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Why Fuel Efficiency Advances Haven't Translated To Better Gas Mileage

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the bigger-better-faster dept.

Transportation 891

greenrainbow tips an article about a research paper from an MIT economist that attempts to explain why technological advances in fuel efficiency haven't led to substantially better gas mileage for the average driver. Quoting: "Thus if Americans today were driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 miles per gallon (mpg) to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg. Instead, Knittel says, 'Most of that technological progress has gone into [compensating for] weight and horsepower.' ... Indeed, Knittel asserts, given consumer preferences in autos, larger changes in fleet-wide gas mileage will occur only when policies change, too. 'It’s the policymakers’ responsibility to create a structure that leads to these technologies being put toward fuel economy,' he says. Among environmental policy analysts, the notion of a surcharge on fuel is widely supported. 'I think 98 percent of economists would say that we need higher gas taxes,' Knittel says."

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Well... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616036)

If we save fuel all across the board...

The oil companys might not make more money next year than they did this year. Repeated forever into the future.

And we can't have that now can we?

Re:Well... (4, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616284)

If we save fuel all across the board...

The oil companys might not make more money next year than they did this year. Repeated forever into the future.

And we can't have that now can we?

Sounds like a recursive function.

Of course, there's always a constant thrown in - P for Profit, they'll always make a profit.

If we all drive cars which get 100 MPG then the price per gallon will simply be adjusted, due to economy of scale - fixed costs are spread over less product, so are rolled into the unit price - say... 10$US gallon. A that point, people still stupid enough to drive 12 MPG Behemoths will feel the pain.

Re:Well... (5, Insightful)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616478)

Whatever you think..taxes should not be used for behavioral manipulations.

Taxes are for funding the govt services we all need...that should be it...period.

People should be free to choose to drive and spend in the fashion they wish.

Taxes weren't passed to allow a 'chosen' few to dictate citizen behavior....

Re:Well... (3, Insightful)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616598)

Whatever you think..taxes should not be used for behavioral manipulations.

Taxes are for funding the govt services we all need...that should be it...period.

People should be free to choose to drive and spend in the fashion they wish.

Taxes weren't passed to allow a 'chosen' few to dictate citizen behavior....

So you advocate rolling back tobacco taxes?

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616626)

Well, tell that to whomever the next time your locale is raising "sin" taxes on alcohol and/or tobacco products (or Cheetos or Pepsi or...). There are other similar taxes as well.

Or, if that is so dogmatically bad, perhaps pass a law that compels insurance companies to raise insurance rates based on average MPG per vehicle, after all, if they're larger, and there are more small cars on the road, then bigger cars should have to pay higher rates for damages they invoke in accidents to others, no?

This argument seems to work against fat people quite well...after all, that fat person you see is somehow incurring "future damages" against the currently "skinny" people, so they should have to pay for it somehow.

Actually, higher fuel taxes to compensate for increased road damages *DOES* make sense. Research indicates that road wear caused by a vehicle increases by power of 4 in relation to vehicle mass, no?

Statistics (5, Insightful)

homer_s (799572) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616056)

I think 98 percent of economists would say that we need higher gas taxes Knittel says.

93% of all statistics are made up. 99% of economists know that.

Re:Statistics (5, Informative)

DanTheStone (1212500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616164)

He should ask some economists. If we wanted to optional travel, gas taxes would help. But our whole nation's economy depends on motor vehicle travel to move goods. Raising gas taxes would significantly increase the cost of all goods and possibly bump us toward recession. It happens every time gas prices spike due to factors outside our control. So maybe the number of economists wouldn't be 98% after all.

Re:Statistics (1)

DanTheStone (1212500) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616194)

If he wanted to discourage optional travel, or slightly influence choice of car when people can next afford to buy one. Sorry for the typo there.

Re:Statistics (4, Insightful)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616256)

Has it occurred to you that your dependence on said travel might be a critical strategic danger for your economy? Or that your dependence on oil from the Middle East might be a critical strategic danger geopolitically?

Re:Statistics (4, Informative)

ProfBooty (172603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616516)

The US gets most of its oil from canada and mexico. Since oil is a commodity, of course events in the middle east effect the price, even if the US doesn't actually obtain oil from those countries.

Re:Statistics (4, Insightful)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616374)

Even then, goods that need to be transported further will increase in price more, leading more people to choose locally produced stuff, benefiting the economy in that way.

Re:Statistics (1, Flamebait)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616384)

Raising gas taxes would significantly increase the cost of all goods and possibly bump us toward recession.

So, only raise the gas tax for passenger vehicles. It's not that hard. You can rebate gas taxes for truckers, you can have truckers show a commercial license and have the tax waived. It could be done with a keychain fob the same way you get a discount at the grocery chain with your little card with the bar code.

Here in Chicago, the streets are clogged with people driving alone in SUVs the size of locomotives. All day long, you can drive up and down Ashland Ave and there will be one Suburban or Nissan Armada or Navigator or some other ridiculously huge vehice with a single person driving all by herself. Those drivers need to pay a higher gas tax to cover the externalities they are forcing the rest of us to pay.

Better yet, maybe it would be a good thing when people start realizing there is a great benefit to living closer to where you work. How much of societies productivity and time and expense is thrown down the drain in daily 2-hour commutes?

I think people may already be starting to learn a little bit. You want to go to the exurbs of any major metropolis, you'll find that housing prices have dropped a lot faster out there than they have closer in to the city. And let's be clear: most of us live in cities. The term "flyover country" is actually pretty accurate.

Re:Statistics (5, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616364)

This is a well known phenomenon and it's why you see such incredible fleet efficiency in Seattle compared with most of the rest of the country. Simply put between taxes and oil company gouging we pay more for our gas than they do in most of the rest of the country.

It's been known since the 19th century: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox [wikipedia.org]

Simply put if you don't tax the fuel sufficient to make up for the cost reduction you tend to get more fuel being consumed rather than less. There are limits to it, you're not going to suddenly start commuting 1000mi a day simply because of cheap gas, but it's less likely that you'll work close to home than if the gas was really expensive.

We've had an increase in gas prices... (5, Informative)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616058)

The increase in gas prices hasn't drastically changed what vehicles we buy. Many of those that really would rather buy more efficient vehicles can't afford them, and are stuck with older ones, so the economists would just be hurting the poor.

As consumers shouldn't we choose what vehicle economies we use? Where I live, SUVs are all over. But, it makes more sense. Adverse conditions favor SUVs. An economist, you would think, would say people buy what they want.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616096)

Adverse conditions to not favor top heavy rear wheel only SUVs.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (2, Insightful)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616268)

Yeah, get a Subaru.

Mod parent up.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616286)

Why is he modded down? He is correct. An AWD subaru or something like it would be a much better choice.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (2)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616290)

I have 2 cars, a ford focus and a nissan xterra. the xterra is much better to drive in the snow. That doesn't mean i put it in 4wd and drive like a bat outta hell. It means i can just sort of plod along and never once has anything in the rockies, the midwest, or the northeast ever come close to stopping me. Compare that to the focus. It's front wheel drive. With all season tires, it's not a bad car for light snow, but it just doesn't have the ground clearance or wheel diameter to handle a significant amount of the stuff.

other than some rear wheel drive only pickups, or wierdly configured escalades with wide low profile tires, most trucks and suvs have a huge advantage in the snow. The problem is people don't realize that advantage is you can drive really slow and never get stuck.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (4, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616152)

Actually, it did have an effect - when gas started to get to about $4 per gallon, there were several studies that determined that people responded by driving less. This makes sense, because driving less is an adjustment that's usually much faster and easier to make than buying a new car.

However, I for one would be interested to find out what the true cost of a gallon of gasoline is. Not just the price I pay at the pump, but the price I pay in taxes to support the wars where oil is secured, the price I pay in taxes to support the Medicare and Medicaid costs of those harmed by the pollution, the higher prices I pay for anything coming from anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico because the rig exploded, etc. Yes, in theory all those prices should get factored into what I see at the gas pump, but in practice that simply doesn't happen.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616524)

Wonder how you can complain as in germany gas prize is at 7,51 USD/gallon.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (3, Insightful)

Stumbles (602007) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616620)

That easy, especially if you live in a State like Ohio. On all the gas pumps is a sticker that shows the combined percentages of Federal and State taxes applied to a gallon of gas. Last I looked it was like 49% went to taxes.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616182)

Actually they have:
http://www.ibisworld.com/industry/default.aspx?indid=817 [ibisworld.com]

Take a look at those light trucks you see tooling around. They're noticeably older then the cars.

A major reason we had to bail out GM and Chrysler was their cars sucked in latte 2008, and nobody wanted to buy SUVs with gas prices so high.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (5, Interesting)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616210)

SUVs are a complete waste of resources (metal, petroleum, etc.) and enormous polluters. Why use a 3-ton vehicle to drag one fat ass around town? The problem as I see it is that folks are choosing what economy they want which means that self-indulgent rich dicks want land barges that pollute *my* environment and their petro dollars go to such enlightened states as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, Iraq, and Nigeria, all of whom seem to hate Western society which means we have to spend still more dollars propping up one petty dictator after another and then knocking them down. If our fuel economy was twice as good, our geopolitical interest in those dodgy areas would probably cost us a lot less money.

I can appreciate not wanting one's taxes raised. How about we reduce federal income tax and shift the tax burden to a petroleum tax?

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (1)

lexman098 (1983842) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616296)

Poor people are already exempt from federal income tax and drive older cars with lower gas mileage. You'd be taxing the super rich and super poor simultaneously.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (4, Informative)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616498)

The super poor people I'm familiar with don't have cars. They take the bus or the subway.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616548)

If you have the cash to own and drive a car enough to the point that a higher fuel tax makes an impact on your bottom line, you're not "super poor".

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616440)

Nice rant. Now how active were you in your last state or federal elections? I thought so.

You're on Slashdot. I'm going to assume you have IT skills that most candidates would love to have at their disposal. At the next election pick the candidate you like, get in touch with their campaign and lend some high tech assistance. (Feel free to tell them you can only give them 20 hours. Or 30 hours. Or whatever you decide.) Not all elections are landslides - sometimes convincing a couple thousand voters can change the outcome.

It's your world. Change it.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (5, Interesting)

tthomas48 (180798) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616230)

The poor having SUVs hurts the poor. Government policy has little to nothing to do with it. A gas tax hike and something cash for clunkers would probably do a lot more for the poor than just hoping the price of gas stays low.

You're basically saying let's not enact a policy because we know there will be pain in the short-term. Lets instead wait and see if it becomes a horrible problem that is nearly impossible to solve. We could have war with Iran, and completely screw diplomatic relations with the Saudis and see gas prices quadruple in a couple months. So really the problem gets back to the fact that people are being irresponsible and buying gas guzzlers. And the market wants to sell them to them because they have huge profit margins. This is exactly like the housing bubble. The government can chose to act now, or they can wait until it blows up in their face and voters are demanding the government give them a credit to buy a new car. A slow rise in the gas tax over a decade could very easily slow the pain and change people's choices in a reasonable manner.

And SUVs are only great in adverse marketing conditions. Most truck chassis based SUVs I've encountered have trouble getting over a speed bump.

If consumers should be able to choose what vehicles they want to drive, then they should be able to choose to deal with $7/gallon gas in a car that gets less than 15mpg. I chose to drive a (standard gasoline) car that gets 30mpg because I want to minimize the variability of gas prices on my wallet. I could afford an SUV, but I'm making a choice. As are SUV drivers.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (2, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616410)

If they really worried about the poor, they would tax the hell out of gas and use the proceeds to fund mass transit. The only reason why the poor drive is because there aren't reasonable alternatives. I remember a few years back needing to be downtown early on sundays for work and having absolutely and completely options other than, taxi, private car or bike. The fact that there are times during the week when you have no transit options and that those times of day are more likely to have low income people commuting speaks volumes about the priorities of society.

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (3, Insightful)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616474)

And, let me guess, you live in an area that gets little to no snow, and does not have rugged mountains.

The problem I see with a lot of these types of articles, they are written by (and comments like this made by) people that have not experienced the west. The snow, the mountains, etc. Most people I know, have 4wd vehicles. That is because 2wd, even front wheel drive, are not good at handling really bad roads.

I've NEVER seen an SUV that had trouble getting over speed-bumps. If you are talking about vehicles cut down, you are not looking at a SUV. You are looking at a toy.

I can't afford 2 cars. Jumping gas prices would just hurt me. I don't think that FORCING higher gas prices via taxation is a good idea. As it has been shown. With our economy, jumping the gas prices also sends us into a recession.

They should also increase in ASS prices... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616400)

After all, obesity is responsible for decrease in fuel economy[1], and reduced fleet efficiency by forcing lower passenger counts[2]. The research paper also used the flawed Honda Accord analogy, since European/Japan Accord has smaller chassis than North American version. Either way, if it weren't for the plus sized ass-engers, car makers wouldn't need those oversized bodies to sit overweight riders to begin with, nor overpowering engines to haul them all.

[1] http://news.consumerreports.org/cars/2010/08/-us-obesity-problem-impacts-automobile-safety-and-fuel-economy-.html
[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2076438/Not-ship-shape-Wider-waistlines-mean-trimming-seats-commercial-water-transit.html

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616406)

Adverse conditions favor SUVs.
 
My Subaru Impreza would like to speak with you...

Re:We've had an increase in gas prices... (5, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616612)

The increase in gas prices hasn't drastically changed what vehicles we buy. Many of those that really would rather buy more efficient vehicles can't afford them, and are stuck with older ones, so the economists would just be hurting the poor.

As consumers shouldn't we choose what vehicle economies we use? Where I live, SUVs are all over. But, it makes more sense. Adverse conditions favor SUVs. An economist, you would think, would say people buy what they want.

Few people really *need* a 4WD SUV or even an AWD car.

When I lived in the northeast, I commuted entirely with a front wheel drive car. I put on snow tires in the winter, and never got stuck (or in a winter time accident). For 3 winters, I moonlighted as a snow-plow driver for a local business, so part of my commute meant driving in conditions that many people stayed home in (and I regularly saw 4WD vehicles that had run off the road). As long as the roads had less than 8 inches of snow, I was good to go - beyond that I'd need more ground clearance than my car provided. I did resort to chains on a few icy days.

Smart driving and snow tires are much better than blind trust in an SUV. And unfortunately, many SUV drivers do appear to use that blind trust rather than good driving skills.

4 wheel drive (or AWD) only helps you move forward, you already have 4 wheel braking, and for most of us, it's the braking that's more important when driving in adverse conditions.

Now it's possible that you have a need to travel on unmaintained roads to your cabin in the woods, for that I'll grant you that an SUV may be helpful (but not infallible, get a Sno-cat if you *have* to get somewhere in the snow)

Big cars suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616062)

Flamebait, I know. But if they payload is you (and I'll generously give you 300 lbs for yourself and your laptop) and the vessel weighs 15 times that much. A total waste.

Re:Big cars suck (1)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616128)

*sigh* unfortunately... you are under-estimating my weight. But, that is not here, nor there. One of my hobbies is photography. I live in Idaho, and the mountains make for some great backdrops. Well, getting to some places can be dicey. I can also haul a LOT in my SUV. The gas mileage SUCKS... but the convenience is great. I have enough money to choose 1 car... the SUV wins out for my life.

Re:Big cars suck (2)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616276)

Seriously, your argument is photography? You have so much photographic equipment that it can't fit into a hatchback so you need an SUV?

Re:Big cars suck (1)

Rifter13 (773076) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616512)

Well, you put 3 photographers and a passenger in... plus our equipment, and the back gets full. And my MAIN argument, was that I go back into the mountains where a hatchback CAN'T go. End of story. I had a shorter SUV, that I sunk in a river crossing. Trucks made it through just fine, mine was a little low, and too much of the engine went under water. Sorry that you don't live someplace with majestic beauty like I do.

Re:Big cars suck (1)

sirambrose (919153) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616596)

Seriously, your argument is photography? You have so much photographic equipment that it can't fit into a hatchback so you need an SUV?

He doesn't need the cargo space of an SUV for the photography equipment, he needs the higher ground clearance to be able to drive on unmaintained backcountry roads. Forrest service roads are often covered with eight inch potholes and nearly impossible to drive in a normal car. I would like to have an SUV to trailheads in the wilderness, but I don't have one because I can't justify the cost of a second car.

Re:Big cars suck (2)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616312)

Most SUVs can't go anywhere that a normal van can't. I can get my van into - and, crucially, *out of* - a lot of spots where 4x4s just can't go because they are too heavy and don't have the grip.

Re:Big cars suck (1)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616322)

I can appreciate your desire to have a big car then. Sorry if I was a little stingy with my weight allowance.

I live in Los Angeles and have lost count of how many times I've nearly been run down by a tiny blonde bimbo in a gigantic SUV talking on her cell phone and barreling down a narrow residential street. It just doesn't make sense here.

Re:Big cars suck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616528)

"It just doesn't make sense here."

Wait for the 50 inches of snow in L.A.

Re:Big cars suck (2)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616460)

Flamebait, I know. But if they payload is you (and I'll generously give you 300 lbs for yourself and your laptop) and the vessel weighs 15 times that much. A total waste.

Earlier today, we had a story on how the Massachusetts Lt. Governor crashed his Crown Vic doing 108mph [slashdot.org] and walked away with no injuries. Say what you will about the Lt Governor, it is not really a waste when crash survival rates increase dramatically [latimes.com] .

Fuel efficiency isn't the only design criteria for modern cars.

Still the story makes an assertion that simply isn't supported by anything but the authors opinion:

Thus if Americans today were driving cars of the same size and power that were typical in 1980, the country’s fleet of autos would have jumped from an average of about 23 miles per gallon (mpg) to roughly 37 mpg, well above the current average of around 27 mpg.

Vehicles of that vintage couldn't achieve anything near 37mpg once the tougher pollution controls were put in place. A great deal of the weight gain over the years was due to the increase in horse power needed to overcome the pollution control regulations imposed on vehicles while maintaining similar performance.

Again, fuel economy is not the only design criteria. You can't look at an overall improvement in safety, accident survive-ability, comfort, mileage, pollution abatement, vehicle longevity, and dismiss all such improvements as "a total waste" just because all of these improvements didn't fall into one's preferred area of political rabble-rousing.

Why is it the government's responsibility? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616072)

People obviously value things like car power, size, etc over fuel efficiency. They can already buy more efficient cars, and they choose not to do so. When scarcity drives the price up, people may shift their priorities, but why force them to do artificially through taxes?

Re:Why is it the government's responsibility? (2, Interesting)

Dutchmaan (442553) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616292)

People obviously value things like car power, size, etc over fuel efficiency. They can already buy more efficient cars, and they choose not to do so. When scarcity drives the price up, people may shift their priorities, but why force them to do artificially through taxes?

Because it's the government's job to strive for the betterment of the country as a whole, not just the individual. Individual actions may indeed serve the person better than actions that benefits the whole, but that's not the governments job. Indeed there are arguments to be made on where the line should be drawn for placing society above the individual or the individual above society, but when all is said and done the government (when functioning properly) should be striving the better the lives of its citizens through the betterment of the country as a whole.

Re:Why is it the government's responsibility? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616434)

The purpose of a government is to keep its people safe so that the people can better their own lives. As soon as a government turns inward, it has no choice but to destroy some so others can prosper. The best government is the one that gets the hell out of people's way.

As soon as the government starts picking "winners" there are, by default, "losers". And with a giant, federal government, the problem is that any issue it addresses internally is always in the same category as swatting a fly with a cannon. No matter what it does, there will be collateral damage.

Why is it that the same people who scream bloody murder about a military that causes collateral damage when bombing cities don't understand that it's the same effect when you turn that government around to work on social issues?

Re:Why is it the government's responsibility? (1)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616344)

That's like asking "why stop an addict from taking heroin because he chooses to take it." Ignoring the problem doesn't make it go away.

Laissez faire (2, Insightful)

SigNuZX728 (635311) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616078)

"'It’s the policymakers’ responsibility to create a structure that leads to these technologies being put toward fuel economy,' " No, it's the market's responsibility.

Re:Laissez faire (4, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616122)

This is then a market failure. What we should do is tax fuel at a rate that makes it internalize the costs it normally externalizes when the results go out the tail pipe.

Re:Laissez faire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616228)

Good luck coming up with a formula that pins that down to either $0.03/gallon or $3/gallon.

Re:Laissez faire (1)

Intropy (2009018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616250)

I agree with your suggestion 100%. But that's generally not what people mean when they suggest things like 'It’s the policymakers’ responsibility to create a structure that leads to these technologies being put toward fuel economy' which tend to be suggesting outlawing certain mileages or subsidizing automakers with high MPG fleets as a couple examples. Internalizing externalities is at its heart less a regulatory solution and more a market solution with a patch to fix a well-known deficiency.

Re:Laissez faire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616282)

To what end? Forcing people to drive less safe automobiles? How many people have to die because you don't think that fuel taxes have internalized enough costs?

Re:Laissez faire (1, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616316)

That would actually be one of the costs to interalize. Large vehicles kill drivers of smaller vehicles and as such should have to pay more.

Re:Laissez faire (3, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616444)

That's bunk. If you raise fuel costs it doesn't necessarily mean that the vehicles are going to be less safe. Safety is a separate function and is supposed to be dealt with before the vehicles are on the market.

If you raise the price of gas the easiest ways of minimizing the cost are to either drive less or to drive slower and both of those are going to result in fewer fatalities. You don't magically remove safety features just because gas gets more expensive.

Re:Laissez faire (3, Insightful)

chrylis (262281) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616428)

It's only a market failure if you believe that a handful of politicians and bureaucrats should be making choices for millions of individuals and families rather than allowing those individuals to make choices (and bear the costs) for themselves.

Re:Laissez faire (2, Informative)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616482)

The issue is they do not bear the costs. Larger cars kill those in smaller cars, they increase our need to go to war in oil rich areas and put out more pollution into the environment.

The idea is to make them bear those costs and let them decide what is right for themselves. Right now they make these decisions based on a market that is not pricing these things in. Garbage in, Garbage out.

Re:Laissez faire (1)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616134)

Pretty much this. The actions of the policymakers don't amount to much when it comes to what vehicles the carmakers produce and what the customers buy, at least based on how much effect they have had to date. When circumstances get to the point where people demand more efficient vehicles (because fuel prices are too high, for example), car makers will produce them, or someone will come up with a better solution that people will actually pay for.

Re:Laissez faire (0)

GreatAntibob (1549139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616144)

How'd that free market work out for whale oil?

Re:Laissez faire (2)

GreatAntibob (1549139) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616162)

If you really think laissez faire economics is valid, you also realize negative externalities aren't propertly priced into the market, either. But nobody really wants to address that issue.

Re:Laissez faire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616308)

Ironically with something like the country wide private vehicle fleet efficiency that take a couple of decades to flush out of the economy government policy is needed.

For at least a decade if you want low car depreciation on a new "normal car" get a small economical car to start with. The low gas mileage actually mean much more in the sane market of second hand economy and thrift, than power and prestige counts for in the first hand market. Ironically there is a great excess of SUV and larger cars that no reasonable second hand buyer would touch, to much money to run. What this created is a glut of cheap expensive cars to run, and a higher market value econoboxes.

Without government policy, manufactures will make unresaleable cars in 5 year. a car should really have a lifetime of at least 10 years.

Link to the actual paper (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616084)

The article links to the peer-reviewed, pay-walled version of the paper.

http://www.econ.ucdavis.edu/faculty/knittel/papers/steroids_latest.pdf the following is the version author put up on his website

HUH? (1, Interesting)

Indes (323481) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616088)

I live in Ontario Canada. Gas here is anywhere between $4.30-4.75 a US GALLON, in CANADIAN DOLLARS (worth less than US Dollars).
Meanwhile, when I'm in the USA, I can get gas for anywhere in the $3.xx a gallon range.
It physically hurts to see people line up here for $4.10/US GAL gasoline. It hasn't increased public transit usage - after all, this IS North America, not Europe.

Raising prices (via tax) to give to the people (politicians) who can't spend the money properly is a BAD IDEA anyway.
It's like giving drugs to a drug addict. They'll just abuse it.

  Why don't you give incentives to the private sector -- Tax breaks on new cars where MPG meets a certain requirement? Gas guzzling cars would soon be off the market entirely as car makers would opt to make more efficient cars, as a profit margin on them would be greater due to lower taxes.

Re:HUH? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616212)

$4.30-4.75 a US GALLON, in CANADIAN DOLLARS (worth less than US Dollars).

Actually, $1 US is worth $1.02 Loonies, so that price is higher than you think.

Re:HUH? (5, Insightful)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616278)

Keep in mind that the US Gas tax is used to pay for highways, that it's not indexed to inflation, and it was last raised early in Clinton's first term. Which means it doesn't actually cover the cost of maintaining highways.

The result is that my, non-car-using, ass has to pay income taxes to subsidize all these people who love their cars so much, but if I dare to ask them to pay for a train or another bus I'm breezily told "nobody will use that."

Re:HUH? (1)

Stonent1 (594886) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616338)

When I visited some family in Michigan we drove to Port Huron to have dinner at the Thomas Edison Inn. There was a gas station near by that was $4.10 a gallon which was about 30 to 40 cents higher than what I was seeing in the Detroit suburbs at the time. The locals seemed to be passing it up but the pumps had several people with Ontario plates filling up and also loading gas cans in their trunks. The opportunity that the station owner was capitalizing on was that this was the first gas station that you saw when you came off the Blue Water Bridge from Point Edward, Ontario.

Re:HUH? (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616348)

It's fine to raise the taxes - just write into the law which places the tax on petrol to use the proceeds for specific things. Unrestricted funds are what the government messes around with anyway. (Though the ***tards are sometimes clever enough to craft a law which allows them to "borrow" from those funds, without paying interest, like they did to the Social Security pot.

Re:HUH? (0)

sneakyimp (1161443) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616380)

So all carrot and no stick? I say use a stick too. Tax the petroleum, tax breaks for efficiency. In case you haven't noticed, the US has some serious debt we need to pay down.

Re:HUH? (3, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616398)

Tax breaks on new cars where MPG meets a certain requirement?

How abotu a rolling tax break on cars with increasingly higher MGP? ie, as the efficiency goes up and the MPG goes up, the amount of tax you pay is reduced?

I think that would be great.... all you need to do is tax gas. The less your car uses, the less tax you pay. Simple.

Re:HUH? (1)

someoneto (187298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616560)

just for reference (with some guess work, we buy fuel in litres..)
  it's about 7 dollars a (US) gallon here in the Netherlands....

Say yes to higher pigouvian taxes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616098)

Not CAFE regulations, which are terrible. But yet that's what we wind up with because people are too small minded to see how much better a gas tax is. They either think they spend lots of money on gas (the don't), or that global warming is fake so we don't need a gas tax, but they don't realize a gas tax has almost nothing to do with global warming (the breakdown is about 50% congestion, 25% accidents, 20% smog, 5% carbon emissions).

Re:Say yes to higher pigouvian taxes! (0)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616376)

CAFE regulations do work. Tighten them.

So Tax Gas (3, Informative)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616110)

If you want to reduce gas consumption (reduce oil imports, reduce green house gasses, etc.,) levy a carbon tax, don't increase gas mileage. Do it directly – not indirectly.

  Forcing me to pay extra to buy a fuel efficient car is going have little impact on the above issues – I don’t drive that many miles (yeah bike, mass transit).

When the first MPG requirements were put in place, a lot of people switched from big gas guzzling station wagons to big gas guzzling light trucks – the minivan.

Each year Americans drove more miles until gas hit $4.00 a gallon. Only at that point did they start switching their behavior. Smaller cars and shorter commutes.

Re:So Tax Gas (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616408)

If you want to reduce gas consumption (reduce oil imports, reduce green house gasses, etc.,) levy a carbon tax, don't increase gas mileage. Do it directly – not indirectly.

No. if you want to tax gas consumption directly, then tax gas. Taxing the carbon is just as indirect as what you are complaining about.

Car seat rules are more restrictive (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616116)

Wouldn't drive a minivan if I didn't have to have every kid in a car seat until they were eight years old.

I remember the days when kids fought over who got to ride in the front seat.

Are they nuts? (3, Insightful)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616130)

The reason people hate taxes is because they are commonly used as punitive measures to modify behavior. This is NOT what they should be used for. Thanks to federal and state government not having the discipline to operate within a budget, we pay too much as it is, and coupled with the rise in inflation every time washington prints more money, the people at the bottom are the ones who get burned at both ends, in savings and expenditures. Raising fuel taxes hurts these people even more because they are not able to afford a new car every few years and thus are most likely the ones driving 10+ year old models, nor can they afford to pay even more at the pump than they already are. If money needs diversion to research new technologies then it should come out of the pockets of the oil companies, not consumers. They shoulder enough of the yoke as it is while large corporations are the ones who benefit the most from government economic management.

Re:Are they nuts? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616204)

Federal taxes are at levels lower than almost anytime after WW2. A gasoline tax is not a punishment, it is a method of internalizing costs that are normally externalized. Poor folks normally drive old cars that tend to get better than average mpg. An old Honda civic dx is pretty cheap.

Compensating for Weight (1)

ashpool7 (18172) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616142)

Is that code for "we let the SUV situation get out of hand, and now to pass any safety standards, cars have to bulk up and drop gas mileage in order to not kill their occupants due to cars we should have de-incentivized people from driving?"

Unrestrained driver safety (5, Insightful)

cojsl (694820) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616148)

One of the US crash safety standards required by the NHTSA that adds weight and expense to new vehicles is for "unrestrained drivers", despite the fact that under 10% of US drivers go un-belted these days. The punch line is that the IIHS found the NHTSA test not very useful, because un-bented passengers often aren't held in place in front of the intended safety devices.

Umm... (1)

WillyWanker (1502057) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616184)

Because higher fuel efficiency leads to lower oil profits? DUH. Hell, I'm not even some fancy economist with a fancy ivy league degree and even I can see that.

WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616196)

My 1995 Honda Civic VX just got 52 miles per gallon while I was doing holiday traveling. There should be riots in the street because this car isn't manufactured anymore.

Honda seems to have lost its way. The 2010 Civic has a terrible reputation for poor mechanical quality, the Civic Hybrid has well documented battery reliability problems and Honda sales have tanked 20% in the last year.

I say that there are too many economists and not enough car enthusiast engineers.

100% of Taxpayers agree . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616248)

. . . that they should pay less taxes, and that somebody else should pay more.

Politicians this season should be touting the "Tax Foreigners Living Abroad" plan. That one never upsets any voters at home.

Applying this principle to cars, I think that the car of someone else should be taxed.

Now, if you tax gas (including diesel), you can manage to upset everyone in one fell swoop.

Crash standards (5, Informative)

Froobly (206960) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616264)

While the SUV revolution is more than a little bit to blame for today's lackluster fuel numbers, the article fails to point out collision safety as a factor in the modern design of cars. It's not just the trucks and SUV's that are bringing the average down -- compact cars these days are still way heavier than they used to be, with much worse visibility, largely as a result of increasingly stringent crash standards.

Cars these days have to be able to protect you in a 60 mph (30 + 30) corner collision, with rollover, even if you aren't wearing a seatbelt. The result is bigger, heavier frames, and thick pillars that prevent you from seeing pedestrians. As a result, cars are heavier, and their engines have to be more powerful to compensate.

Subaru Did It (4, Informative)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616270)

The 2012 Impreza gets 30% better [motortrend.com] gas mileage than the 2011.

Read the article, but CVT, lighter body, electric steering - 36MPG for an AWD vehicle is nicely impressive.

Technology, it does good things.

Stifled Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616298)

Doesn't the oil industry and others have a history of buying up patents and stifling new technologies that would become a source of competition to the current fossil fuel system? Tesla comes to mind..

Not even sure where to start... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616314)

"The worst... was a 1990 Lamborghini Countach..."

Except, of course, there's no such thing. The Countach line ended with the 1989 model and was replaced by the Diablo in 1990. Yes, some 1989 cars (and 1988 25th anniversary editions) were still being sold in 1990, but that's not how we refer to car models.

Generally, this whole article is about how we need to tell the evil Americans to stop buying what they want and dictate what they can have. He ignores several other factors, like the fact that reducing the curb weight by 25% will result in a vast increase in fatalities as lighter cars are less safe. A large part of the reason to own an SUV is the fact they are, statistically as much as 5 times safer than a small "efficient" car.

After my wife and kids were nearly killed by an unlicensed, illegal alien driving a pickup truck, I went out and got her a great big Toyota Highlander to replace her Geo Prism. After seeing that she escaped death by inches only by flat-spotting all four tires hitting the brakes, I wasn't about to put her in that position again.

The cost is going from 25 mpg to 17 mpg. Let's see, which will I choose? A little more money, or a living family. Tough one.

This guy wants to take that choice away from me, and then tax me for the privilege of endangering my family.

He can go to the same place as the other dictators of history can go. Anyone who agrees with him can go right along with him.

electronic junk (4, Insightful)

JustNiz (692889) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616330)

Given all the electronic junk such as ABS, TCS, TPS, multiple airbags, electric seats, motorized windows, mirrors, rear-seat DVD players etc etc that they shovel into cars as standard these days, All the efficiency gained is probably mostly lost in extra weight and power consumption to drive that stuff.

I for one would welcome the opportunity to buy a simple car without all that junk, except there isn't really the option any more. Apart from the fuel savings, think of the production cost savings the car companies could pass on to the consumer.

Hmmm (1)

lightknight (213164) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616382)

Perhaps part of the problem is the current environmental variables. We've told the car companies, in so many words, that they need only care about designing an engine with a top speed slightly over 80 MPH (I believe 80 MPH is the top speed limit in the United States, perhaps 100 MPH). Then we told them to design an engine that is fuel efficient given that top speed.

A greater efficiency might be gained with a more radical redesign of the combustion engine (just speculating here), but that would require a larger investment in R&D, and with a larger investment comes a greater risk, which also requires a greater reward in compensation. Before this can happen, there must a an untapped market for investors to care about. Lifting the speed limit might do wonders here. New market -> higher performance engine, capable of higher speeds, and since the average customer (rich or otherwise) does not like the idea of their net wealth dropping a percentage point every time they fill up at the gas station, arguably something efficient.

Or we could just pop a RTG into the back of a Chevy Volt. A Mr. Fission in the back would be oddly amusing.

Though I think a greater gain may be had with better coatings for cars. Reducing friction with better coatings for cars might improve things fuel efficiency. But I am not an engineer, only a scientist, so it's best to ask them what they've tried before looking for a new solution.

Who do these jerks think they are!? (-1, Flamebait)

Sigmon (323109) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616390)

Who are these pompous erudite jerks that think they are so much smarter than me as to dictate my choices in what I drive, how much I should pay for fuel, and enact punitive measures upon me if I choose differently than what they deem proper? I am sick and tired of people like this who look down on us as some flock of sheep that are too stupid to make or do for ourselves. So what a lot of people drive vehicles that don't get the best gas-mileage? Who are you to tell us we don't NEED to? I've got a good reason for driving an SUV... Don't punish me just because lots of people also drive one when you don't think they've got a good reason. GRRRRRRRR!!!!!

How consumption taxes should be implemented (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616412)

Opponents of consumption taxes (or really, Pigovian taxes in this case) will come up with a number of reasons why they aren't good to use. These include:

- Government moral hazard - if the government considers tax revenue a good in itself, then you have an incentive to take as negative a view of the externality as possible.
- An increase in the size of government - more revenue equals automatically more expenditure, by some considered a bad thing in itself.
- High uncertainty of measuring externalities - the heavy tax on smokers, for example, may not look justified if you consider that smokers die earlier.

Many of these objections would be overcome if the default whenever a 'tax on doing something bad' was implemented, the revenues had to be apportioned, in full (minus monitoring costs) to the opposite. For example, every 6 months the entire sum of petrol tax revenue should be rebated to bicycle manufacturers or purchasers. 'Who should benefit' should be as important a question as 'who should pay'. That way no unwarranted eagerness to tax undesirable activities, and a lot less objections.

More Gas Taxes Make Sense (5, Insightful)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616418)

Because they're so simple. They would also allow our highway fund to be self-sustaining, which would mean that we could stop subsidizing it with income taxes from people who don't drive. Things like tax credits and CAFE Standards can be gamed.

In the long-term taxes also have the advantage of getting people used to $6 Gas. Oil production isn't rising. Indian and Chinese guys are finally getting rich enough to drive home for the holidays, which means it's inevitable that gas will go up. Period.

But since everybody pays the gas tax all the time nobody wants to be responsible for raising it, therefore we get a mess.

Oh how I wish for some smaller vehicles.. (2)

lazn (202878) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616420)

Like say a compact pickup. I'd buy one if I could. (preferably turbo diesel, while I am dreaming) But the Ranger was discontinued, the Colorado is big enough to be a full size pickup of 10 years ago, and the Durango is big enough to be a semi truck, much less the "full sized" trucks. And it's not just the "merican" companies. The last time the Tacoma was mid sized was in 2004, now it's ginormous (same thing with the Frontier).

I disagree with their methodology (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616422)

They keep talking about "average." Average is the result of society's self-destructive love of SUVs and Minivans. While some people have a legitimate need for such vehicles, most buy them DESPITE their bad mileage.

There are many perfectly comfortable cars that do much better. Myself, I like the Ford Focus line.

I think the Chevy Volt is a great design concept because it would suit me needs perfectly, but I can buy two Focus' for the price of one Volt in Canada, and the Focus gets MUCH better highway mileage than the Volt. I WANT to be environmentally responsible and go electric, but it's just not gonna happen until prices come WAY down.

No incentive (1, Informative)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616432)

There were many advancements in fuel efficiency, but very few of them are actually used in American cars. American engines still have the simple design they had 40 years ago. With fuel prices kept low, there is just no incentive.

How about we cut the subsidies, first? (5, Insightful)

novalis112 (1216168) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616442)

I'm not necessarily against taxing gasoline. However, before we start using a gasoline tax as a tool to force people to behave a certain way, maybe we should consider eliminating the billions of dollars of subsidies given to the oil industry so that we can see the *true* price of gasoline?

(NY Times on oil subsidies: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/business/04bptax.html [nytimes.com] )

All the posters here keep crying about how "the open market" has failed, but we aren't in an open market, so that is nonsense.

Nonsense. It's all to do with crash safety. (4, Informative)

Caerdwyn (829058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616450)

What a load of tripe.

The average weight of cars has been increasing because crash survival standards have been becoming stricter, and that requires that more material be used in the car to protect the passenger compartment. This adds weight and bulk; with bulk (thicker doors, etc.) comes an overall increase in vehicle sizes, which itself adds weight AND frontal area. The frontal area increase comes with an increase in drag. Exotic materials like carbon fiber are still very expensive, so it's still aluminum and steel. And despite what legislators seem to think, you can't pass a law that increases the number of joules of energy in a gram of fuel.

It's not just American cars (so lose the anti-American screeching please). The average vehicle weight in ALL markets has been increasing. Go look up the dimensions and weights of just about any vehicle model and manufacturer regardless of market or whether the vehicle in question is sold in North America, and see how it's changed over time.

Safety costs weight and size. Weight and size cost fuel. At a given price point, you can have increased safety XOR increased fuel economy.

Choose.

The hell you say?? (2)

bogidu (300637) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616452)

'It’s the policymakers’ responsibility to create a structure that leads to these technologies being put toward fuel economy,' he says.

NO, IT'S NOT! It's the stupid consumers responsibility to START BUYING UP ALL THE FUEL EFFICIENT CARS! Supply and demand, when people demand it, companies will supply it!

city vs hiway (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616456)

For alot of people a car with good city miles is needed other good hiway miles.

Indeed (1)

Dave Emami (237460) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616458)

Indeed, Knittel asserts, given consumer preferences in autos, larger changes in fleet-wide gas mileage will occur only when policies change, too. 'It’s the policymakers’ responsibility to create a structure that leads to these technologies being put toward fuel economy,'

Indeed, I assert, given Mr. Knittel's preference for having his priorities enshrined in (presumably) government policies and imposed on people explicitly against their will, it is the responsibility of voters to create election results that lead politicians who agree with Mr. Knittel as far away from power as possible.

Consequences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616468)

A 100-pound reduction in the average weight of all passenger vehicles (both passenger cars and light trucks and vans) would result in an estimated increase of 10,543 incapacitating injuries each year.

http://www.usroads.com/journals/aruj/9712/ru971203.htm [usroads.com]

They don't want a mere 100 lbs. They want a thousand or more. And they want it to cost $40k+.

Enjoy.

National speed limits (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38616544)

Part of the reason why fuel economy hasn't risen is because the U.S. government raised the national speed limit from 55 mph to 65 in 1987/88 and then repealed them entirely in 1995. It now takes a bigger engine to accelerate to the speed limit in a timely manner, and that reduces fuel economy. Also, it takes more safety equipment and better structural support to protect the occupants at those speeds.

This is (also) why I ride motorcycles (1)

BrianRoach (614397) | more than 2 years ago | (#38616578)

Ducati 1098.
0-60mph in 2.9 sec.
35 - 40mpg while being ham-fisted on the throttle.

My other bike is a Triumph Thruxton and it gets 50mpg.

I ride ~ 7 months out of the year here in CO.

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