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What Will the Car of the Future Look Like?

Wall Street Journal – November 19, 2007

This is a very interesting article about the challenges of manufacturing cars that would be better for the environment by using less petroleum. The impetus for the article was Presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton’s push to double fuel economy by 2030.

The article starts out with a claim that Bill Clinton and Al Gore did nothing to increase federal fuel-efficiency standards and I am not confident that this claim is based on true fact. I cannot find evidence of my memory of the situation but I seem to remember that the Clinton administration did try to increase the standards.

The rest of the article is excellent though. It goes through a range of issues that would have to be solved in order to get 55 mpg by 2030 and they all seem very solvable. The biggest issue appears to be cost. Will the American consumer be willing to spend more for a smaller vehicle that has less power?

Frankly, I don’t think this can happen UNLESS there is some over-riding force that propels action. Global warming is not fast enough or dangerous enough to change any minds to this degree and there are still enough real doubts by many people that the argument won’t work. In my opinion, the only chance is for a major disruption of oil by the nations of the Middle East.

But if there is a second Clinton administration, led by Sen. Hillary Clinton, she plans to push to double the fuel economy of U.S. cars and trucks to 55 miles per gallon by 2030.

Cars that get 55 miles per gallon or more can be found as antiques in museums (or on the Internet.) Right after World War II, for example, European car makers built a variety of mini-mobiles such as the Messerschmitt KR175, later called the KR200, that carried one person on three wheels and averaged some 60 miles to the gallon.

First, car makers could channel future improvements in vehicle design toward boosting fuel efficiency — instead of using them to goose power or 0-60 performance. Second, they could increase the use of diesel, turbocharged gasoline and gas-electric hybrid technology. Third, they could reduce the size and weight of vehicles.

Over the next three decades, consumers will have to accept little further improvements in acceleration performance, a large fraction of new light-duty vehicles sold must be propelled by alternative powertrains, and vehicle weight must be reduced by 20% to 35% from today

Depending on how various technologies are applied, the total costs of re-engineering cars to get to an average of 42 mpg (which is short of 55 miles per gallon, of course) would be $54 billion to $63 billion.

So now we have the real question posed by Sen. Clinton’s 55-mpg proposal. It isn’t whether 55 miles per gallon is possible. It’s who will pick up the tab?

There is also a threaded discussion as well as a poll on the article that you may want to enjoy.  Go here to read the article.

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