Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cars, Cars, Everywhere but Not a Road to Drive

I attend the L.A. Auto Show virtually every year (I missed it once in the past 21 years). The Ferraris, Maserattis, Lamborghini's, Lotus', and this year, the Bugatti Veyron attract big crowds. The auto show is a great place to take a good close look at these $100,000 plus vehicles that one rarely, if ever sees on American roads. Concept cars also draw great appeal. Most of the major manufacturers feature at least one. Concepts often never come to market and even when they do, the production version is usually only faintly similar to the vehicle originally shown. While this is all interesting stuff, I've always been more interested in cars I see on the road every day.

There is a lot of hubub of hybrid vehicles and emphsis on fuel economy these days. You'd think maybe that the 1970's would return where manufacturers try to outdo the competition. In the 70's, Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan) played a good game of one-upmanship. Corolla's and B-210's broke the 25, 30, 35 and even the 40 mpg marks over a span of just four to five years. Now, thirty years later, we have advanced fuel injection systems, lightweight materials, low-friction tires, and other technology. You'd think we'd be at the 60 or 70 mpg level by now. Why aren't we?

The answer is simple marketing. As with most environmental issues, people say they are in favor of better fuel economy and lower pollution levels, but their actions usually don't back that up. Witness the SUV craze of the 1990's that only seems to be slightly waning now. When it comes down to the crunch, most people will opt for size and power over economy. After the energy crisis of the '70's where cars got very small, cars have been getting larger and more powerful. Once upon a time, the Honda Accord was a very small subcompact car. The Honda Civic was smaller still. Over time, each vehicle got a little larger. Today's Accord is a rather large family sedan with the Civic being a compact sedan that is in fact, much larger than the original Accord. Toyota followed a similar path with the Camry and Corolla. Honda does not even produce a subcompact car for the American market anymore. Toyota has been making the Echo, which is being replaced by the new Yaris but the Echo, at least, was not a very strong seller. What sells for Toyota and Honda? The larger Camry and Accord. Both vehicles offer V6 engines with the Accord's producing 250 horsepower! That's much more power than the performance cars of the 1980's and 1990's. So, yes, Honda offers a hybrid Civic and Accord, but those vehicles still emphasize power. Imagine what a small Civic with a smaller output engine could produce in fuel economy. It might get that 70mpg but I bet that Honda figures nobody would buy a 80hp car in today's world.

What really gets me is why is all this power necessary? An 80hp car can get to 90 - 100mph, well above the legal speed limit. With all these 200+hp cars on the road, we can get more speeding tickets, get into more fatal accidents and pay more for gas but we're not getting to work any faster.

So, should we have horsepower limits on vehicles? I ask this because I have no idea where this is going to end.


Erik said...

I remember watching on channel 2 last year or two years ago the original plan they had for freeways in this city. If what was planned actually got built that would have made things so much better. As far as fast cars go. They will be built as long as people want them to be built.

Robert E Wilson said...

What, may I ask was so great about the original plan they had for freeways?

Erik said...

Let's see. Origianlly Reseda Blvd, Sherman Way, Topanga Cyn, Las Virgines Cyn, Coldwater Cyn, Pacific Coast Highway and others were origianlly supposed to be freeways as well as one going from Beverly Hills to LAX. Tell me if you don't think that would make things better.

Robert E Wilson said...

Definitely not! Stay tuned. I'll have a full explanation later.

Erik said...

I should say it wouldn't fix traffic. Nothing will. But instead of two routes in the valley going to the city there was supposed to be at least 4. YOu tell me what would be better?

Robert E Wilson said...

In case you missed it Look here.