CAFE Contradiction—Fuel Efficiency And Cheap Gas

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The recent boost in gas prices has provoked a truly odd argument from some Congressional leaders about American fuel use. They want to raise the federal CAFE, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard, 4 percent a year for the next 20 years.

One of the supporters of the Fuel Economy Reform Act of 2006, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) paradoxically decries high gas prices: "I now look at the impact on the economy, impact on jobs, on the high price of oil, the devastating impact it's having in so many corners of our economy on so many people," says Coleman. "So I'm one of the converted on this, and I think a number of my colleagues are as well." Apparently, the idea of increasing CAFE standards is to encourage Americans to buy more fuel efficient cars so that the price of gasoline will fall. Huh?

In fact, what CAFE standards did do was persuade Americans to buy gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks that were not subject to mileage restrictions. In the current issue of Regulation, Paul Godek, vice president at Competition Associates, outlines the contradiction at the heart of CAFE:

Does CAFE have anything to do with gasoline consumption? Of course not. To paraphrase Rockefeller, the price of gas will fluctuate; and people will react accordingly. U.S. energy policy is schizophrenic anyway. If gas should be less available and more expensive, then tax it. Well, they already do. Federal and state taxes amount to about 40 cents per gallon. But the authorities do not want gas to be less available (more expensive), they want it to be more available (less expensive). So why do they want to compel "conservation" when they also want gas to be more available? Go figure.

Go figure indeed. If our Congressional overlords and environmental activists really think we should drive less and buy more efficient automobiles, then they should ditch the CAFE shell game and have the courage to recommend taxing gasoline at $5 per gallon.

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  1. Why not include the SUVs and trucks under CAFE standards?

  2. MP: The new reform act would. But why not just tax gas so that consumers buy more efficient transportation in the first place?

  3. Ron,

    CAFE standards also kill people by making our cars lighter and less safe.

    “The new reform act would. But why not just tax gas so that consumers buy more efficient transportation in the first place?”

    Ron, doesn’t the market already do that? If gas stays at $3 a gallon people will demand more efficient cars. It is already happening. Why do we need Congress or the EPA to screw up what the market would do on its own anyway?

  4. There remains the often overlooked factor in mandating increasing CAFE standards…physics.

    I think congress would be better off just mandating that gravity will, henceforth, apply at one-third it’s prior value. That ought to sufficiently push the economics of energy in our our favor for generations to come.

  5. “In fact, what CAFE standards did do was persuade Americans to buy gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks that were not subject to mileage restrictions.”

    I fear, Ron, like so many, you never grasped the CAFE conspiracy in all its Machiavellian completeness. The CAFE standards were never extended to “gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks” because the Detroit Big Three were set up to make them and the Japanese and Germans weren’t. The only way Americans could get the big, cheap rides they love was to buy SUVs and trucks. The CAFE standards, as enforced, were a subtle form of trade protection for Detroit, preserved by Democrats and Republicans alike. Now, of course, the foreign manufacturers have caught up, and Detroit is getting its ass kicked again.

    What will Congress do? Nothing, really. They lack the nerve to do anything that would seriously impact Americans’ spending habits, and why should they do that anyway? Willy nilly, it will be the market that will make Americans decide to buy non gas guzzlers.

  6. CAFE standards also kill people by making our cars lighter and less safe.

    This is a highly contested statement. There is some evidence that, paradoxically, larger cars are less safe because they make their drivers feel more safe. People driving smaller cars are more likely to die or be seriously hurt in the event of an accident, but drivers of larger, heavier cars feel so invulnerable on the roads that they take a lot more risks while driving, and as a result get into a lot more accidents; the additional accidents appear to outweigh the per-accident safety advantage.

  7. If our Congressional overlords and environmental activists really think we should drive less and buy more efficient automobiles, then they should ditch the CAFE shell game and have the courage to recommend taxing gasoline at $5 per gallon.

    Er, many have, at least on the environmental activist side. Oddly enough, Congressional “overlords” seem to think it would hurt their election chances.

  8. Why not include the SUVs and trucks under CAFE standards?

    It wouldn’t make any difference. If my SUV got 30 MPG, I could live farther away from work, where the housing costs less and the taxes are lower. I’d wind up still using the exact same number of gallons of gas.

    People didn’t buy SUV’s and trucks to avoid CAFE standards, they bought them because they were a better value than the regulated-to-the-hilt passenger cars where the regulations – CAFE, air bags, etc. – drove the price of the cars up. The high cost of compliance. In ’96 I wanted to replace my Acura with a newer edition of the same model. But the price was astronomical compared an SUV. I did wonder about the added fuel usage, but I decided to by the SUV since I live so close to work.

    I have since bought a Prius and have considered again moving farther out where the property is lower cost and the added expense of driving the extra miles is minimal since the car is so efficient – it’s actually more efficient on longer trips than very short ones (the EPA should have their asses handed to them for the misleading labels of “city” and “highway” driving.) I still use my SUV on short trips and when I have stuff to carry.

  9. “Apparently, the idea of increasing CAFE standards is to encourage Americans to buy more fuel efficient cars so that the price of gasoline will fall. Huh?”

    Huh indeed…I thought the idea was to get Americans to, on balance, use less gas, which should reduce emissions and create a market stimulus for the production of more efficient machines and, more generally, make our economy more competitive by getting it to hum along at greater efficiency.

    Christ, we might still have a solvent auto industry had the last few administrations not spent so much time and energy trying to pass legislation that allowed producers and consumers to circumvent and weaken CAFE standards.

    I don’t really know what the point of this article is. Is it to blast the notion of CAFE standards or merely to point out that Coleman is not the sharpest knife in the drawer?

    I’m not sure where you’re going with this Ron. Why not sharply rachet up cafe standards and increase gas taxes? Add to that rebates for the the purchase of high-achieving vehicles with the increased tax revenues?

    If the goal is to wean Americans off of their gas guzzlers, there seem to be a variety of solutions, none of which need become politicized.

  10. In the UK, we have roughly $5 tax on each gallon of fuel – and growing numbers of SUVs on the road…

  11. John writes “CAFE standards also kill people by making our cars lighter and less safe.”

    Only if you’re the lazy-ass American car manufacturers who don’t want to put any R&D effort into it, opting instead to just strip the cars down.

  12. AV: You’re right. The article by Goder also explains the politics of CAFE.

    John: You’re right. Today’s higher gas prices will encourage people to buy more efficient cars and trucks. What I found interesting is that Coleman apparently wants both conservation and low gas prices.

    NS: Yes, many environmentalists have advocated higher gas taxes, however, it seems to me (and I could be wrong) that since gas prices increased in the last two years, there has been considerably less public agitation for that policy. I find it a bit curious that Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth does not advocate higher gas or fossil fuel taxes (though he does suggest imposing limits on CO2 emissions).

  13. “It wouldn’t make any difference. If my SUV got 30 MPG, I could live farther away from work, where the housing costs less and the taxes are lower. I’d wind up still using the exact same number of gallons of gas.”

    So, buying a car with better mileage would make you want to waste a larger portion of your life commuting?

    Apparently your time is worthless.

  14. There is some evidence that, paradoxically, larger cars are less safe because they make their drivers feel more safe.

    From my experience, this is complete bullshit. I was in my SUV, stopped at a red light, and hit head on by a passenger car going 30-35 (he had a green light, I didn’t, he was eating and didn’t notice the curve). His car was a total wreck and mine was fine except for a broken headlight and dented bumper. The cop filling out the accident report said it happens all the time, SUV’s rarely sustain the massive damage passenger cars do, even in SUV vs. SUV accidents.

  15. All I know is that the diesel version of the Jetta gets 44 mpg, and diesel is about $0.10 less per gallon around here.

    I have my eye on it for my next car purchase in a few years.

    And I like the idea of spending less money on a resource that is mostly produced in unsavory places, frequently by state-run firms.

  16. “And I like the idea of spending less money on a resource that is mostly produced in unsavory places, frequently by state-run firms.”

    Yet another reason to encourage the use of all of the policy tools in the toolbox to reduce overall consumption. Outside of the moronic “hug your hummer” argument, what is the legitimate counterpoint at this stage? I’m really curious.

  17. Thoreau, same here. I’m also looking at moving to an urban area closer to work/shopping/etc.

  18. So, buying a car with better mileage would make you want to waste a larger portion of your life commuting? Apparently your time is worthless.

    No, driving is just another form of work. Driving an extra hour a day would be the price I’d pay for not having a mortgage, as well as actually being closer to more jobs in my industry should I lose my present employment.

    But apparently you are as clueless about economics as Norm Coleman.

  19. Yet another reason to encourage … policy tools … to reduce overall consumption. … what is the legitimate counterpoint at this stage? I’m really curious.

    I oppose central planning and social engineering. Such efforts have a miserable track record. And I see no reason to force people into reducing consumption at all.

    nmg

  20. “If our Congressional overlords and environmental activists really think we should drive less and buy more efficient automobiles, then they should ditch the CAFE shell game and have the courage to recommend taxing gasoline at $5 per gallon.”

    They might also consider not subsidizing the purchase of large, gas-guzzling SUVs (LGGSUVs?)via the tax code.

  21. The cop filling out the accident report said it happens all the time, SUV’s rarely sustain the massive damage passenger cars do, even in SUV vs. SUV accidents.

    This is actually a bad thing. In an automobile accident, the kinetic energy that the vehicle possessed before the accident has to be dissipated in some way. The safest way for the occupants is to have the vehicle absorb the energy of the crash through crumpling and deforming, and why cars and intentionally built to crumple in a controlled manner. The more energy that goes into bending metal, the less that goes into bending bone. SUVs are built on a relatively ancient two-rail design taken from trucks, and are much stiffer. They gain their safety advantage mainly by being bigger than cars, and transferring more momentum to a smaller car in car/SUV accidents. The result is that SUVs are involved in a disproportionate number of MVA fatalities, with people in the cars making up 80% of the deaths in SUV/car interactions.

    SUVs also have issues with rollovers, and the stiffer design makes them less safe in SUV/large object (tree, wall, overpass) accidents. If you like being marginally safer at someone else’s expense, then SUVs are for you. But overall, SUV design probably results in a net increase in MVA injuries and death.

  22. Russ 2000:

    Anything that leads drivers to believe they are otherwise safer will tend to make them less accident averse. We can quibble about how much and what that leads to, but the general proposition that seat belts, air bags, etc. will lead a driver to be that less cautious all other factors being equal is quite sound.

    I suspect, by the way, that Gore’s, et al., reluctance to call for significantly higher taxes on gasoline is, politically, because of the likely voter reaction and, ideologically, at least in part to prevent being accused of unduly burdening the poor for whom (obviously) any increase in price will have a marginally greater negative impact. Gas stamps, anyone?

  23. Russ 2000,
    I must be clueless about economics as well, but your model seems to assume an endless supply of suitable exurbs and that gas prices are the salient factor in deciding where to live. Plus, your job must be rather low paying if $5-10 worth of gas is the deciding factor given that it takes more than an hour to burn that kind of fuel (i.e., you get paid crap, my man). Of course, since you understand economics so well, you would know that its smarter to drive a Honda Civic and live so far out of town as to have the lowest taxes ever! Boy, I wish I had those economics down like you do! Face it: you just like driving the boner mobiles.

  24. “efficient cars”

    That’s an oxymoron. All cars are about the same as far as efficiency is concerned.

    Some cars consume less galons per mile because they are SMALLER – not more efficient.

  25. “I oppose central planning and social engineering. Such efforts have a miserable track record. And I see no reason to force people into reducing consumption at all.”

    Yeah…especially the track record w/r/t to the eradication of diseases through gubmint-led vaccination programs, the banning of lead in paint and gasoline, the reduction of mercury in our water supply, sulphur emission reduction, cfc reduction, yeah the list of really lame “central planning” projects is quite long.

    These sort of tantrums against any and all planning are not really worth the time it takes to skim through them.

  26. Russ 2000 writes: “No, driving is just another form of work. Driving an extra hour a day would be the price I’d pay for not having a mortgage, as well as actually being closer to more jobs in my industry should I lose my present employment.”

    So you get paid for your driving time?

    If your commute is “work” then you’d be better off taking a train – at least then you can be productive.

  27. “That’s an oxymoron. All cars are about the same as far as efficiency is concerned.”

    So you believe an 8-cylinder car uses the same amount of gas at 25 MPH as a 4-cylinder?

    Riiiight.

  28. Budgie,

    Do you really want to compare the number of successful examples of central planning/gubmint intervention with the number of unsuccessful examples?

  29. Maybe we can get Congress to subsidize motor scooters instead of SUVs. A Vespa in every garage…

  30. Well, fellow,

    You’re right on. Let’s see a gubmint-led disease eradication effort start from scratch today. Let’s use West Nile as an example. In today’s bloated times, it will cost $11 quadrillion, take 2,500 years, and will only inocculate about 0.4% of the population. But it feels good, so let’s do it anyway.

  31. That conspicuous consumer of jet fuel, Al Gore, should prevail upon his good friend John Kerry to revive the tryworks of Nantucket , fo the average of three washashore whales that fetch up annually on Massachusetts shores could afford cetacean biodiesel enough to run a Lear shuttle between Cannes and Sundance.

    So distinctive is the large smell of well aged and partially combusted whale that the exhaust would serve to advertise Al’s continuing presence globally, all the while saving him a fortune in AvGas taxes .

  32. The problem with simply raising the gas tax is that it disproportionally affects truckers. Semi trucks are already just about as efficient as economically possible (diesels), so they have no options for buying a more economical truck.

    Raising the CAFE standards for cars/SUVs/light-duty trucks will avoid that problem. However, I do agree, though, that as the CAFE standards are raised, gasoline demand will initially go down resulting in lower gas prices which will cause people to drive more which will raise gas prices…

    That said, not all government regulation is bad. Who can argue that they’d rather have cars with no emissions equipment on them? Because of the emissions standards and existing CAFE standards, we now have small, fuel-injected V6 engines that are more powerful and fuel efficient (and that have virtually no exhaust odor) than some of the large smelly V8s of the past. They’re also easier to fix (the car’s computer, which was needed to get the optimum gas mileage and lowest emissions, gives lots of clues to what’s wrong…people who say modern cars are “user unserviceable” are uninformed).

  33. ” Semi trucks are already just about as efficient as economically possible (diesels), so they have no options for buying a more economical truck.”

    Actually, they can still be improved. WalMart has been upgrading their fleet with (among other things) aerodynamic skirts, and with small independent generators to run the auxilliary systems when parked, rather than idling the full big honkin’ engine, which is ridiculously inefficient.

    They’re also working with partners to develop hybrids for their fleet.

  34. Huh indeed…I thought the idea was to get Americans to, on balance, use less gas, which should reduce emissions and create a market stimulus for the production of more efficient machines and, more generally, make our economy more competitive by getting it to hum along at greater efficiency.

    Government-stimulated economic efficiency, I like your thinking Komrade Budgie! Yes, the government has such a sterling track record when it comes to central planning for optimal allocation of finite resources. Hey, I’ve got another good one, a priest, a rabbi and an atheist walk into a bar…

  35. “Thoreau, same here. I’m also looking at moving to an urban area closer to work/shopping/etc.”

    A great idea. Between my wife and I, we spend less than 500 per year on transportation. We sold the car. Live near work and shopping. Take the bus, bike, walk, and use Flexcar. More than offsets the increased rent. There is a reason that housing is more costly in the urban core. Better quality of life is valuable.

    Changes to zoning laws would probably have a bigger impact on overall fuel consumption than CAFE.

    Some good suggestions for how to shape policy along these lines…

    http://www.rmi.org/

  36. I think raising CAFE standards will casue the price of gas to fall, but this is exactly the outcome we want to avoid. Higher standards mean more fuel efficient cars, fuel efficient cars mean less demand, less demand means falling prices. What all this adds up to, though, is less incentive for alternative fuels. Why would people spend time and money researching alternative fuels and transportation with oil so cheap? Ethanol, biodiesel, and fuel cells all have one thing in common: they’re not price competitive with oil … yet. Increasing fuel efficiency will just push the date at which they become competitive out further.

    The alternative (raising gas taxes), as has already been mentioned, is political suicide. Not to mention just feeding the beast that is our federal government.

    Let the market be. Prices will ebb and flow, but they’ll continue to steadily head upward while the incentive for new innovation will become greater.

    I’m generally sympathetic with the political and security advantages of reducing our energy dependency on middle eastern nations, but we already get more than 2/3rds of our foreign oil from non-middle eastern nations:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/company_level_imports/current/import.html

  37. Lamar,

    I’m just pointing out that people make trade-offs on housing costs versus transportation costs. A more fuel efficient car lowers your transportation costs. Which in effect allows you to drive longer distances for the same cost. If an added distance can make it such that you could afford a nicer house farther away, one might make that choice.

    And if you think a 10-year old Jeep and a used Prius are exciting cars, you have boner issues.

  38. MainstreamMan,

    It is more complex than even that. The biggest reason I know that most people live in the suburbs and have long commutes is because they have children and dont’ want to send their kids to the lousy inner city schools. If they ever fixed the inner city schools in this country, I would guess a lot of people would move back into the inner cities and the original suburbs radically cut their commutes.

    “Help stop global warming! School Choice Now!” Explain that to a statist liberal sometime and watch his head explode.

  39. High crime, poor schools, horrible sanitary conditions … yeah, quality of life is valuable. Which is why people shell out the high transportation costs and live in the suburbs. Urban centers are nice places to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

  40. CAFE standards are based on what is politically possible. I wouldn’t be surprised if the auto makers, esp. GM and Ford, are feverishly working to develop cars that get 50mpg or more in order to rejuvenate their businesses. CAFE is for the underachievers in a world of $75 oil.

  41. Creech writes: “I wouldn’t be surprised if the auto makers, esp. GM and Ford, are feverishly working to develop cars that get 50mpg or more in order to rejuvenate their businesses. ”

    Last I heard, GM was betting on a new line of gas-guzzling SUVs to rejuvenate their business.

  42. All I know is that the diesel version of the Jetta gets 44 mpg, and diesel is about $0.10 less per gallon around here.

    We get closer to 50, but do almost all our driving on the highway.

    I have my eye on it for my next car purchase in a few years.

    Advice to prospective VW diesel owners: make sure there’s a good service shop, not the dealer, that knows what they’re doing with that engine. Service is a significant cost (moreso than with the gas engine), and dealer service shops will rob you blind (*cough* Midwestern Auto Group *cough*)

    So you believe an 8-cylinder car uses the same amount of gas at 25 MPH as a 4-cylinder?

    Maybe if you compare gas mileage/mass of vehicle? I think that’s what he was getting at.

  43. Last I heard, GM was betting on a new line of gas-guzzling SUVs to rejuvenate their business.

    Then one of two things will happen:

    1) GM will get the bankruptcy that it deserves.
    2) GM customers will get the gasoline bills that they deserve.

  44. NAL
    “people who say modern cars are “user unserviceable” are uninformed”

    true its nifty that the cars computer can tell you all sorts of things about whats wrong, but how many people do you know with the diagnostic equipment to hook up to OBD II ports and adjust the ECU settings? my 12 year old can change the oil, plugs, belts +hoses on my 72 chevette, but if the distronic (computer controlled cruise control) on my 03 benz S class fails then i’m screwed. unless you have a degree in electrical and computer engineering, fixing anything remotely complex on a new car is next to impossible. of course, what would i do withouth satellite navigation? better for the dealers too, seeing how often higher end cars break down

  45. So you get paid for your driving time?

    Commuting another hour a day would allow me to eliminate my housing debt, in effect putting an extra 16K in my pocket each of the next 9 years. That’s $64 just for drving another hour a day. The added transport cost would be about $16 a day (assuming 40 cents a mile). $48 bucks net for an hour of driving, that’s not a bad rate.

  46. Grummun writes: “Maybe if you compare gas mileage/mass of vehicle? I think that’s what he was getting at.”

    Perhaps he was thinking of “efficiency” as the amount of energy in the gas that is turned into useful work. In that case, yeah, internal combustion engines are probably broadly similar.

    But when you drop a 12-cylinder engine into a sportscar, and a 4 cylinder into a car of similar size and weight, the 12 is going to be far less efficient. It will be working a lot harder than it needs to be, so the gas consumed by 8 of the 12 cylinders is going to be essentially wasted.

    This is why automakers are now selling big engines which can shut down cylinders when they aren’t needed, in order to save gas.

  47. Then one of two things will happen:

    1) GM will get the bankruptcy that it deserves.
    2) GM customers will get the gasoline bills that they deserve.

    Not the bills they deserve, the ones that they choose. If you own a really big SUV that gets say 15 mpg on average and you drive say 15,000 miles a year, that means that your gas expenses are at $3 a gallon $3,000 a year. If you drive a small efficient car and get an average of say 35 mpg, your gas bill will be about $1385 a year for driving the small car. That is a difference of about $1,700 or less than $150 a month. Look, a $150 a month is not that much money to a lot if not most people in this country. I would guess that GM will have no problem finding a good supply of people willing to pay the extra $150 a month for driving the car they want.

  48. A gas tax and an increase in CAFE standards works on different sides of the market. That is, a gas tax will alter consumers’ demands for cars toward more efficient ones, so that they can save on gas. On the other hand, CAFE increases will alter the supply side, with manufacturers altering designs, production and pricing so as to sell a fleet that meets the standard. Thus, the tax more or less guarantees that less gas will be demanded, even if people buy smaller cars. This will lower the wholesale, before tax price of gasoline, but leave the after tax price higher. CAFE standards increases would probably cause people to drive more miles, but I bet not many more. I for one weigh in with Lamar that the primary cost of driving is time (and also depreciation of the vehicle at $.20 or more per mile), so lower gas costs would not induce me personally to drive much more than I already do. The CAFE standards have failed in the last decade because of the shift towards vans and SUVs, which could have been corrected, but the Republican congress refused to put the CAFE heat on light trucks.

  49. “Do you really want to compare the number of successful examples of central planning/gubmint intervention with the number of unsuccessful examples?”

    Actually, there is almost no planning with this. This is one of those discussions more about courage in leadership than planning as such. Raising a specific tax and a filling in the loopholes and ratcheting up the level of an existing standard are not political rocket science.

    “I like your thinking Komrade Budgie!”

    Dobbs,
    I guess this is the other side of the Godwin coin. Nice work. You didn’t actually respond to any of the beneficial government-led projects I mentioned. Maybe I’m asking too much.

  50. The problem is that the demand for gasoline is pretty inelastic. The price has doubled in the last two years and demand hasn’t gone down much. Short of truly draconian taxes raising the price of gasoline to say $6 or $7 a gallon, which would be horribly regressive and unfair to the poor and lower middle class, I can’t see demand going down much.

  51. John writes: “I would guess that GM will have no problem finding a good supply of people willing to pay the extra $150 a month for driving the car they want.”

    Have you seen GM’s numbers lately?

    They aren’t finding as many of these people as they used to, or as many as they need.

  52. carrick,

    I think we are closer to having viable electric cars than people think. Not hybrid frauds but real electric cars. The Tesla roadster looks pretty awsome and it is a true electric. Granted it costs like $100K, but prices of new technologies are always too high when they first come out. Viable electric cars combined with a real commitment to nuclear power would go a long way to solving the problem.

  53. John writes: “I would guess that GM will have no problem finding a good supply of people willing to pay the extra $150 a month for driving the car they want.”

    Have you seen GM’s numbers lately?

    They aren’t finding as many of these people as they used to, or as many as they need.

  54. “They aren’t finding as many of these people as they used to, or as many as they need”

    JonT, that is only because people are buying Toyota Tundras and Land Cruisers, not because they are buying smaller cars.

  55. APL,

    You are correct about the crumple zones vs. mass if you assume collisions with fixed objects. However, let’s take the case of a head-on crash between an SUV and a smaller car. The smaller car may reduce G-forces due to the crumple zones. On the other hand, the larger mass of the SUV will result in higher momentum, which will be transferred to the car. For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume both cars are traveling at the same speed in opposite directions when they collide. If the car is too much lighter than the SUV, it will end up heading in the opposite direction very quickly, resulting in greater G-forces than for the SUV, which will continue in the same direction it was going when the collision occurred. Thus, the occupants of the SUV will probably experience lower G-forces than the occupants of the car. (This reminds me of a former head – under Carter – of the NHTSA who said that the car makers could make cars that get 100 mpg and just bounce off each other in collisions – as if that were a good thing. Proof positive that it is not only Republicans who ignore science. On the other hand, if it were so easy and desirable, I wonder why she did not start a company to produce such cars and fill the demand she sensed.)

    CAFE DOES apply to trucks and SUVs, but the standard is understandably lower than for cars. CAFE caused full-sized station wagons to become uneconomical to produce, so they were almost entirely replaced by SUVs and vans. One problem with that is that it increased the number of collisions between trucks, vans, and SUVs and cars. The hard points on trucks, SUVs, and full-sized vans are higher than the hard points on cars. Thus, collisions between trucks and cars tend to result in the hard points of the trucks hitting softer parts of cars – not at all good for passengers in cars.

    I’m not going to try to defend the Big Three, but CAFE hastened their demise. Japanese manufacturers almost exclusively produced small cars when CAFE was enacted, giving them a head start. The Big Three began selling smaller cars at a loss to meet the CAFE requirements. Japanese manufacturers, on the other hand, were able to store credits for exceeding the CAFE requirements that allowed them to start manufacturing larger cars in more recent years with less concern about meeting the CAFE standards. What is wrong with manufacturers’ specializing in larger or smaller cars? CAFE makes it necessary for every manufacturer to produce small cars or pay huge fines for not meeting the standards.

    As with virtually any government mandate, there have been significant unintended consequences from CAFE. For all the costs associated with it, it is not clear that we reduced fuel consumption from what it would have been without CAFE.

    John,

    Fortunately, the supply of petroleum (and substitutes) is elastic – in the long-term. Unfortunately, the same people who brought us CAFE standards also brought us regulations that ensure the long-term is longer than it has to be.

    About eight years ago, I was involved in bringing a refinery back on line after it was shut down for 10-15 years. The reason it was shut down was that it was a safety and environmental hazard, with fires occurring on a regular basis (A fire actually occurred before we brought it back on-line.). Thanks to draconian environmental regulations, it is MUCH easier to take an unsafe and dirty – but previously operating – refinery (or just about any other industrial facility) online than to get permission to build a more efficient, safer, and cleaner new refinery.

  56. …the average of three washashore whales that fetch up annually on Massachusetts shores…

    [insert Ted Kennedy joke here]

  57. Kent,

    Environmentalists hate the 80% sollution. If the government would loosen the new source standards under both the CWA and the CAA, a lot of old lousy plants would go off line to be replaced by newer, more effient, less polluting ones. If a President actually came out and tried to lower the new source standards, the environmental lobbies would beat him like one of those professional wrestlers in a tag team match where one guy gets the other cornered and beats on him until he gets tired before he slaps his partner’s hand to have another guy beat the snot out of the poor victim. No way. You simply cannot have a rational conversation about the environment in this country.

  58. I for one weigh in with Lamar that the primary cost of driving is time

    Gee, that’s almost never been the case with transportation. Even before the automobile explosion, people tended to buy homes farther from their employment. Maybe it meant having to take a commuter train instead of a street car, meaning longer waits for the train. Or it meant moving down the street meaning another 5 or 6 stops farther out on the streetcar line, meaning another 15 minutes or so. In every case that’s added time.

    The number of people I’ve worked with over the years who have changed residences is tilted much more to the side of people moving farther from their jobs rather than closer.

  59. Budgie, you do not like my Soviet humor? Really, I don’t think it was off-base in light of your praise of government planning. But in response to your challenge, I could definitely start by taking issue with the CFC ban, which has resulted in less efficient and more expensive cooling units, and 11 years after the ban the depletion of the ozone layer has expanded at an increasing rate. What a success story. It’s also ironically resulted in pollution from people dumping their A/Cs and refrigerators to avoid waste disposal regs; and there’s speculation that as a result of the ban, tile damage from an inferior substitute in the foam led to the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy.

    You could at least acknowledge the fact of unintended consequences from government action, ye faithful lover-of-the-state.

  60. John,
    It has been a long time since I watched professional wrestling, but my father is a huge fan. My theory is that people who don’t read the paper or watch the news can keep up with what is going on in the world by watching ‘rasslin’ because the villains reflect the times. After WWII, Japanese ‘rasslers were the villains. Then, after the memories of Japanese atrocities faded, some of those ‘rasslers became good guys. In the seventies, villains dressed as Arab sheikhs and in the eighties it was Russians. Who are the bad guys now? How does ‘rasslin’ deal with political correctness? Are all of the villains good ole boys, oil tycoons, or other people it is still ok to hate?

  61. CAFE standards also kill people by making our cars lighter and less safe.

    As some others have pointed out, making cars lighter doesn’t make them inherently less safe (and in fact, because there’s less mass, means there’s less energy involved in a crash). They might be comparatively less safe, if everyone else is driving around in a Hummer trying to ram you, but light weight is a good thing in general.

    Also, i’d much rather have my light, agile sportscar and depend on my driving ability and vision to keep me out of accidents than depend on having enough steel and fiberglass between me and whatever hits me to keep me (relatively) unhurt.

  62. Russ 2000,
    Your original comment was about moving farther out into the exurbs because your car was so darned efficient. I merely commented that, unless you make under $10 an hour or so, that would be a poor economic choice. Of course, if real estate and taxes were low enough in a place far enough away, you could cost-justify driving a semi-tractor to work. Further, you seem to think that people choose a neighborhood based only on cost-analysis. It seems that people see what they want, then figure out if they can afford it. You also fail to consider any non-commute driving or commercial fleet driving. Anyhow, since you seem to reject the concept that time is money, our little economic discussion is over.

  63. Wait a minute. All we have to do is get the oil and auto companies to start producing those 150 mpg carburetors they bought up the plans and patents for back in the 50s and 60s. As many times as I’ve heard that story there’s got to be about a dozen of those out there.

    I’m not sure if that post belongs here or the conspiracy theory thread.

  64. Kent,

    I beleive the only accpetable villian these days is an overweight smoker who drives an SUV. That is of course a big problem for the wrestling promoters since most of their fans are over weight smokers who drive SUVs.

  65. Isaac Bartram,

    I always wondered why the Soviets, who never respected our intellectual property laws, continued to build such inefficient cars (Besides their obvious problems producing oil with sufficient octane to have higher compression ratio engines.). I guess even the Soviets were afraid of crossing “Big Oil.”

    I know that even though those patents MUST have expired by now, I’m not about to start producing the carburetors for fear of ending up on the bottom of Chesapeake Bay.

  66. Shit, man! Don’t say things like that!

  67. im surprised everyone misses a very obvious solution to overall fuel consumption & crowded roadways.
    Actually require drivers to be competant.
    I know, I know, it sounds crazy…..how will the poor dears get around? (by foot) Isnt that elitist? (its, if anything, competantist.)
    Me & the far smarter half ride bikes (the kind propelled by internal combustion) Nothin like riding a bike to see the massive incompetance of a good proportion of drivers. “Accidents” rarely are.
    Make driving tests real. Confiscate the liscenses of incompetants. sell said cars at auction (after proper legal findings) so poor people who can drive can get nice rigs.
    Bin the idiotic “emmissions” laws so I dont have to go thru idiot charades every two years w/ the truck, & I can put 3 S&S Super B’s on my 280z.
    End of problem.

  68. Mutt,

    In Germany it takes like 6 months and about 2000 euro to get a diver’s license. I have to admit, drivers are a lot better there than they are here. Even on the autobahn where there was no speed limit or in the middle of Muinich or Frankfurt at rush hour, I always felt a lot safer in Germany than I do here.

    You are right about motorcycles. After I bought a motorcycle, I realized how bad most drivers in this country are. You don’t notice as much in a car what arrogant dangerous assholes about 20% of the drivers out there are.

  69. Really, Ridgely:
    ” ..the average of three washashore whales that fetch up annually on Massachusetts shores…

    [insert Ted Kennedy joke here]”

    Just because we have a seal in a suit for a Senator is no reason to rail at the Bay Colony.
    The Times reports today that an amorous 1,000 pound manatee has ventured up the Hudson to Westchester, an event as unprecedented as sending an ex first lady to the upper chamber.

  70. Anyhow, since you seem to reject the concept that time is money, our little economic discussion is over.

    How could you read what I wrote, that drving an extra hour would put $48 in my pocket, and not see that I was AGREEING with the concept?? I never claimed that driving an extra 6 hours to save the same $48 made any sense.

    Further, you seem to think that people choose a neighborhood based only on cost-analysis.

    If that were the case, then I wouldn’t be telling you that I WOULD be saving $48 a day, I’d be telling you that I AM saving $48 a day.

  71. Actually, they can still be improved. WalMart has been upgrading their fleet with (among other things) aerodynamic skirts, and with small independent generators to run the auxilliary systems when parked, rather than idling the full big honkin’ engine, which is ridiculously inefficient.

    They’re also working with partners to develop hybrids for their fleet.

    Just more proof that you don’t need any govt action on this. And even if no one cared about fuel efficiency and the gas costs and chose to consume like mad I still don’t see why it’s the government’s business to care and socially engineer that behaviour away.

    nmg

  72. [insert Ted Kennedy joke here]

    Actually, I saw the senior blowhard from Taxachusetts on the tube the other night.

    I recall seeing him a few years ago as a bloated, pasty faced monstrosity, but he’s looking pretty good lately.

    I guess that hanging out with Orrin Hatch and quitting drinking has done the old boy a world of good.

  73. Motorcycles have so many advantages: my bike gets 59 miles to the gallon, I can ride in the car pool lane, no distracting cell phones or cup holders or cigarette lighters, here in California I can ride between stopped lanes of traffic and leave all the cagers behind, and even if my girlfriend is with me I still can’t hear a word she says.

    On the downside, I still need my car unless I’m in the mood to make 10 trips to the grocery store instead of one. I wouldn’t mind the trips on the bike, but standing in line at the checkout 10 times would be a bummer. Maybe if the cashiers were hotties…

    I’m also not buying the smaller engine=much better fuel economy argument. A big engine that makes lots of torque can easily be geared for fuel economy. My gf’s ’98 Accord has a 4-cylinder that turns about 2600 RPM at 70 miles per hour, and gets about 28 miles to the gallon. The V12 in my car is only turning 1700 RPM at the same speed and manages 24 miles to the gallon despite other disadvantages like have much wider tires and less aerodynamic efficiency with the top down. Maybe she desperately needs a tune up, but if you look at the number of power strokes, the big engine looks even better: 4-cyl Honda at 2600 RPM is 10400 cylinder firings per minute. 12-cyl Mercedes at 1700 RPM is 20400 sparks per minute. The V12 fires almost twice as often but still gets 85% of the fuel economy of the 4, which means the big engine is using considerably less fuel per cylinder. If the car were geared just a bit taller I could easily out-economize the Honda.

  74. “I recall seeing him a few years ago as a bloated, pasty faced monstrosity, but he’s looking pretty good lately.”

    I saw Teddy baby at the Old North Church in Boston a few years ago. All I could think was man is makeup that guy’s friend. He looked a lot older in person than he ever did on TV.

  75. John, all I can say is, he’s got an awful good makeup person now, coz he looks years younger than I remember him back in his boozin’ days.

    Is there a lesson for me here, I wonder?

  76. That is of course a big problem for the wrestling promoters since most of their fans are over weight smokers who drive SUVs.

    which is exactly why we get CAFE standards rather then 3$ a gallon gas tax…

    It is politically easier to make the car industry the villian rather then all of middle america.

    There was a comment that public schools make the inner city bad which is why everyone commutes…this is true but don’t forget the war on drugs ability to destroy american cities.

  77. The V12 fires almost twice as often but still gets 85% of the fuel economy of the 4, which means the big engine is using considerably less fuel per cylinder.

    This is getting out of my depth, but how much fuel efficiency is compromised by having to meet certain emissions standards?

  78. “You could at least acknowledge the fact of unintended consequences from government action, ye faithful lover-of-the-state.”

    And you Dobbs could at least acknowledge that government-led efforts such as that which reduced CFCs at lightning speed were a resounding global success. State hatred is ridiculous position when problems cross state and national borders, which is precisely why we have governments bothering with these problems in the first place. I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but transnational environmental problems expose Libertarianism as a surprisingly bankrupt political mindset. If you recall, I was suggesting flexibility and creativity in policymaking to solve this problem. The ridiculous Cold War hangup and refusal to compromise is yours and yours alone.

    Your joke was, let me be diplomatic here, pretty fucking retarded. You might want to develop some better material. Like, at least blast me for being soft on terror or something.

  79. And you Dobbs could at least acknowledge that government-led efforts such as that which reduced CFCs at lightning speed were a resounding global success.

    Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back. Nobody thought of global warming when the EPA was worried about smog.

  80. This is getting out of my depth, but how much fuel efficiency is compromised by having to meet certain emissions standards?

    I’ve heard (and I can’t verify how true it is ) that the catylitic converters that are required in US automobiles make our cars less efficient. That was told to me as the main reason why a 1.6L car in Europe perform as well or better than 2.0 – 2.5L engines in the US.

    Dunno how true it is. Please refute if someone knows better

  81. I don’t know much about car engines and emissions systems, but I do know that emissions regulations hinder fuel economy in motorcycle engines. Technically, it’s illegal to tamper with or replace your bike’s carburator because the carbs are considered part of the emissions equipment. The exhaust system is also emissions equipment (since all your emissions come out of the bike there. 🙂 However, I personally (and illegally) installed a set of flat-slide carbs and a different pair of exhaust pipes on my Ducati. The result was a staggering increase in fuel economy (up from 45 MPG to 59 on the highway). My bike’s old enough that it didn’t have a catalytic converter, so what comes out of the new pipes is unchanged from the stock exhaust system, but the pipes themselves are larger in diameter so they change the pressure waves bouncing around in there, and allow a little better flow. That might have bumped my fuel economy up by a mile or two per gallon. The dramatic difference came from the new carbs. Now, I’m just guessing here, but I think it’s safe to surmise that since I’m using nearly 30% less fuel to travel the same distance the bike must be emitting fewer pollutants as well. The thing I can’t quite wrap my head around is how the bike makes more power with less gas.

    Maybe the environmentalists should promote breaking emissions laws in order to save the environment.

  82. I’m beating a dead horse when I say this, but transnational environmental problems expose Libertarianism as a surprisingly bankrupt political mindset.

    Yes becouse it was libertarianism that created the interstate, and subsidises oil, and proposed creating the massive federal power authorities of the 1930 1940 and 1950’s.

    In fact i was just at the Hoover dam and there is a big plack that reads…thanks to libertarians everywhere for making this huge dam possible and putting out of buissness all private attempts at power generation in the west.

    plus we can thank the libertarian lead EPA’s power factory regulations which give insentives to established players to keep polluting and making it impossible for new players with cleaner facilitites to enter the market…all the fault of libertarians.

  83. Motorcycles have so many advantages…
    On the downside,

    On the downside, don’t forget that the crumple zone consists of your bones.

    I would love to drive a motorcycle (rode one all through high school), but making a living requires full use of my limbs. And as I go through life, the number of riders I know who have *not* had some sort of bone crunching accident is slowly and inexorably marching towards zero.

  84. True enough, dead_elvis. In fact, I’m leaving in about 20 minutes to go visit a friend who’s in the hospital because a car ran a stop sign right in front of his bike two weeks ago.

  85. “I’m using nearly 30% less fuel to travel the same distance the bike must be emitting fewer pollutants as well. ”

    Not necessarily.

    From greener-car website:

    It is still an open question whether diesel engines can be made clean enough at a competitive price to extensively exploit their efficiency advantage in the U.S. market. Most of today’s diesels, such as Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI (turbocharged direct-injection), score “Inferior” in Green Book ratings even though they are more fuel-efficient than their gasoline counterparts. The Jetta 1.9-liter TDI diesel automatic rates 35 MPG in the city and 42 MPG on the highway, for an overall average of 38 MPG. That’s about 35 percent better than the 28 MPG average for the Jetta with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine. But the diesel version is certified to a standard that allows it to emit, for every mile driven, more than eight times the amount of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emitted by the gasoline-powered Jetta, which now qualifies as a Tier 2 bin 5 vehicle in the majority of the country.

    Note that this is about the same as your increase in fuel efficiency.

  86. someone asked if EPA emissions requirements impact MPG….as I posted on another thread, Im a mechanic, both bikes & auto/truck. Used to be my living, but then I quit gettin cars w/ tailfins…..whats the point. But to the subject: The EPA arbitrarily mandates what comes out of tailpipes. Thats the only concern.
    I got a 81 Ford van, 300 in. 6, here in Ca. where emissions tests are done every 2 yrs. When I got the truck, it barely ran, got 10-13 mpg, & would not pull its overdrive (economising/mpg) gear. It passed emissions. After I got the emissions cert, I put on an illegal Offy intake, an illegal 35 yr old big ass 2bbl carb, illegal headers, binned the cat, & put on a straight thru exhaust. 17-21 mpg, pulls OD, its quiet, runs great. Im a rolling criminal. A terrorist, no doubt.
    Now ask yourself, lil birkenjerker: is it more efficient to get 10-13mpg on a vehicle that has to be floored to get up a hill, or better to get 17-21mpg (25 MPG, hauling 2 bikes, in a tailwind, once) in a vehicle that actually does the job at partial throttle. thats the SUV “loophole”- trucks have to actually WORK, the nitwit strangling devices put on cars, which drastically lower thier power output, wont fly on a serious truck. Not that them sissy rigs are serious trucks, mind you, any more than the nitwits who own them are serious drivers.
    The nail in the coffin is this: Ca law (soon to be yours) mandates not that the engine emit “x” emmisions, but that it HAS THE MANDATED rube goldberg emissions crap on it, too. In other words, if my truck passed the tailpipe test as it stands now, it would STILL FAIL as the Congressionally mandated rube goldberg (believe this old wrench: they are) gadjits arent in place. On top of that, the Emisions testing computers are plugged directly to the Dept of Motor Vehicles computers.
    this has nothing to do with emissions, everything to do with grasping State authority…….and concomitant incompetance. I could go on…….

  87. Jon H, extra time spent in the car isn’t always wasted. Sometimes its time to relax before or after the work day. Sometimes its used to reflect on which project to hit first, or how to handle issue x, or where to go for lunch. I notice some people use it to shave. I think I’m a better (and better compensated) employee for having a few minutes to get my shit together on my own time.

    And Hummers are cool. I’d be too embarrassed to drive one, butr that’s a personal issue.

  88. John said:

    After I bought a motorcycle, I realized how bad most drivers in this country are.

    I drove a taxi for eleven accident-free years and I determined that, if people are idiots, then drivers are idiots in armor.

  89. Mad Scientist-

    Damn, that sucks. I had my share of cars who stopped, looked both ways, looked right at me, then pulled out right in front of me anyway. It didn’t take me very long to figure out that the only way to ride half-way safely was to simply assume that one is completely invisible.

  90. dead_elvis, that’s my take exactly. Every time I get on the bike I make the assumption that every car, truck, dog, tree, fence post and rock is out to kill me. As a result, no bike accidents in 14 years.

    MainstreamMan, that makes sense. I may be pumping out less junk per mile but still making more of some particular kind of junk. Still, since I didn’t change fuels, I’m guessing that overall my pollutant levels have gone down. Oddly enough, California mandates all sorts of emissions equipment on motorcycles but has no means of verifying compliance. I have to get my cars smogged every two years, but they just send me the registration for the bike no questions asked.

    I wonder what Jay Leno’s annual budget is just for getting all his cars smogged? 🙂

  91. It’s so fun to red-bait Budgie. Of course given some of the collectivist/statist crap you’ve posted on this site, I have to wonder how far off the mark it really is. It’s almost reminiscent of… of… Hitler. There I said it, this thread is now dead.

  92. Damn it gas motor scooter, I said this thread is dead!!! And I will vigilantly monitor it until the Reason squirrels deactivate it!

  93. Damn it gas motor scooter, I said this thread is dead!!! And I will vigilantly monitor it until the Reason squirrels deactivate it!

  94. Damn squirrels.

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