More Bang (And Less Gas) For The Buck

While consumers are happy that oil prices have dropped dramatically in recent months, if people start driving a lot more some worry about the impacts on climate change and conventional pollution.

Since we really don’t want to control people and tell them if and when and where they should drive, this leads us directly back to building better cars that get higher mileage and emit less CO2. So how are we doing on this?

In 2012 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Nixon’s legacy to the nation (well, there’s Watergate, but…) issued a report detailing improvements in automotive performance between 1975 and 2012.

Happy news! Just the one-year improvements between 2011 and 2012 were worth reporting (although I never saw it in the news…). CO2 emissions per mile declined by 7% from 2011 to 2012. Gas mileage improved by 1.2 mpg! Hooray for those in Detroit, Germany and Japan!

But looking at the improvements since 1975 is even more impressive. In 1975 the average CO2 emissions were 681 grams per mile. In 2013 they were 370 grams per mile, a drop of 45%.

Fuel economy went from 13.1 miles per gallon in 1975 to 24.0 mpg in 2013–getting close to a doubling.

You can file this in a category of ‘Good News That Goes Unreported’. In their zeal to get us to support ever more stringent controls on anything we do that emits CO2, there seems to be an earnest desire to never mention anything that is getting better.

Now of course all that efficiency can be outpaced if driving increases. In the U.S., miles driven per year in fact has increased–but slowly. Peak miles driven occurred in 2007 and Americans are driving 60 billion fewer miles right now than they were during the recession.

Good news on the technology! Good news on the environment! Good news on the behavior of the citizens of the U.S.A.!

Not bad for a Wednesday.



5 responses to “More Bang (And Less Gas) For The Buck

  1. We bought a new truck on Monday to replace our aging Ford Ranger for farm chores. The new truck, a 2015 Chevy Colorado, is larger, heavier and much more powerful than the Ranger, yet gets significantly better mileage. Most of our driving is on rural blacktop and gravel and we average around 24 MPG. The Ranger only got 20 MPG with a 50 MPH tail wind.

    The best of it is, the Colorado is a 4X4 automatic whereas the Ranger owes its good mileage to a manual 2 wheel drive. Ever try fish-tailing up a snowing hill in a 2 wheel drive?

    On our rare trips to the Twin Cities, we use my 2013 Altima for the 200 mile round trip. It averages an honest 36 MPG.

    Back in Richard Nixon’s day when gas cost 35 cents a gallon and cigarettes cost 35 cents a pack. I drove a VW because I didn’t like spending money on gas. Now trucks get better mileage than the venerable VW.

  2. With the oil price drop, the economics of renewables just got a lot tougher in some areas. I doubt this drop will be sustained for too long. Once Saudi Arabia drives enough frackers out of business, they will jack the rpice right back up. Price wars are good for consumers.

  3. You leave out that if mileage improves, then the cost per mile has gone down, and people will drive more.

  4. Hiya MikeN, that is certainly accepted theory and in fact in the U.S. driving has begun to rebound–but slowly (so far). The linked article said that Americans are still driving 60 bn miles fewer than in 2007. Obviously, more than one factor is in play here. I don’t dispute the concept of Rebound. But changes in the external environment (eg.price of gasoline) can produce long-lived changes in perceptions and desires (eg driving behavior).

  5. Tom Scharf, I think you pretty much nailed it.

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