And on the other hand (Easterbrook edition)

Update: See Shiv’s comment below for an alternate view of the wisdom, or lack thereof, in Easterbrook’s argument.  I think he has a point — though the notion that simply good design could do a lot to reduce oil consumption even absent significant technological change seems to me to be valid.

Below, I excoriate sportswriter and sometime pundit Gregg Easterbrooks’ willed no-nothing stance on the LCH startup.

Here, I acknowledge his wisdom, further down in the same column that earned my ire.  Talking about fuel economy, US policy and the amazing foolishness of the current horsepower race on the American roads, he concludes

Federal legislation to regulate the horsepower of passenger vehicles, perhaps by establishing a power-to-weight standard, would reduce petroleum consumption, cut greenhouse gas emissions, lower U.S. oil imports, strengthen the dollar, and take some of the road-rage stress out of driving. So what are we waiting for?

He’s right, and the rest of his analysis is on the mark. So skip the physics nonesense, ignore the football stuff, (nothing much happened last weekend anyway), and scroll down to just past the half way mark if you want to get the whole of the argument.

Image:  Start of the 1915 Indianapolis 500, published in the New York Times, June 13, 1915.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Explore posts in the same categories: cars, climate, Climate follies, Energy follies, Policy, Sharp thinking

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3 Comments on “And on the other hand (Easterbrook edition)”

  1. Spiv Says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. Power to weight is the wrong way to do things; heavier things take more to move, and frankly we’ve been compensating for heavy vehicles with bigger gas guzzling engines for far, far to long. My little lotus gets average 45mpg, (is also 1000lbs and 140hp) yet the only thing keeping me from driving it every day is fear that someone in a ford f350 is going to plow through me like a baseball bat through tinfoil. Said f350, btw, weighs 6800lbs and has 300hp.

    so, me at 140hp/1000lbs, 45mpg, very small carbon footprint.
    Ford F350 at 44hp/1000lbs, 20mpg.

    2.2gal/100 miles, or 5gal/100 miles.

    Basically I go more than twice the distance on the same carbon, have fun doing it, in addition to a improving the safety of everyone else on the road with my improved handling, breaking, and ability to elude an accident.

    As a car enthusiast I can’t stress how much a blind “power to weight ratio regulation” is the wrong answer. Regulate the goal, not the technology. We have gotten much better at getting horsepower out of the same engine, and in many cases the same fuel, over the last 10 years than ever before. Modern computer controlled fuel injection is really an amazing thing. If someone had told me 10 years ago that corvettes would be getting 400hp out of an engine that managed over 26mpg by now I’d have told them they were bat$!@& crazy.

    Also, associating road rage with horsepower is absurd. Rapid acceleration allows escape from dangerous situations, spreading of traffic (reduced tailgating) and safer passing (less time in the wrong lane). Aggressive drivers and drag races have existed since the first chariots were being pulled around next to each other.

    Regulate carbon emissions/milage for the economy and environment, regulate weight for safety. The rest leave up to the manufacturer to determine just what it is people actually want to drive.

    Still don’t believe me? Watch this video of an m3 gas guzzling sports car tailing a toyota prius cruising around a track:

    Spoiler: it takes a lot more gas to run an underpowered car around the same as one that does it with ease.

  2. Tom Says:

    Arrgh, Spiv, I should know better than to jump quickly on an Easterbrook point.

    There is a point that I do think is important, which is that horsepower in the US has gotten enormously inflated. While I concede the basic point — that power to weight is a mug’s game — and that regulating the goal is always the more efficient way to go, the underlying point that we could save a lot of gas (and money) with more efficient cars that are achievable with nothing more than design — no new technologies needed, remains valid, IMHO.

  3. Spiv Says:

    I think we are in agreement on the idea that it can be accomplished without new technology. I think at the moment the rules are particularly relaxed to have allowed a sub 7,000lb vehicle to be on the road without special licensing anyway.

    I think if they set some rules, perhaps “40mpg by 2012, 60 by 2015, emission free by 2020,” you would start seeing the first steps taken in creating much lighter weight vehicles running high compression engines well before 12, and things like metered water injection (which is still 80’s technology that got passed over) by 15. The 2020 goal would almost certainly drive new technology to accomplish, but with that much time I see no reason why it couldn’t be achievable- the tech is almost there as it is.

    To give you some idea of the benefits of a better design without new technology, my lotus 7 is powered by a 600cc carbureted 1996 yamaha motorcycle engine. Nothing magical there- just lightweight components, minimal car around it. Switching to fuel injection would net me more power and better milage.

    I’m also a firm believer that mandating a “current mpg” meter in new cars would cut fuel use by a significant percentage. People really have no idea what sorts of things they are doing to use extra fuel, or how to cut back. If it was staring them in the face from the dashboard, it wouldn’t take long for them to figure it out.


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