chassis weight. Externally it looks like the same chassis is being used, but in actuality it really isn't. Then, because you add hardly anything in terms of internal components, the overall car is lighter. At the other end of the modification scale, you strip the car back to the single chassis structure and reinforce it by just adding steel (little or no removal is allowed) and hope you took out enough weight in sound deadening and air con, wiring, carpets, etc to stop it being too heavy. The basic chassis weight between the two styles is enormously different and the load paths completely separate (road cars have stressed windscreens, for instance, whereas race cars have easily replaceable non-stressed ones). The chassis more true to the original car is a heavier chassis (but lighter overall car) but really bears no resemblance to it in any usable way.

I see where you are going with your logic, but unfortunately there is a major disconnect in the work path. The weight savings that I am talking about in a road car would mean redesigning the basic pressings of the original Body In White (the steel structure of the car; the one piece monocoque) and this would require new tooling and press work at the mass manufacturing stage. This is PHENOMENALLY expensive (Tooling can be several 100 thousand dollars at least per piece) and only suitable for very large production runs so isn't done for racing at all, really. Why bother when you can add a roll cage and use that for stiffness? Modifying road cars for racing is all about reducing the compromises made for mass production and convenience and styling/marketing and teh skill is in how well you reduce those compromises. From a racing perspective there isn't really a fundamentally good car underneath to 'uncover' that would give you a simple 'scale out the mass' of each part of the equation.

Part of the trend that would need reversing to maintain properly light road cars is the size-bloat that people assume they need. They don't want to drive a 'little car' so won't buy the smallest model in the line, despite it being the exact same size as the one they are driving now is - ie people that would buy a new Honda Accord in 2000 won't buy a 2012 Civic now (despite them being almost identical in size), as it is a 'step backwards' and so people drift into larger cars. People want more things in their cars, yet higher fuel economy and people are convinced that cars 'are just heavier because they are safer'. That isn't the case. They're heavier because the 'same car' to the public is actually a class bigger now and it has more standard equipment and more comfort that perhaps needs to be compromised if people really want better fuel economy.

The racing side of my background is kind of a distraction to this. Racing really isn't all that relevant in terms of crash safety as we just don't have the constraints of mass production to consider, nor anything like the same kind of cash regulations. If we need a crash structure or crumple zone, we just go full out and bolt a carbon/aluminium honeycomb double skin crash structure in there. Completely unrealistic for a production car but far better for the (likely accident scope) of throwing itself against a wall at very, very high speed. There is some crash safety cross over (understanding how the body reacts in a crash and restraint systems for that) but in terms of chassis design? Pretty much nothing.
posted by Brockles at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2012


A longer truck accomadates a longer sleeper.

Not so much when all the length is in front of the driver (instead of COE) and between the sleeper and the 5th wheel/front of the trailer. Euro trucks have sleepers too, and a slightly extended Euro sleeper would have much the same space as a US truck and still be likely a good 6 feet shorter.

I think that Euro trucks will need to be beefed up to take the bigger loads that US trailers have, but the basic COE styling and engine tech combined with the smaller footprint and significantly better aero would benefit US trucking enormously. The trouble us the domestic trucks are so damn cheap because they use the same economics of the US car industry of 10 years ago - change as little as possible unless you absolutely have to. Lead the market by volume, not innovation.
posted by Brockles at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2012


Brockles: “Compare the two trucks typical British truck and trailer here to a Typical US one here. Note the almost total lack of fairing or airflow restrictions under the trailer. In addition, there is a massive gap between the tractor unit and the trailer that you just don't see in Europe or the UK. There is very little done to reduce drag at all in the US. They are only recently starting to put perfunctory little fibreglass deflectors on now, but with that horrific ugly old-school Peterbilt up front (or similar) you're on small gains.”

This is an old thread now I know, but a couple of things, just from a small amount of experience I have talking with US truck drivers. First: the conventional wisdom seems to be that cabover designs (like the British one you linked to) are still terribly unsafe, and everything I've seen indicates that this is true. They've made things better than they used to be by adding crumple zones in the right place, but the design still puts you right on top of any collision that occurs. When I've talked to truckers, that seems to be the number one reason they won't drive a cabover. Second: there is some debate about whether cabovers are actually more aerodynamic than conventional trucks; and I'm not really sure myself. I'd like to see studies on it, if they exist.
posted by koeselitz at 7:49 PM on May 27, 2012


To clarify, I was saying that the ensemble in Europe is far more aerodynamic, not necessarily just the cab, although I suspect it is better purely by having less disruptions to the air flow from all that crap hanging off it. Frontal area is roughly similar between the two (the major factor) and there is no real slipstreaming potential on the older US style trucks. Those newer ones are a bit better, though.
posted by Brockles at 8:00 AM on May 28, 2012


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