Americans *Still* Not Buying Fuel Efficient Cars

A little while ago I wrote about how the Chinese government is finding out the hard way just how difficult it can be to prod the public into buying fuel-efficient cars.

Not surprisingly, American government is facing a similar problem. Actually, despite rising gas costs, Ward’s Automotive Reports say that the average fuel economy for the newest cars on America’s roads –call it the Class of 2010—actually slipped a touch from 22.3 miles per gallon (mpg) to 22.2 mpg.

That’s a far cry from the 35.5 mpg fleet average a 2016 government law is targeting for 2016. To get that kind of efficiency will almost certainly require a percentage  of the cars on the road being hybrids; right now only 2.4% of new cars sold in 2010 were hybrids, a drop of .05% from 2.9% in 2009.

With such a huge disparity in numbers , the prognosis for automakers meeting the 2016 ultimatum and avoiding government fines does not look good. Says Rebecca Lindland of IHS Automotive: “The change in consumer buying behavior toward better fuel economy is not aggressive enough to meet the 35.5 m.p.g. standard.”

What gives? Do Americans have short memories? Do we always expect high gas prices to recede?

According to Vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Gloria Bergquist, “For consumers to really change their buying habits, they must believe higher gas prices are a long-term change, and by long-term, they mean five years or more.”

Clearly Americans do not think prices will remain where they are now for that long. Historically, they’ve been right. So it should come as no surprise that a staggering  51% of vehicles sold last year were pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and minivans.  Yes, it seems the phrase “bigger is better” is about as ingrained in the American psyche as guns or football. And as with guns (the NRA) and football (the NFL), the auto industry has a powerful lobby (oil companies) which want Americans to continue driving the slowest, clumsiest dinosaurs money can buy.

It may appear that Big Oil is winning yet again – for now. But it’s certainly encouraging to see automakers, especially U.S. automakers, taking this 35.5 benchmark seriously. Because, you know, it’s not like they have a choice.  Ford, for example, is advertising its “Four over Forty” (mpg) which include the Fiesta, Focus, and the Fusion and Lincoln MKZ hybrid versions.

Hey, it’s a start. And automakers are certainly going to need all the help they can get reaching that 35.5 mpg benchmark. After that it only gets tougher, as Obama is consider a perhaps unrealistic goal of of 60 mpg fleet average by 2025, meaning automakers will have to nearly double the fuel efficiency of their vehicles in the nine short years following 2016 to meet that standard.

Er, good luck with that one. I’m not sure fuel efficiency works like computer chips, which apparently double in power every 18 months according to Moore’s Law. I’m not sure fuel efficiency advances at a rate even close to that, especially since we’ve just seen it can actually go backwards. Then again, nine years in 21st century time is an eon, certainly long enough for some blockbuster advancement in automotive engineering to blow old fuel efficiency standards out of the water.

Source: Detroit Free Press