Why Not A 40-MPG SUV?

from the good-question dept

I’ve heard the argument over and over again: that if carmakers wanted to, they could produce ridiculously more fuel-efficient cars. However, they don’t do it, because they don’t think it’s a priority. Consumers don’t care about fuel efficiency. They just want bigger cars with more power. MIT’s Tech Review takes a look at the various technologies out there that are being designed to help increase fuel efficiency, and looks at the issues each one has to deal with before it can be used in production vehicles.

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Comments on “Why Not A 40-MPG SUV?”

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Anonymous Coward says:


Most people who buy SUV’s do so for status. They’re young successful modern professionals who don’t need to worry about little things like money. They’re trendy and they want you to know it. That’s why they’re on their cell phones and swerving into your lane. These are the same fools who were desperatly trying to “SAVE THE RAINFOREST” in the 80’s. Now they fill the skys with smog and are sucking back a latte. This is the same reason you’ll never see a new Mercedes for $14,995. Snob appeal.

Jared says:

Re: No Subject Given

No, its not that its an American thing. Abroad the gas taxes put the price in the $5/gallon range. People have small cars because that’s all they can afford. Its so bad in the UK that people are using fish-and-chip oil illegally to water down their gas so they can afford to drive. SUVs are based on mutual necessities of American life: move families and equipment across large metropolitan areas in cities and suburbs where services and homes are not densely concentrated (as they are in Europe/Japan). There are simple facts about power/performance versus fuel economy that are truisms for the ICE (internal combustion engine). Sure hybrid technology would reduce fuel consumption but you’d never be able to tow a boat (for instance) with the performance that a small battery would be delivering to a small electric motor supplemented by a 1-cyl gas engine. Just basic engineering (I know that and I’m in physics), not sociology.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: No Subject Given

Nice self-rationalization.

If you’d RTFL:

“many of these technologies are based on the conventional internal-combustion engine. They don?t require complex electric-gas hybrid drive trains like those under the hoods of the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. Nor are they based on anything as exotic as fuel cells. If the automotive industry put some corporate horsepower behind moving these technologies into production?and that?s a big if, given the lack of U.S. regulations and consumer demand?the gas-saving technologies could start hitting showrooms within five years. Indeed, if it chose to, Detroit could manufacture a 40-mpg SUV by the end of the decade.”

Jared says:

Re: Re: Re: No Subject Given

Try reading the real reserch instead of MIT’s take. Note that most of this stuff is already in place on the hybrids minus the battery. Such as the “end to idle” section. Also, making more components electrically driven rather than belt driven requires alternator power rather than raw piston power. You’re just working the engine to drive a generator rather than driving the components directly. Thermodynamics dictates that you won’t use less energy to do the same job when the source is the same. You might pick up some slack in the electronics but instead of mechanical>mechanical you have mechanical>electric>electronics>electric>mechanical. Next time, RTFL and then think about it.

Frank R. Eggers says:

Re: Re: Re:2 No Subject Given

Contrary to what some people apparently think, driving accessories electrically (fan, water pump, air condition, and power steering) electrically instead of mechanically, can improve efficiency.

When accessories are driven mechanically, they are seldom driven at optimal speed for efficiency. When driven electrically, electronic controls can ensure that they are driven at optimal speed, thereby improving efficiency. Also, with the new 42 volt electrical systems, the generator will be designed to be more then twice as efficient as the current belt-driven generators.

Steve Snyder says:

Give it a rest on the SUV stereotypes

Engineering is and always will be about tradeoffs. Cars are much safer now, a lot of that has been due to things that make them heavier. The heavier a car, the lower the fuel mileage. Ford could easily make a $10,000 car that gets 100 mpg–if it only carried one passenger and they didn?t care that the person would die in any accident over 40 mph. There are other reasons too–one thing most people over look is that cars need to work under tremendously varying conditions and for years. And when something breaks, the cheaper and easier it is to replace the happier the consumer is. That is one thing that scares me from the article–for example the move to a camless engine looks to eliminate a major inefficiency. They estimate 18-20% better fuel efficiency. But the idea of having electronic hardware & software control the valves means that if it goes wrong it will be expensive to fix. The ?idle free? engine certainly looks promising too, but the requirement to completely replace the electric system to 42 volts from 12 while still supporting lower voltage needs like radio, lights, etc., is not a minor thing. It will require a major expense to start and an overhaul of pretty much every system on the car. And even so, manufacturers are constantly considering technological improvements but their market research stops them. I bet they have tons of research that shows that people will not pay $2000 more up front for a car that will save them $4000 in gas over 5 years. They?re stuck in the situation where they have to decide if they should eat the cost to make the world better–that?s not a decision companies make very often.

The bottom line is yes, manufacturers could be doing better, but not as much better as everyone seems to think, not without trade offs. Safety, upfront cost and maintenance cost are all part of the mix. And consumers need to show that increased mileage is a priority to them as well. Because lets face it, the auto makers haven?t had much motivation because people don?t seem to care too much or put their money where their mouth is when buying a vehicle.

I always hate it when people who really know nothing about the automotive industry spout off about how they could be making cars that get a hundred miles per gallon, but don?t because it?s a conspiracy with the oil companies or something. Anyone who says this should be slapped. Tell me this, if GM could release a SUV that did everything their current one does, and gets 100 mpg do you really think they would sit on it? It would mean they would put Ford and Chrysler out of business and make billions and billions of dollars. It?s just one of those lies that often even intelligent people believe and perpetuate like the 10% brain use myth. That?s not what the article was about, but it?s what most people think so I just wanted to cover it.

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

It’s not a priority. The CAFE requirement for light trucks (which includes SUVs and Mini vans) is 20.7 mpg. The CAFE for cars is 27.5 mpg. The profit margin for SUVs (as a class of vehicle) is better than on most cars and the margin on the more expensive SUVs (bigger, worse mpg) is competitive with luxury cars (minus the gas guzzler tax). While trucks and vans are frequently bought for commercial purposes, SUVs are overwhelmingly for personal use.

Want higher fuel efficiency for SUVs? Move them out of the light truck catagory and into the cars category since that is how most are registed and used.

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