Drivers ponder lousy mileage

Drivers ponder lousy mileage http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070604/AUTO01/706040309/1148
With summer driving season on the horizon, more consumers are taking a
closer look at the fuel efficiency of their cars and wondering why they get such lousy mileage.
After all, many drivers recall cars built in the 1970s and 1980s that went a long way on a gallon of gasoline. Using engine technology that seems crude today, some cars -- like the Honda CRX, the Ford Fiesta and the Chevrolet Chevette -- could log 50 miles per gallon or more on the highway.
Yet despite huge advances in auto technology -- bringing everything from satellite navigation and crash-avoidance radar to computer-controlled engines that rarely need tune-ups -- passenger vehicles' fuel economy hasn't improved appreciably in the past 20 or even 30 years.
The fuel-efficiency issue is particularly acute right now, as gasoline prices soar above $3 a gallon in many regions. Some SUV and pickup-truck owners will cringe when it takes $100 to fill their tanks, but even car drivers will feel the sting of the rising cost as a fill-up that set them back $35 a few months ago now registers upward of $50.
The apparent lack of progress in improving fuel economy is tied to a host of trends in the auto industry and U.S. consumer culture. A long-running focus on vehicle safety has resulted in cars growing heavier over time as manufacturers used more metal to strengthen structures and added heavy safety gear, including antilock brakes, airbags and electronic traction-control systems.
Cars also are larger overall, and models that started out as subcompacts have grown to become more like midsize models. Honda Motor Co.'s Civic CRX, a mid-1980s two-seater of 20 years ago, was 12 feet long and weighed about 1,700 pounds. Today's Civic sedan is nearly three feet longer and weighs about 900 pounds more. Even the smaller Honda Fit, considered almost impossibly small today, is larger than the mid-1980s Civic CRX.
The considerable advances in auto technology in recent decades have benefited engines, structure and passenger comfort. Most of the effort in improving engine performance, however, has gone toward increasing horsepower instead of improving fuel economy. So while cars of all types are generally faster than the sports cars of 25 years ago, their fuel economy seems relatively poor, thanks largely to the energy required to move their added weight. Even the Environmental Protection Agency advises drivers to save fuel by cutting their cars' weight. Avoid cluttering the car with unnecessary items, it recommends, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in a vehicle may reduce your miles per gallon by as much as 2 percent.
Development of German carmaker BMW AG's long-running 3-Series model has led to the 2007 model weighing more than 3,300 pounds, compared with about 2,900 pounds 20 years ago. In 1972 the 3-Series predecessor, called the 2002, weighed about 2,200 pounds. Of course today's model is faster, roomier, more luxurious and easier to drive than earlier versions. Its horsepower has also roughly doubled since 1972.
The company says it uses ever lighter components to keep weight under control on several models, including plastic fenders and carbon fiber roof panels.
While the trend toward bigger, heavier cars is well-established, long development cycles in the auto industry can still make it difficult for car makers to judge shifts in consumer preferences. Indeed, some vehicles arriving in dealerships now seem particularly ill-timed. Toyota Motor Corp.'s Scion compact car unit is rolling out the second generation of its boxy xB. When the company developed its strategy for the new xB more than two years ago, it focused on making the car bigger, more powerful and safer, instead of improving fuel economy. As a result, the 2008 xB's mileage ratings are 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg highway -- not so impressive when compared with current small cars like the Chevrolet HHR (23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway), the Honda Fit (31 city, 38 highway), or the old Scion xB (30 mpg city, 34 mpg highway). Toyota's Prius has the highest fuel-economy rating among production vehicles on the market in the United States. Conventional gasoline-powered models like the Honda Civic, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Aveo and Toyota Yaris log about 40 mpg on the highway.
Government regulations have done little to push car makers to make more efficient vehicles. While corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards call for cars to average 27.5 miles per gallon, light trucks are held to a lower standard of 22.2 mpg. In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush proposed improving fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks by 4 percent a year through 2017. Under current federal rules, automakers' passenger-car fleets have to reach an average of 27.5 miles per gallon -- an unchanged standard since 1985. SUVs and other light trucks must meet a 22.2 mpg standard.
One sign of change is the apparent high buyer interest in the Smart fortwo, a tiny two-seat car from DaimlerChrysler AG set to go on sale in the United States next year. But despite its small size, the fortwo gets only about 40 miles a gallon, hardly a fuel-efficiency breakthrough.
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http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070604/AUTO01/706040309/1148
I wonder what planets these guys lived on? A CRX HF managed 56 mpg in the EPA highway test, and I am sure a few drivers got close to 50, but that is a 2 seat small car with mediocre performance. I owned a Fiesta and I never saw 40 mpg, even when the speed limit was 55 and I drove no more than 60. It was a great car, but no way would it do 50 mpg under normal conditions. And a gas Chevette wasn't even as good as a Fiesta. A diesel Chevette managed 46 mpg highway in the old EPA test, but in the real world the highway mileage was less than 45. I suppose the extreme mileage "experts" could get any of these cars over 50 mpg in very controlled conditions, but come on, publishing crap like this just confuses the issue. How many people would be satisfied with a brand new 1986 Chevette? Even the cheapest Kia has more standard equipment and gets better real world gas mileage.
Ed
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why buy a piece of jap scrap and ride around like a sardine in a tin can, when you can drive in comfort in a crown vic, grand marquis, or a lincoln town car, and get 26-30 mpg on the highway???

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While I agree that Crown Vic or Grand Marquis get excellent fuel economy, they are not everyone's idea of an ideal car. Last year I acquired my Mother's Grand Marquis. I never really warmed up to the car. The driving position is wrong, the car is surprisingly hard to get into, and the handling is Toyota-like (vague, imprecise, floaty). Even my 80 year old Mom preferred the Ford Freestyle that my Dad owned over the Grand Marquis. She kept the Freestyle when my Dad passed away. To me the Freestyle / Five Hundred are far better cars. When I needed a big car for a long trip, I borrowed the Freestyle instead of the Grand Marquis. After owning the Grand Marquis for a few months, I traded it on a new Fusion, which is a much better car for me. The Fusion handles better, has a better driving position, is easier to maneuver in traffic, and is just as quiet. My Fusion is the AWD V-6 and the fuel economy is not really much better than the Grand Marquis, but in all other ways it is a much better car (again, for me).
Ed
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There are good reasons why fuel economy hasn't leaped forward and it's because we demand - or Detroit, Tokyo and Seoul think we demand - more of other things.
I had an '82 Cavalier that would turn in >40mpg at 70mph. I recorded 44mpg on one leg of a long trip. But it only had 68hp and I was probably lucky that the engine's sweet spot matched my use. And it had no air conditioning. And it's not obvious that most people would tolerate its level of performance nowadays.
C/D or maybe R&T did a test on diesel Jettas and Rabbits two to three decades ago and were able to get 60+mpg under real-world conditions. Another colleague had a diesel Rabbit and it would get 45-50mppg in the winter (better in the summer but I forget the figures). It's easy to think that we should be seeing noticeable gains with computerized engine management, better fuel injection, etc - but we're not. I'm disappointed.
We could get better fuel economy but the resources are going into other things. Auto reviews now talk about 0-60 in 8 secs as being disappointing or leisurely but, when I was a kid, a production car that did 0-60 in 10 seconds was smokin'.
How may cars even have VCM? The last I knew, GM was only putting it in some of the V8s (the Impala and some trucks), it hasn't reached the V6s, yet (of course, previous experience with VCM probably doesn't help the marketing of it). It's available on some Hondas. I don't think Toyota's introduced it here at all. It shouldn't make a big difference in engine manufacture cost but it can make a significant difference in highway driving.
And cars are bigger - and maybe stronger. The new Cobalt weighs considerably more than my old Cavalier.
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The only vehicle that can consistently get 50 MPG is a motorcycle LOL
mike

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