VW’s CAFE Standards: 235 MPG

VW’s CAFE Standards: 235 MPG


This is an extreme example, but I can’t help but think car companies can easily hit the 35 MPG mileage standards Obama is about to lay out if the following is possible for a street ready car.

From Green Car:

Volkswagen’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn recently confirmed the company is working on a car that will get 235 mpg (1 liter per 100 kilometers) fuel economy. In 2002, VW showed its 1-Liter concept car that achieved 264 mpg (0.89L/100km). The project was cancelled in 2005 but VW has now revived it. How real is this? VW now says a limited production car could be offered by 2010.

The VW 1-Liter, developed in a wind tunnel, has a very narrow and very flat body configuration that necessitated tandem seating for the two occupants. Measuring in at 4.1 feet wide, 11.4 feet long, and just over 3 feet tall, the car features an amazing drag coefficient of just 0.159…even more wind-cheating than the slippery GM EV1 electric car’s 0.19 Cd. With its 235 mpg fuel economy, it can travel 400 miles on its 1.7 gallon fuel tank…all the while achieving a 75 mph top speed.

The future of cars is small and lightweight. Bet on it.

  • ExiledIndependent

    Do you think that the US market wants to buy these?

  • J. Harden

    I’m going to have a bitch of a time getting two kids, the wife, the dog and camping equipment into that thing. Maybe if I got five of them and latched them together…that would still be 47 mpg.

  • Aaron

    J. Harden: A train! That’d be neat!

    Honestly, I’d likely buy one of these. The only problem I see with it is living in California with the car’s top speed. I’d have trouble keeping up with traffic on some of our highways.

  • kranky kritter

    I am willing to accept any such changes in the name of fuel efficiency so long as we all make such changes with our eyes open about the compromises we are making. And so long as they are not too onerous for families (and I don’t have kids BTW).

    At the current time, it’s still demonstrably true that lightweight cars mean cars that are less safe, all other things being equal. All sorts of materials advances and safety devices advances have been made in the modern era. But physics can’t be repealed. So shaving weight from any frame component makes the frame less safe. Adding more safety devices can compensate somewhat, but at substantial cost.

    So anyone who supports CAFE standards should be willing to cheerfully acknowledge that they are not a magic wand that brings only benefits and holds no drawbacks. Cars that weigh less will cost us all more money and in many respects will be more dangerous. Traffic fatalities WILL be higher if the CAFE standards go up unless they are accompanied by draconian and invasive changes to driving practices. No way round it. no way to pangloss it.

    What mitigations can we expect to supplement any system that places a greater financial burden on folks who can’t reasonably choose to have a small efficient vehicle? America will certainly need to have MORE taxpaying Americans in 20 or 30 or 50 years if we want social security and medicare to be solvent. So we can’t blithely make it a progressively more difficult decision for folks to have 3 or 4 or 5 kids.

    The thing I like least about CAFE standards is how they handcuff car producers who are nevertheless at the mercy of consumer preference. CAFE standards require makers to meet an average fuel efficiency standard for the vehicles they sell. So every time a consumer chooses to buy a vehicle that gets below average mileage, makers must sell an uber-efficient one to compensate. For years, domestic makers sold their smaller cars at a LOSS to meet the required averages. Because big American consumers did not want little cars. The perception for the smallest cars is that they feel cramped and dangerous. And you know what, they aren’t really wrong.

    So long as it’s structured this way(with CAFE averages), solving the problem is 100% in the hands of makers and concealed from consumers. I think we could do better with any sort of system where the incentives are more clear to consumers. I would rather see purchasers charged an upfront tax on the purchase of a low-efficiency vehicle, with rebates for big families and for businesses that can, if they want, demonstrate need based on the nature of their business.

  • rob

    I wouldnt say weight is requirement for safety, but it definitely affects cost.

    The new materials available are considerably lighter and just as durable as the materials used currently, but they come at a considerable cost.

    So the real question is are you saving more on fuel than you’re paying for in tech?

  • kranky kritter

    Right, that’s what “all other things being equal” means. If you have an infinite budget, you can make a kickass lightweight high performing fuel efficient car.

    Instead, we are stuck with lots of trade-offs if we want these cars to be affordable and durable and so on.

    WQhen you do the math on the savings for say a hybrid, they are not worth the extra cost, not currently, not even close. You can save in the neighborhood of $200 to $500 annually in fuel costs if you buy a hybrid, but they are costing in the nighborhood of 4 or 5 grand more, and that doesn’t include the cost of eventually replacing the batteries should the cart last that long.

    This is why, is we decide to push to use more efficient “green” cars, we should be aware that the primary argument for doing so is a moral argument. Because if and when we do this, we are going to be making various sacrifices by doing so: cost sacrifices, safety sacrifices, competitive disadvantage sacrifices.

    I am just not down with looking away from these obvious things. Dismissals of them are not very compelling. Everyone who wants to make that moral argument, go ahead, fine. But the panglossian addition of misleading economic arguments that only highlight and count selected portions of the overall equation? No sale.

  • http://www.poligazette.com Jason Arvak

    It is unlikely that this car will be able to meet U.S. government safety mandates.

    It is unlikely that this car will be able to seat even two average-sized people comfortably — it looks like the distinctly uncomfortable fit of a space capsule.

    It is unlikely that this car will have any significant towing capability.

    It is unlikely that this car will be able to maneuver effectively in snow or on wet roads.

    It is unlikely that this car will be available at a price accessible to those outside of the “green chic” demographic.

    But all that aside, this kind of car is now going to be MANDATORY and Justin endorses it. Don’t you just love how our moral and intellectual superiors know what is really good for us?

  • kranky kritter

    Umm, he explicitly said that this is an extreme example.

  • Jay

    Light / small cars do not mean unsafe. Mini Coopers do better in many crash tests than my 5000 lb steel ladder framed 4 door Dodge Dakota. And Minis cost comparable to that of a new Dakota.

    Look here: http://www.autobuyguide.com/2003/12-aut/dodge/dakota/crash-tests/index.html

    And here: http://www.autobuyguide.com/2009/12-aut/mini/cooper/crash-tests/index.html

    No, it won’t be able to tow a boat. Neither can a Civic, but that’s not the point. There are a lot of people who drive many many thousands of miles past 12,000 miles/year for things like business and all they need is a car with 1 seat and a place for a suitcase and a briefcase. This does one better, it has 2 seats. Yeah, you won’t be able to pack the family and the dog and head to the lake for a weekend camping getaway, but who cares? Have another vehicle for that and I’m betting a family of 4 (with one of these) would have more than 1 car anyways. I say anything to keep American and EU wealth from going to the Middle East is definitely a step in the right direction. That’s more than just a moral argument.

    Every time I fill my truck up, I think of all the money I am shifting to places I don’t want it to go. I need my truck for its utility, but I would love to get another one that is much more efficient and clean, or a second car altogether to commute with (like an old hybrid with good batteries). I thought the old Honda Insight with a manual transmission was amazing at 70 MPG, but this blows that out of the water.

    235 MPG is damn impressive for a production car. Way to go VW.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner


    Did you mean to be ironic with that last sentence or am I missing something? Because it seems like your entire comment was laying out very intellectual and moral reasons why a car like this wouldn’t make sense.

    Meanwhile, I said that car companies would be able to easily hit the new CAFE standards if something like this could get 235 MPG. And all you have to do is look to the rest of the world to see that small cars dominate the landscape because they’re affordable and fuel efficient. That’s why I said you can bet on it.

    Let’s hope your future comments aren’t nearly as combative.

  • http://blogginryan.blogspot.com Ryan

    Justin, looks like your endorsement carries weight now. Heh.

    That being said, I think the safety issues that kranky brings up are valid. Until the technology comes around where are cars can be made of teflon and can be made at current costs, it’s going to be difficult to make the case that this VW concept is worthwhile.

  • patrikios

    There are tradeoffs, as always. No one is saying that this kind of car will be “MANDATORY”, as Jason is yelling.
    A lot of people living in urban and suburban areas have very fuel-inefficient SUVs and would do just as well with a smaller, more fuel efficient car (not necessarily a hybrid or a new model)- there are a lot of people who would save money on gas if they traded in their SUVs for a Toyota Camry.

  • Bubbaquimby

    That may be true that SUV’s could be traded for Camry or Civics but for the most part people who have those SUVs are people like J.Harden. Most people like SUV’s more than mini-vans.

  • Tully

    And all you have to do is look to the rest of the world to see that small cars dominate the landscape because they’re affordable and fuel efficient.

    Conflation–they’re more affordable in good part BECAUSE they’re more fuel efficient. But also because they’re lighter…and thus less safe. The price of smaller vehicles is paid for in reduced utility…and in much higher vehicle fatality rates. So essentially Obama’s new plan literally sentences thousands of Americans to die in car crashes from driving “new and improved” more fuel-efficient vehicles that the government will mandate to be more costly, smaller, less safe, and less useful than other vehicles those consumers might have chosen, had they actually been available, all in the name of fuel economy and GREEN GREEN GREEN. Non-fatal injury rates will also increase. Of course, deep greenies WANT fewer people around, so that’s all a feature, not a bug!

    The laws of physics have not been repealed and are neither subject to nor alterable by Congressional opinion. The relationship between collision fatality rates and vehicle weight is one of the most solid findings in the history of safety research, and holds across all collision categories. Smaller vehicles are less safe than larger ones, and the smaller the vehicle, the less safe it is. DUH. Not rocket science.

  • http://sidewaysmencken.blogspot michael reynolds


    Thanks in part to government regulation (both US and foreign) cars are safer than ever before. Belts, airbags, safety cages, bumper heights.

    The laws of physics are relevant mostly because we have a wide disparity in sizes — Escalade vs. Prius. A Prius vs. Corolla match-up is even.

    In car vs. pedestrian I’d rather be hit by a Smart Car than by a Navigator.

    Certainly in car vs. stationary object or car vs. semi the edge goes to the heavier vehicle.

    On the other hand, big tanks of gas make bigger fires than small tanks, and since less gas will be trucked hither and yon there will be fewer trucks running into Priuses, and smaller cars usually have a shorter stopping distance and are less likely to roll over, and air pollution does kill quite a few people, too.

    So it’s really a bit over-the-top to accuse Obama of killing people. If ten years from now we’re all crammed into rice-burners I expect we’ll be fine. Albeit uncomfortable.

    (I finally gave up my beloved S 500 and now drive a reasonably light RAV 4 and a heavy but not incredibly heavy A6. So I’ve switched sides.)

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    To those who pointed out the safety features of the Mini and the Smart car are dead on. In fact, here’s a video of the a Smart car running into a wall at 70 MPH and here’s the actual government safety test. Does that look like an particularly unsafe car to yo, Tully?

    And let’s remember where the majority of cars are located…in cities. So if you’re whizzing around city streets, how much fatal damage can you really do?

    Sorry, but the facts don’t back up your claims of more deaths. And besides, it’s consumer choice, right? Isn’t that why libertarians are against government mandating ANY safety features like seat belts, airbags, etc.?

    Also, I’m sure there will still be massive cars out there, they’ll just cost more to make because they’ll be fuel efficient. So the monthly payments will be a bit more. Tough.

  • http://detroitskeptic.com/blogs Nick Benjamin

    You know a lot of the comments here were used by GM and allies to justify their business practices.

    I’ve heard it all before. Small cars aren’t safe. They can’t tow a huge boat. There’s only room for two people in them

    This is all literally true. Unfortunately for GM most people don’t tow a three-ton boat everywhere they go. And they apply to many, many categories of automobile, some of which are joyously embraced by GM and co. When’s the last time you heard Rush rail against Corvette-drivers?

    There is a place in the market for these vehicles. Especially urban markets, where a lot of people just need reliable transportation to get to work everyday. At $40,000 I doubt this one’ll out-sell the Camry, but people will buy it. And by having it VW has a nice hedge for when/if gas prices go up again. Because when/if that happens $40,000 will look real cheap for a 200 MPG vehicle.

    At 235 MPG if this model gets 1% of the US Market fuel economy rises 2.35 MPG. Fuel economy is supposed to rise roughly 8 MPG before 2016, so if 4% of Fords cars sold in 2016 are like this they don’t have to change anything else. They’ve hit the standard.

  • Jay

    I read this site daily. I am no political expert, but as a mechanical engineer with a background in vehicles, I feel that I can offer some good advice to this discussion.

    Smaller cars are NOT less safe than larger cars. Period. I don’t know where you got that advice (it sounds like one of those ignorant sayings from your Daddy’s Daddy’s Daddy about cars).

    Things that make cars safe are things like crumple zones (Acceleration = Velocity^2/2*crumple distance). Notice how mass doesn’t affect acceleration from a crumple zone? And energy dissipating body panels (Kinetic Energy= ½ Mass x Velocity^2). Notice how mass increases the amount of energy that needs to be dissipated? Think stopping distance positively affects safety? I’d say so. Don’t forget also that stopping distance is very much related to vehicle mass.

    So please, spare us the “my car is bigger so it must be safer” B.S. Because that’s all it is. B.S.

  • kranky kritter

    Jay, your little physics lesson is interesting and informative. And surely it’s true as far as it goes.

    But does it account for the fact that smaller lighter cars consistently have higher fatality rates than bigger heavier cars? Maybe according to the physics, size and weight don’t matter. But according to the actual data, they DO.

    Tully makes the hard and unyielding blunt argument. His “Obama consigns folks to death”may be the nastiest possible spin from a know lover or giant vehicles. But based on available facts, there is every reason to believe that traffic fatalities will increase with the advent of smaller lighter cars unless accompanied by compensating safety features and new restrictive driving regulations.

    Support this stuff if you want to folks, but go into it with your eyes open, fer crissakes.

  • http://sidewaysmencken.blogspot michael reynolds


    But we are seeing compensating safety devices. Safety is being improved with every new model year because safety has become a major selling point now that the idea has been successfully rammed down the throats of the car industry.

    And one of those safety advances will be getting large cars off the road. As I pointed out above, the problem is only Big vs. Small crashes. Small vs. Small is not a problem. Small vs. Wall is not a problem with newer models.

    Another way to put it is that overly large vehicles are a safety threat: they roll over, they have longer stopping distances, they are less maneuverable (usually), they are more likely to kill pedestrians, and they contribute more to pollution which is itself a killer.

    Incidentally — and this is what helped get me out of my huge car — they also do a disproportionate amount to finance Al Qaeda and various tyrants around the world.

  • Jay


    I would like to see the data you are quoting (I don’t doubt it’s true) to see how they are measuring that. If you are encompassing ALL small cars (think of the 1980 and 90s) where many do not incorporate safety systems like crumple zones, airbags, etc, then YES small cars are statistically unsafe. The data also certainly doesn’t account for things like stopping distances and maneuverability. Think about all the would-be accidents that have been avoided or minimized because the driver of at least one small car could stop in time, slow down enough, or evasively maneuver to avoid a fatality. This is simply unmeasurable.

  • kranky kritter

    Oh sure Jay, there are a ton of variables, and it’s nearly impossible to account for them all. Very good points made. My point is only that so far the data has endured in spite of the rhetoric and our wishes. People in the little cars keep dying more often, at least so far. That’s got a bottom-line logic that no one can reasonably dismiss, I think.

    Mike, sure safety devices have improved. No question. That doesn’t answer the question of whether a given big heavy car with a sturdy steel frame and a crumple zone is still safer than a lighter small car with all the same stuff.

    Sure, big versus small is a part of the problem, cheerfully agreed. But where does individual choice fit into all of this, after all? I am glad that you chose to drive a smaller car when you did your own personal calculus. Although I am a bit surprised to see you shopping the same “don’t help terrorists and tyrants”: argument that is raised to keep drugs illegal.

    Why just the other day you mentioned some dalliance with libertarianism. (BTW, most semi-sane folks have a vein or two, IMO). Where’d that go?

    Here’s the thing…maybe we can keep cars safe while we make them smaller and lighter. But data strongly suggests that they won’t be the kinds of vehicles many Americans want, and they will cost more money.

    I plan to invest some dough into places like autozone. More and more people are going to be driving their existing cars for MUCH longer as a result of the market changes that these regs and other changes are going to bring about.

    For example if you bought an entry level compact for lets say 12 grand, yesterday in my state it would have cost 12,600 with 5% sales taxes. But in future years, I know it will cost 13,300 plus 6.25% sales tax, to cost 14,131.

    Anyone who thinks this will not adversely affect auto sales is out of their minds.

  • Tully

    Sorry, Michael, but despite welcome new safety tech the laws of physics are still not amenable to our opinions, nor subject to amendment by Congress or the White House. And new tech costs more, so the financial cost still remains regardless.

    Yes, cars today are safer than cars thirty or forty years ago in any given weight class (and roughly 25% or more of the cost of modern vehicles goes to that safety tech cost) but smaller cars are STILL less safe than larger ones. And no, it’s NOT a mere matter of big car hitting small car, a facile talking point of the hate-big-automobiles faction. The increased fatality rate is consistent across ALL classes of collisions. Small versus small, any versus stationary object or pedestrian, etc. A large four-door sedan presents half or less the fatality risk of a subcompact in ANY given collision scenario. (Oddly enough, minivans are the next safest vehicle class.)

    Those who drive high-riding SUV’s and pickups give some of their safety inprovement back through higher center of gravity (higher rollover odds) but are still much better off than compact/subcompact drivers. They fall in the middle ground, along with mid-size sedans.

    The claim that we will save as a nation in reduced fuel consumption sounds good, but the experience of the last forty years suggests that’s magical thinking. The earlier CAFE standards did not result in ANY reduction in national fuel consumption. Instead, with per-mile costs reduced, we drove more miles, eating up the savings. Reduce the cost of something, and we as consumers use more of it. Which ALSO translates into higher traffic fatality levels, as accidents and fatalities are neatly quantifiable in probability as a statistical outcome of miles driven. Deaths per mile driven have indeed fallen over the years thanks to better safety tech, but as noted, miles driven increased. We can expect 250-300 additional traffic deaths per year for each 100 pound reduction in average fleet size, with additional weight decreases resulting in climbing fatality returns as feasible size limits are approached. That will apply for ANY given level of safety technology, and for ANY given vehcile class.

    Nor would the new rules have any significant impact on national CO2 emissions. Passenger vehicles are only a small part of US CO2 emissions, and the claimed reduction is both near-trivial and dependent on no increase in miles driven–which as noted above, is a very questionable assumption.

    Bottom line is that the 2007 Bush admin rules were designed to max out social benefit (however much one may disagree with the quality of those estimates, and I do) versus social cost of the rules. The Obama admin tweaks push the cost/benefit equation slightly past that into negative social benefit territory in order to appease special interests. The price tag for that will be paid in lives, money, and vehicle utility. Our cost will exceed our benefit, using the government’s own figures.

    And yes, as you should recall, I framed this issue in exactly the same terms during the Bush admin. I questioned their social cost/benefit assumptions, as well as the loss of individual choice and increased vehicle cost involved for consumers. They used the same overly optimistic assumptions, but at least they went for cost/benefit balance rather than politically correct overkill.

    (Jay, I’ve been researching this issue for about twenty years. If you want to delve into it, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has TONS of relevant research.)

  • Jay


    Your points are well made, but I still would like to see that data myself. Do you have a link to post? Does the data include total number of fatalities in small cars, or does it compare the ratios of fatalities in small cars vs. number of small cars on the roads against that, of say, light SUVs? This is something I really want to know. This will undoubtedly shift my thinking if the data reflects these ratios and also accounts for the model year of cars involved.

    I fail to understand your libertarian comment. If a private company offers a car that gets 235 mpg, I think the market will eat it up. Bottom line. And this will definitely reduce the amount of money we shift to “terrorists and tyrants.” I agree this statement gets old, but I feel it remains true nonetheless. I don’t think it has anything to do with if it is or is not libertarian. I myself have a small libertarian streak at times and at the same time would love to tell people I drive a car that gets 235 mpg.

    Food for thought:

    There are oil burners, gas powered cars, plug in electrics, etc. Is it time to shift the economy ratings of vehicles from MPG or L/100 kilometers to Miles/BTU, Miles/kJ, km/kJ, etc? (I also get annoyed that I have to sit down with a calculator to compare my gas energy usage to my electric energy usage for my home, but that’s getting off topic. Sorry.)

  • Jay


    I have to delve into this.

    I found this report:


    It does back your’s and kk’s comments somewhat, but it still fails to break down what age or model the car was (this is indeed tough to summarize). That’s what I really want to know. Does driving a 2008 Smart car 2 seater increase your chances of fatality more than driving a 1999 Lincoln Continental? From this report it’s tough to tell.

    I also agree with you wholeheartedly about the consumer eating up the CAFE savings by driving more. (Since the consumer is driving around more, this has to be good for the economy though). Can gasoline prices skyrocket once again and force the demand down, even with high mpg vehicles? Is that good or bad?

  • J. Harden

    Wouldn’t CAFE standards have a negative effect on public transit and public transit initiatives? I mean, why are we encouraging people in cities to drive cars at all. From an environmental prospective I don’t want every yuppy in an urban area to be driving regardless of the MPG — if they want to really help the environment — we should be encouraging mass transit — high efficiency buses, rails, intradimensional atomization and reconstitution, etc.

  • kranky kritter

    Jay, not to dodge, but if you want to go into that swamp, you are going to end up wanting to look at a TON of stuff. It’s an ongoing story. The dueling data is piled high and analyzed wide.

    If I may summarize…It starts with some older data suggesting that lighter cars are way more dangerous, by something like a factor of 5. Then there are waves of challenges to this. Much of the later research, largely by folks from the green side, suggests the effect is much smaller. How much smaller? That varies. In looking at lots of it, I didn’t see any that were able to successfully make the disparity in fatalities or crashworthiness by weight go away. Insteads, you get minimizing at best. That, to me, is a clue.

    Where you might you start? Many places. One place could be Causal Influence of Car Mass and Size on Driver Fatality Risk which showed that adding mass decreased your risk and added to that of the person you collided with. What that means is, of course, the subject of additional dispute.

    But we’re not talking about one set of data with this topis. We’re talking multiple mountains.

    And if you can stomach an overview from sopmeone who is bound to have been labeled a rightie flack, try Leonard Evans remarks, fair warning, from the competitive enterprise institute. Here’s the point of his that I think is most compelling:

    Higher CAFE standards will generate additional deaths. Now, of course, this does not necessarily mean that we should not have higher CAFE. We all support innumerable policies that result in deaths. As a citizen, I certainly support the policy of not having a hospital at the end of every street, even though I’ve reached that stage in life where one of the lives lost because of that policy might be my own. We know that not having a hospital at the end of every street will kill people, but we still approve of this policy because we believe the funds could be spent better elsewhere.

    The role of the technical community ought to be to tell the political process that not having a hospital does kill people. It should also be to tell us that having policies that lead to lighter vehicles, as CAFE certainly does, will increase casualties. It’s up to the political process, then, to handle it as is politically appropriate. But from a technical point of view, there is no fuzziness or ambiguity of any sort whatsoever regarding CAFE. CAFE kills, and higher CAFE standards will kill even more.

  • http://sidewaysmencken.blogspot michael reynolds


    You’re saying I could have kept the Benz? Damn.

  • Jay

    All: Thanks for the adult discussion. It’s why I’m here daily.

    KK et al: If lighter cars are indeed unsafe, will the number of deaths in “CAFE” car accidents be more or less than the number of deaths due directly or indirectly to GHGs and other emissions if the CAFE standards are not increased?

    That question still remains.

  • Tully

    Michael, could have or should have? Obviously you could have, the other is your own take on the benefits of it versus other options. I like Benz, I just can’t afford them. I would have liked to keep my Suburban but it was too decrepit for another rehab, and I just plain don’t like the buggy post-’91 models.

    Jay, mass transit is only really feasible in areas of high population density. Namely, geographically-concentrated metros. Even there it requires heavy subsidy to compete with private vehicles. EX: Chicago has a highly-utilized mass transit system. And they spend a million taxpayer dollars A DAY to subsidize it. What kinda works in NYC is pointless in, say, Oklahoma City or Omaha. We are not Europe. We are a very geographically dispersed nation.

    KK–you needn’t point at the CEI. Even USATODAY can figure it out. This quote neatly illustrates the tradeoff, and how the politics played out in this admin and this decision:

    President Obama this month withdrew the name of his nominee to lead the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, longtime safety advocate Charles “Chuck” Hurley, after an outcry from environmentalists over Hurley’s statements linking fuel-economy rules to highway deaths.

    Being an honest realist is a job disqualifier, apparently. At least when you annoy the favored and contradict their truthy narratives. Hurley was booted for telling the truth.

  • Tully

    Jay–see above about the actual likely GHG impact of the proposed regs.

    Old engineering rule of thumb: Better, faster, cheaper. Which TWO do you want?

  • Jay

    Easy! Better and faster until I run out of money!

    “actual likely” I like that! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

    The jury is still out for me if a car like this is good for the country or not. I maintain I think its overall good. Having a few of these on the road isn’t going to hurt. I don’t think you’ll see these everywhere you go, but a few percent of cars out there will certainly help with GHGs, oil consumption, etc. The only way to find out for sure is to put some on the road and crunch some numbers.

  • Tully

    “actual likely” as compared to the admin’s “we wave our magic wand, toss some pixie dust at it, and pretend it will come out how we said” approach. Nothing is certain (especially predictions of as-yet unrealized technological breakthroughs) but realistic assessments and projections based on certified and measured past experience differ considerably from the unicorn/rainbow assumptions the admin is using.

    The only way to find out for sure is to put some on the road and crunch some numbers.

    We’ve been doing exactly that for over a third of a century. See previous paragraph. As KK said, there are mountains of data, and I’ve climbed most of them over the years. Magical thinking consists in large part of believing (and betting) that future results of an action will differ from past results of same/similar actions. That’s also one of the definitions of stupidity–doing the same thing over and over and expecting differrent results.

    Whether or not a “car like that” (fleet) is good for the country as a whole (eminently debateable, and using the government’s own research the answer is NO at the levels proposed) it is a demonstrable (and copiously demonstrated) physical fact that at ANY given level of safety technology, larger cars are safer than smaller ones. That is the simple physical fact that small-vehicle proponents want to sweep under the rug in the pursuit of their various agendas. Hurley’s honesty in saying so got him booted. That suggests that the next nominee will be less honest in their assessments than Hurley would have been.

    It follows directly from that fact that by restricting overall consumer ability to choose the larger vehicles, we are indeed forcing many individuals into LESS safe vehicles than they would otherwise have chosen, just as we did in the past. And that some of them will die as the result of that forced “choice.” That is part of the cost side of the cost/benefit equation. What the admin is doing (as the previous admin, mind you, also did to a lesser degree on the same subject) is selectively ignoring or misrepresenting some of the costs and overclaiming some of the benefits.

  • Chris

    I’d just like to throw out there that my saturd, as i call it, was getting 40mpg in an econobox 12 years ago. It was also the safest car on the road easily in it’s price range, and safer even than many that were more expensive.

  • Tully

    Easy! Better and faster until I run out of money!

    LOL. I empathize. :-)

    The admin’s answer seems to be “Faster, until we run out of money!”

  • Tully

    For Michael:

    Benz versus Smart Car. More HERE. And some comment from Steve Milloy on having a sense of proportion. Money quote:

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – for the purposes of risk assessment – values a single human life at $6.9 million dollars. So under the new mileage standards, it would cost about $35 million per day in human lives (not including non-fatal injuries) to save $1 million in gas.

    (I think he’s being somewhat sloppy with his figures–he’s low on the annual toll but way high on the 100-lb reduction range– but he’s still within the possible boundary ranges of the exisiting research.)

  • Jay


    This guy is clearly one-sided.

    “But such dealing is an impossibility since the greens are ideologically driven and won’t be happy until capitalism is stamped out.

    The greens are not interested in compromise. Like blood in the water to sharks, compromise by businesses signals its weakness and vulnerability, and, therefore, opportunity for the greens.”

    That is one heck of an ignorant statement. Wow. All those people who are making money off of clean energy I’m sure are saying they want to see capitalism stamped out. Good lord Steve Milloy is an idiot.

    The video didn’t really show anything I didn’t expect. The fortwo held its shape quite nicely in the occupant cabin (I couldn’t listen to it, sorry).

    The other article was pretty interesting though. It was a good read.

  • Tully

    So, which details do you think are wrong? It’s not enough to say Milloy’s “one-sided” when you can’t or won’t show where he is factually wrong. Dismissing his polemic is one thing — I strongly encourage doing so even if you agree with it, as it’s hollow verbiage. Dismissing his argument is another.

    His argument is that using the government’s own cost/benefit calculation for the dollar value of human life, the cost/benefit figures of the Obama proposal are wildly out of whack with life as a consideration, and thus is “selling” life much cheaper than the government’s own official valuation. What’s wrong with the argument?

    The Smart Car completely failed the test, BTW. The question is not how the car “holds its shape” but how much damage the occupants could expect from such a collision. Nor is the massive interior intrusion visible from the exterior shots. The occupants do not care how well the car “holds its shape” on the outside. They care about whether or not they survive the impact with no more than minor injuries. And they wouldn’t. Did you not notice the dummy’s head hitting the steering wheel both though and around the airbag? That the Benz’s front end would have crushed the dummy’s legs entirely? Thus the IIHS rating of POOR. From the report:

    After striking the front of the C class, the Smart went airborne and turned around 450 degrees. This contributed to excessive movement of the dummy during rebound – a dramatic indication of the Smart’s poor performance but not the only one. There was extensive intrusion into the space around the dummy from head to feet. The instrument panel moved up and toward the dummy. The steering wheel was displaced upward. Multiple measures of injury likelihood, including those on the dummy’s head, were poor, as were measures on both legs.

    Translation: The driver/dummy of the SmartCar was toast. Major head, chest, and leg injuries. IIHS has no rating below POOR. The Benz? Little movement, little intrusion, quite survivable. Rating of GOOD.

    Once again, as to “holding its shape,” compare to the Toyota Yaris, which didn’t hold its shape at all, but which performed better by injury measures.

  • kranky kritter

    Right, you don’t even want a car to hold its shape if that comes at the expense of transferring more energy to the occupants. Crumpling can be desirable if it means the car is absorbing energy to protect the occupants. But that Benz just tore through the smart car like tissue paper. That the car did a 450 and the dummy rattled round as it did shows how much of the collision energy was transferred to the “smart” car driver.

  • Tully

    Yes. Energy transfer is key, just as much as physical intrusion. Jay didn’t dig deep enough — the SmartCar actually didn’t hold its shape in the interior. The dummy’s new nickname is Stumpy. They’re chipping in to buy him a wheelchair.

    And to reiterate, it’s not just larger car vs. smaller car that is less safe. Smaller/lighter vehicles are less safe than larger/heavier ones at ANY given level of safety tech, in ANY type of collision, and half of all traffic fatalities in smaller vehicles are single-car accidents. That rate drops as size/mass of the vehicle increases. The rate of traffic fatalities for the new subcompacts is pretty much exactly that of the old ones.

    Now, I think Milloy’s figures are somewhat off (annual toll from previous CAFE is understated, toll for additional 100-lb reductions is overstated to the max estimated range, at least for initial reductions — fatality rate rises as weight decreases further) but the point is still that with this proposal the government is willing to “sell” human lives (Milloy’s figures) for gas savings at a discount rate of 35 to 1 in dollar terms, or 5.07 lives per $1M in gas saved.

    I have no objection to people choosing less safe vehicles for their own reasons. Free country, their choice, their gamble. I object mightily to the government forcing people into less safe vehicles by removing/reducing their safer choices.

  • http://sidewaysmencken.blogspot michael reynolds


    That’s a rather devastating bit of video. And C-class Benzes aren’t that big. But of course you’ve got that built-like-a-brick construction.

    I would like to see Smart vs. Smart.

    Mostly just because it’s fun to watch Smart cars crash.

  • kranky kritter

    Yeah, there really should be a rating below “poor.” Obviously this rating should be “death trap.”

    Which is precisely what a smart car screamed at me the first time I saw one. Maybe it’s ok to drive round a city at low speeds. But on the highway? White knuckle stuff. RH lane. Big following distances. At the speed limit.

    It can be hard for folks to wrap their heads round why a smaller lighter car is inherently less safe. So for those still struggling with it, go down the scale to the extreme. You are traveling 40 mph towards a C class benz in a car with mass 0 and size 0. In other words you are just hurtling through the air towards the C benz. All you. No protection, nothing to absorb energy..nothing with friction to slow your momentum. Nothing else to crumple but you. Mosquito. Windshield. Smoosh.

  • Tully

    Yeah, I really need to remember that we’re talking more about MASS than size and use the correct terms. A large tissue-paper vehicle with little mass won’t help protect you, but a smaller built-like-an-Abrams midsize sedan is good protection. Good things for safety–higher mass, greater wheelbase, lower center of gravity. SUV’s tend to give back a lot of safety factor on that last.

    Good point, KK. In cities where the speeds are low, the danger disparity is still the same but the overall danger is not as great.

  • kranky kritter

    I’m just glad these things came round AFTER I graduated college. When I see one I get the irrational urge to try to tip it over. And, guess what? <a href=”http://www.webconsuls.com/blog/2009/05/cow-tipping-or-smart-car-tipping.html”I am not alone.

  • kranky kritter

    Ugh, botched it.

    I am not alone.

  • kranky kritter
  • tresa

    To the person that keeps say that smaller, lighter cars are just as safe I would like for you to try test this theory out for me:

    Go to North Dakota in the winter during a snow storm when the wind is blowing at about 50 mph. Let me warn you that it is against the law in ND to use salt on the roads and the temperature does get to 70 below 0 with the windchill in the winter, so you are driving on a sheet of ice covered by snow with 50 mph winds…..you have no choice because in your field of work you are a sales rep of medical equipment and you need to get a demo unot to your customer because the Fed Ex truck has broken down and the patient needs this ventilator to breath and the hospital is out of stock. You have to have space in your car for every possible accessory, your personal belongings and yourself.

    Which type of vehicle would you rather have?

    1) The new government mandated car that sits low to the ground and you are now smooshed in because there really is not enough room, is blowing in the wind because it is light and low to the ground, has no 4 wheel drive, no traction control, probabaly no remote starter or heated seats so you practicaly get frostbite starting the thing in the morning because I can tell you there is not a single hotel in North Dakota with indoor parking, no built in GPS because there just is not any room in the smart car and no get up and go power because you have a crappy V4 engine

    2) Your SUV that sits up off the ground, has some weight to it so you are not swaying in the wind, has 4 wheel drive and traction control, has a remote starter and heated seats, has a GPS that pulls down from the top of the visor to get you around the 6 detours due to the numerous road closures and keeps you from sliding on the ice

    Now remember you are saving a persons life in this scenario

  • Jay


    You’re so far off point it’s not even funny.

    The SUV is a purpose built vehicle for that purpose. The 235 mpg VW is a purpose built vehicle for good conditions and running errands, and maybe even taken weekend jaunts with the significant other. Do I want the local fire department running around in these things? Uh, NO! I want them to have the heaviest, best equipped vehicles at their disposal. That is their purpose.

    If you need a vehicle, buy it for what you need. If you need something that can handle hellacious winters and off road conditions, buy the 5000 lb AWD SUV. But don’t buy an SUV to look cool when you buy friggin groceries or take your 2.25 kids to soccer practice at 15mpg when a 45 mpg clean diesel or hybrid will do the job just fine.

    And who said these were government mandated?

  • tresa

    Hello Jay,

    The conditions I just descibed to you happen to me all the time and I do live and work in these conditions. My point is that Obama is mandating these new 35 mpg rules, a hybrid is proven to have problems when the car gets about 100K miles on it and shoot, I put 50K miles a year on my car and winter our here lasts 6 months out of the year on a good year! I need the SUV in order to do my job and I certainly am not going to make two car payments in order to have one car on the road during the week and to drive another car at night and on the weekends, that would be silly. I just think that these cafe standards need to be waived for those of us who live in the upper midwest and northeast who live in the snowy, icy, windy tundra.

  • Jay



    Read this and then explain to me why you would need to buy this car.

  • theWord

    Perhaps you could summarize what you think the point made was and get back to us.

    Need is a tough word. Why would anyone need to buy a penis substitute like a Hummer?

  • Jay

    The point is, CAFE standards don’t apply to individuals. They only apply to car manufacturers. This means, that as long as someone else (a daily commuter in a mild weathered state, for example) buys a small, high mpg car, you can still buy your big honkin’ SUV and drive it all you want.

    I assume you’re addressing tresa with the penis substitute thing? I think they addressed the need for quite well, and I do not disagree that certain people and companies NEED large utilitarian vehicles. But to roll an H2 around the burbs for groceries and soccer practice is really dumb.

  • tresa

    OK but why should I be penalized? Here in MN they are talking about charging a tax to people who do not drive a car that gets this new, stupid cafe standard and then the gas price is going to go up because demand of fuel will be down and my car insurance will go up because the accident and death rate is going to go up due to the amount of people buying and driving these lighter and smaller cars. Meanwhile, I and a few others will be the responsible ones being penalized does that sound fair to you? It is proven that in the torrain I live in that these death traps are dangerous and I do need the cargo space so I need a mid-size SUV thankfully which will keep me safe at a very costly expense…..yeah that sounds fair

  • Tully

    Jay can’t answer that, Tresa. The fact that boosting CAFE standards increases the cost of ALL production vehciles while reducing overall fleet utility and increasing traffic fatality rates seems a little complex for him. Fact is, someone has to buy those skatemobiles for the manufacturers to meet CAFE, and resources have to be used to build them, which means that the vehicles we WANT to buy become scarcer and more expensive, and more people get forced into skatemobiles by economics.

    And if the auto companies do as they have in the past, dumping off huge numbers of skatemobiles on car rental companies and corporate fleets at or near cost in order to be able to make more high-profit SUV’s, nothing has changed except for the boost in overall vehicle prices. We end up getting the same stuff but paying more. And we pay for it in higher death rates and in vehicles that don’t really fill any need other than basic urban transpo, but are fairly worthless for anything else. Like cargo hauling and long-distance trips and families and….

  • Tully

    Oh, and let’s also remember that electric/hybrid cars have some serious problems with extreme cold as well. No batteries LIKE sub-zero temps.

  • the Word

    A Subaru will give you all the size you need, the safety is better, the handling is dramatically better. You have been getting taxed in the past (the kids we send off to keep the oil coming) The rest of us have been taxed by making all of us more unsafe because we are on the road with these behemoths. There might be a middle way.

  • steve yap

    This vehicle will probably hit the million sales mark in a very short time if it is sold in the USA. As long as it has driver and passenger side and front airbags. There are no drawbacks to Electric Battery cars; I am a licensed journeyman electrician and have been following the technology for over a decade now. They industries are poised now; the battery technology is now at the point where it can build at consumer cost golf-cart sized small car batteries that can achieve 250 miles on single 7-hour charge using the standard 120-volt outlet/receptacle right inside your garage with a standard store-bought #12 AWG extension cord. Plug-in power posts are popping up EVERYWHERE you look. If this vehicle is equipped as a purely electric car (not a hybrid), it has ZERO emissions – None!! The batteries can be RECYCLED. The battery can be REPLACED. The body can be made out of high-impact, resilient (flexing) RECYCLED plastic. That means: can’t rust, can’t have paint peeling and fading, easily repaired, can withstand damage, no-maintenance. Imagine – not having to go to a gas station again, ever! The petroleum companies are going to go charging into the battery business like champions, leaving the petroleum era behind as a “dinosaur” as fast as they can. There is no need to change the automobile tooling or infrastructure; battery technology has been around for more than 80 years. Enough said? (There’s even more but there isn’t enough time or room here, friends). Let’s do our part!

  • steve yap

    As a petroleum car it is an excellent vehicle – and will certainly sell a million vehicles. The engine has to be kept very simple and very low emissions. This is what, believe it, millions of people want. Can you imagine going 400 miles on 2 gallons of gas?! Not enough of these vehicles will be available – the manufacturer will have to go into overdrive overtime building them and making them available to the public consumer. One very important facet to the success of this car is to make it very affordable; even a 20,000 per year income earner should easily be able to buy this small engined, small car. One of the key issues we face in the USA (and the world) is to begin to realize self-imposed restrictions not only to the MPG of vehicles but the dimensional SIZE of vehicles. This will ease gridlock, allow for existing highways and roads to be utilized to better effect by adding additional lanes (without building more highways and roads – the last thing we need for a hundred different reasons). We need to extend the life of petroleum for another 20 years so that the E-vehicle can take over smoothly and effectively. Cheers!