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Oil makes the world go round.
March 14, 2002 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Oil makes the world go round. The Senate yesterday defeated an effort to increase fuel efficiency standards for cars, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks by 50 percent over 13 years, voting instead for a measure backed by the auto industry.
posted by semmi (39 comments total)

 
The only reason for Congress to mandate *anything* is that the buying public doesn't want it.
posted by dand at 8:21 AM on March 14, 2002


I think you meant "voting public". Otherwise, quite correct.
posted by walrus at 8:29 AM on March 14, 2002


Seat belts, air bags, anti-lock brakes, crash safety standards, emission controls - these things have all been mandated and people DO want them.

The US auto industry is following the same pattern with CAFE standards that it followed in the items I listed above. And as usual, the Japanese will come through and shame them into complying. Honda was able to meet emission standards and still make one of the safest and most popular cars on the road (Honda Accord).

Honda and Toyota have production hybrid cars that meet the standards proposed in these bills. Honda is introducing a hybrid Civic and its small SUV, the Honda CRV this year with the hybrid system.

"Can't be done, people don't want it." When are we going to make Congress and the automakers eat their words for the same silly lies and assumptions they make every time a new automotive standard is proposed?
posted by Red58 at 8:32 AM on March 14, 2002


The problem is, American manufacturers will just lighten the vehicles to meet the standards, and thus massively reduce safety ratings. If you have ever seen an Accord wrapped around a pole, you'd understand.

Now, the hybrids have some real potential! I am watching for the transition from batteries to capacitors, though, before I go shopping.
posted by dwivian at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2002


Shame, Shame, Shame
posted by adnanbwp at 8:51 AM on March 14, 2002


The problem is, American manufacturers will just lighten the vehicles to meet the standards, and thus massively reduce safety ratings.

I guess that capitalism will then drive all of us smart consumers to buy the safer Japanese cars with the good engineering design then, eh?
posted by Red58 at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2002


what a surprise
posted by johnnyboy at 9:15 AM on March 14, 2002


The only reason for Congress to mandate *anything* is that the buying public doesn't want it.

I think you meant "voting public". Otherwise, quite correct.


You're both correct. Vote with your wallet, folks.

I guess that capitalism will then drive all of us smart consumers to buy the safer Japanese cars with the good engineering design then, eh?

I'm gettin' one of those nifty Accords as soon as my Saturn dies.
posted by 40 Watt at 9:15 AM on March 14, 2002


In the '70's, US automakers lost a lot of market share after gas prices shot up. Japanese and European automakers already had quality fuel efficient cars, while the US Big 3 were caught flat-footed and had to scramble to come up with poor quality, halfassed vehicles like the Chevy Chevette, or stick their name on already existing imports (Fort Fiesta, Dodge Colt, etc.)

(Interestingly, it was Ralph Nader, with his book "Unsafe at Any Speed" that played a large part in the death of the most innovative US small car design of the '60's, the Chevy Corvair.)

Another gas crisis could cause the same thing could happen again, although the effect would be lessened due to all the mergers between domestic and imported brands.

It's seems shortsighted to me. While it may save money for automakers in the short term, improving the standards would probably be better for them over the long term. If you like bigger vehicles, are you going to buy one that gets 30-40 mpg, or one that gets 15-20?
posted by groundhog at 9:15 AM on March 14, 2002


if they existed, yes.

problem is, the Accord is one of those cars, and they wrap around poles quite nicely. *ugh* I remember seeing the wreckage of the people, and deciding that I'd verify safety first before worrying about mileage in my new car. It's also a Honda, but it's a tad larger than the Accord, and quite a bit safer.

We've got to get away from CAFE standards, and just tax the hell out of gas. That'll change the system better than any standards law.
posted by dwivian at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2002


I'd verify safety first before worrying about mileage in my new car.

From what I read, the Accord is a pretty damn safe car.
posted by 40 Watt at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2002


Of course, you could scope out crashtest.com and notice that it's a total non sequitur tying mass of the vehicle to passenger safety. A agree that CAFE is a silly way to encourage improved mileage but increasing gas taxes is simply unlikely to happen except at the municipal level. The problem with consumers voting with their pocketbook is that consumers are stupid, I mean people actually count the number of cupholders in a car to the point that some automakers even put them in places they can't be used.
posted by shagoth at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2002


We've got to get away from CAFE standards, and just tax the hell out of gas. That'll change the system better than any standards law.

You're right. The CAFE standards law would have merely screwed things up very slowly over a period of years, mainly by making American vehicles progressively less appealing and progressively more deadly over a period of fifteen years. Taxing the hell out of gas. on the other hand, would manage to bring the economy to a screeching halt inside of a week. Most goods in this country are delivered by truck. Truck drivers operate on extremely thin profit margins. A number of them were skirting the edge of bankruptcy last year when gas got around $2/gallon on its own. Knock the gas taxes up to European levels and they're all out of business, instantaneously. They cannot simply jack up their own prices, because their customers won't pay (becase they know THEIR customers won't pay; when the tomatoes that cost 99 cents a pound today cost $3.50 a pound tomorrow, the tomatoes will not be bought, especially when every person in the nation realizes that the price increase is 100% artificial). Instead, they'll try to find alternate forms of delivery, and largely fail. You've just caused an instant depression, and probably large-scale violent civil disobediance. Congratulations.
posted by aaron at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2002


Of course the other side of the moral calculus in regards to safety, is that 1300 people is pretty tiny compared to the deaths due to urban air pollution.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2002


Knock the gas taxes up to European levels and they're all out of business, instantaneously. They cannot simply jack up their own prices, because their customers won't pay (becase they know THEIR customers won't pay; when the tomatoes that cost 99 cents a pound today cost $3.50 a pound tomorrow, the tomatoes will not be bought, especially when every person in the nation realizes that the price increase is 100% artificial).

I agree that jackinf up gas prices would be devastating, but it should be pointed out that U.S. gas prices are also artificially low. There may be good reasons for this, but it is a fact.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2002


Hey, 40-Watt, if you still want a Saturn, the new Saturn SUV has a Honda V-6 in it.

I drive a ULEV Civic, my dad drives a ULEV accord in California. Tests have shown that on a very smoggy day in CA, the exhaust of the ULEV V-6 Accord is cleaner than the air the went into the intake manifold.

dwivian - Let me guess, you drive an Odyssey or a Passport? The Passport is actually an Isuzu Rodeo, and the Odyssey is effectively an Accord with a large shell, just like the CRV (And, for that matter, the new Acura RS-X or whatever it is, the replacement for the Integra) is a SUV built on a Civic frame.

Larger is not better. Hondas may total fairly easily because all of the parts crush or fly off when someone wraps it around a pole, but all that stuff flying away or crushing is dissipating force that could've gone into your bag. The reason that cars crush these days instead of bounce is basically so that you don't get smeared all over the inside by the forces that get put on the car's frame when 2000 lbs. of metal goes from 60-0 in a fraction of a second.
posted by SpecialK at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2002


From what I read, the Accord is a pretty damn safe car.

Just read a rather nice article in a "leading consumer review magazine" that mentioned the issues of the NHTSA test versus IIHS and other tests, and how they differ along the same vehicle. However, I took some time to read the safety rating for the Accord from that magazine, the NHTSA, and a few other places, and came to this conclusion:

It consistently rates lower than most SUVs I see.

You see, add all that extra weight, and you're in a tank. A tank that is also fitted with side impact zones, air bags, and other absorbtion devices, and you see quickly that the safer palce to be is NOT the Accord. (I do note that the IIHS Bumper test seems to hate SUVs. Every one of them has low marks on it!)

Oh, and aaron -- no semi I've ever ridden in used gas. They all used diesel. Different tax schedule, donchaknow.

SpecialK: yup, you guessed it. It is my wife's Oddessy. I still drive my little Nissan Sentra, and will probably go with the Toyota Prius for my next car. I like the smaller vehicle, but I needed more safety when I bought for the family. The Oddessy rates better than the Accord (even if built on the same frame), which I like for transporting child safety seats, usually occupied.

Like I said -- the only way to get higher efficiency is to give people a reason to buy it. And, with low (artificially low, maybe) gas prices, people go to other choices -- style, safety, and cylinder-envy.
posted by dwivian at 10:24 AM on March 14, 2002


maybe if people drove better in the first place, we wouldn't need to worry as much about the size of our car or how that matters when we get into accidents.
posted by themikeb at 10:38 AM on March 14, 2002


deaths due to urban air pollution

Care to elaborate with some data? I doubt there are 1300+ death certificates issued each year with the cause of death=air pollution.

As for fossil fuels. We're gonna run out of oil eventually and the next thing on the oil-baren's to do list is to mine deep sea methane clathrates, a source of fossil fuel thought to exceed pre-automobile oil resources many-fold. They're already pumping $millions into the basic research. This may pave the way for fuel cells if it turns out to be easier to tap methane's potential that way because it is a gas.
posted by plaino at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2002


Here's some ref's on that clathrate stuff if anyone's interested:
one, two, three, four
posted by plaino at 10:51 AM on March 14, 2002


aaron said: Taxing the hell out of gas. on the other hand, would manage to bring the economy to a screeching halt inside of a week. Most goods in this country are delivered by truck.

I agree that the answer is not to immediately hike up gas taxes, but the fact still remains that automobile usage is subsidized through artificially low fuel prices and road construction. Railroads do not get the same benefit that trucking companies do. If we paid the actual cost of owning and operating motor vehicles, it is true that the economy as we know it will change, but perhaps it will be for the better, not only in terms of fuel efficiency. For example, instead of Ohioans eating apples trucked in cross-country from Washington state, there would be higher demand for New York or Ohio-grown produce.

It is just not true that we live in a market economy absent of government intervention; the policies from our elected officials essentially dictate the rules that the market follows. Why not gradually tweak the rules so that we not only get cleaner air and less waste, but also encourage diverse economies that operate closer to home? Rasing CAFE standards would have been but one way to get to that goal.
posted by Avogadro at 11:06 AM on March 14, 2002


It[Accord] consistently rates lower than most SUVs I see.

my Accord is a SUV ? wooohooooooooooo
posted by adnanbwp at 11:50 AM on March 14, 2002


Don't tax gas any further.

Rather, implement higher licensing or insurance fees based on the size or weight of the vehicle. Let the monster-size SUV drivers get the smackdown once a year to the tune of a few thousand extra bucks in insurance costs, and they'll soon clue in.

Upping the gas tax won't accomplish that: they're immune to gas prices. We all are: unless the stuff triples in price, there's basically no pain.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:51 AM on March 14, 2002


"Taxing the hell out of gas" and destroying the economy do not necessarily go hand in hand -- it's no great feat to realize that commercial vehicles would be in deep trouble, and to plan accordingly. With some recipe of outright exemptions or an adoption deadline that varies by use (5 years for consumer versus 20 for commercial, etc), it should be possible to soften the blow. There's oft-quoted statistic that some noticeable fraction (either one quarter or one eighth, I forget) of the world's gas consumption is used by American commuters -- if all we did was address non-commercial consumption, it would still be (as the marketing folks say) "a big win."
posted by tingley at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2002


reminds me of a talk by amory b. lovins, founder and chairman of hypercar:
I think markets make a wonderful servant, a bad master and a worse religion. If we try to substitute markets for ethics, politics and faith, we can really get in a lot of trouble. Markets are very good at what they do, but their purpose is quite far from the whole purpose of the human being. But if we believe as I do, that governments should steer and not row, they’ve got to be steering in the right direction, and I think it would be very promising as tax changes are in the air, to think about how to help business stop the waste, in all of our interests. And one very good way would be gradually to shift taxation away from the things we want more of, like jobs and income, and on to the things we want less of, like resource depletion and pollution. This would make the economy more balanced, more fair, more efficient and a very powerful instrument for healing society and the earth.
i think another way to raise fuel efficiency is for the US to buy patents for promising technologies (like dean kamen's stirling engine or something) and place them in the public domain.
posted by kliuless at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2002


Semi trucks run on diesel who's engines needn't be massively retrofitted to run on bio-diesel. A few easy adjustments and the American economy remains intact.

Only problem with bio-diesel is that it doesn't profit big oil, for which our representatives (more like their representatives) have spoken.
posted by crasspastor at 12:03 PM on March 14, 2002


Wow, kliuless fantastic quote, and an even better rebuttal to those for whom the market is a religion
posted by ajayb at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2002


amen, kliuless, that's one of the best things i've read in weeks.
posted by Dean King at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2002


The tax on diesel may not be the same as on gasoline, but it's still there, and diesel fuel prices track up and down more or less evenly with that of gasoline. Anyone who thinks the voters would allow truckers to get away with ~60 cents/gallon in taxes while everyone else paid $4/gallon is being naive. Like it or not, the people are the government in the United States, not mere subjects of it; when they get really riled up, they get their way.

Tingley's idea is more theoretically workable, although I still believe the ultimate damage done would be immeasurable; a softened blow is a blow nonetheless. The US is simply a unique case (especially given the usual comparison to tiny European countries): a gigantic landmass, with the population scattered throughout all points on the map (unlike, say, Canada, where most of the population is within a couple hundred miles of the southern border) and a comparative lack of public transportation and rail links. Could these things be "fixed"? Sure, for trillions of dollars. And even then it wouldn't alter the hundred-year-plus American cultural obsession with the automobile. As a practical matter, there's nothing that can be done.

And to be honest, I don't see why things need to be done. Those cars like the Toyota Prius don't exist purely because the government is pushing the automakers to develop them; there is a free market at work here. They know the oil will one day run out (though that day isn't in any of our lifetimes), they know new technologies will make such hybrid engines - if not totally new engines such as fuel cells - cost-effective in the not-too-distant future. I'd say that by 2020 or so the auto industry's going to look a LOT different from the same-old internal combustion paradigm that we've been used to up to this point. Chill out, give it a few years, and you're probably all going to get what you want anyway.
posted by aaron at 2:27 PM on March 14, 2002


But opponents also found ammunition in the the NAS study, in particular its conclusion that the earlier CAFE standards may have been responsible for between 1,300 and 2,000 highway deaths in 1993 because of reductions in vehicle weight and size.

yeah right, and how would a bigger car lead to fewer deaths? maybe you shouldn't have been driving so fast or so recklessly. or maybe the pedestrians should have been wearing armour plating to protect them from your ludicrously oversized tank.

sorry i don't have anything intelligent to say, but this really makes me sick. but then it's not entirely the politicians who are to blame, imho, it's the car-driving public.
posted by mokey at 2:38 PM on March 14, 2002


yeah right, and how would a bigger car lead to fewer deaths? maybe you shouldn't have been driving so fast or so recklessly. or maybe the pedestrians should have been wearing armour plating to protect them from your ludicrously oversized tank.

Physics, my friend, physics. Brush up, and you'll have your answer to your question as well as learning why your latter two allegations are largely wrong.
posted by aaron at 3:36 PM on March 14, 2002


SUVs are for wankers. Most of you already knew that.
posted by mark13 at 4:48 PM on March 14, 2002


Care to elaborate with some data? I doubt there are 1300+ death certificates issued each year with the cause of death=air pollution.

"Particulates Deadly Toll" New Scientist, March 9, 2002. Unfortunately listed but not archived. The problem is that unlike blunt force trauma, linking air pollution to respiratory diseases such as Asthma is a bit more difficult. More direct problems come from the "killer fogs" of 1880 and 1952 that killed thousands in London. From the last cited site:
Many of air pollution's health effects, such as bronchitis, tightness in the chest, and wheezing, are acute, or short term, and can be reversed if air pollution exposures decline. Other effects appear to be chronic, such as lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease. In fact, in the United States, two long-term epidemiological studies representing some of the most significant recent research on air pollution effects documented an increase in the death rate of those chronically exposed to dirty air. These studies, which compared death rates among many U.S. cities with widely varying pollution levels, found that mortality rates were 17 to 26 percent higher in cities with the dirtiest air compared with those with the cleanest air, and those with the dirtiest air had significantly higher rates of lung cancer and cardiopulmonary disease (251)(252). These increased risks translate roughly to a 1- to 2-year shorter life span for residents of the most polluted cities (253)(254). Higher infant mortality rates have also been associated with high particulate levels (255).

Globally, estimates of deaths due to air pollution range between 0.4 and 1.1% of all total deaths.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:39 PM on March 14, 2002


I guess the US automakers can take it easy now and rest on their laurels until the next gas crisis. The company I work for was working on developing a part for the next generation of a popular US SUV that would be made of a lightweight material--today the project just got cancelled because the automaker has decided to stick with their old design. Is it just coincidence that the project got cancelled one day after the Senate's vote?
posted by ArkIlloid at 7:19 PM on March 14, 2002


Probably not a coincidence, no. But all it says is they were feeling forced to go forward with a project that was nowhere near ready for prime time, just to save themselves some angry ideologues in Congress. In a few years, when the technology is better, they'll go ahead with a similar project because it makes financial sense for them to do so.
posted by aaron at 8:31 PM on March 14, 2002


American manufacturers will just lighten the vehicles to meet the standards, and thus massively reduce safety ratings
Actually, low mass has everything to do with safety. The main part of a safe vehicle is taking the passenger from a high velocity to 0 and causing the least amount of trauma in the process. This change in speed is acceleration, and as it turns out, there's a forumla that relates how force to acceleration:
f = ma
Or Newton's second law of motion. To reduce force, you want to reduce mass and/or reduce acceleration. To reduce acceleration you want to reduce the starting velocity or increase time of impact. For example, a crumple zone on a vehicle is a means to increase the time of impact and thus cut acceleration.

Beyond force, you start to worry about things like the steering wheel decapitating the driver, the dashboard taking out the legs of the passenger, etc.
posted by plinth at 11:14 AM on March 15, 2002


it's not that simple, plinth -- if the force were conserved entirely to the unit vehicle, you'd be right. But....

In most accidents, we see the bulk of the force from SUVs transferred to other objects (be they trees, rocks, Honda Accords, or aaron). The remaining force, because of the high mass, results in much lower acceleration, and thus a safer vehicle.

So, to the driver of the SUV, they're all great. It's everyone else that pays for their safety.
posted by dwivian at 11:40 AM on March 15, 2002


i agree with plinth. aaron, please explain how a greater mass and therefore more energy to be released during a collision can be safer? certainly not if i am a pedestrian being struck by a heavy vehicle, or a vehicle attempting to stop.

although this argument is still beside the point of this story which is fuel efficiency, and the apparent corruption in your legislature.
posted by mokey at 11:42 AM on March 15, 2002


What he's saying is that the other object, (tree, car, bushel full of bunnies, etc), is acting as a crumple zone for the SUV. It means that they take longer to come to a stop so the acceleration goes down, as does the force.
posted by plinth at 1:52 PM on March 15, 2002


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