Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hybrid Hullabaloo Part Two


Picking up where we left off, more on cars - certainly a central theme in American life, ever since about 1900, and especially since Henry Ford said, "a chicken for every pot and a Model T for every garage" - or something like that.

Besides the Hybrid Hullabaloo, there are some good ways to go - going with a modern diesel or buying an efficient used car.

Current diesel passenger cars (mostly from VW) are efficient, surprisingly quiet and fairly clean burning. With some, you can expect well over 40 mpg. And there is that prospect of biodiesel - meaning you can make diesel out of grain, by golly. Yes, you can grow your own fuel.

And let's not forget that Honda has been offering honorably modest Civic hatchbacks (btw, hatchbacks are the most efficient shape of car) with conventional gasoline engines that get 40+ mpg for well over a decade; they're simple, reliable and inexpensive.

There is nothing "wrong" with hybrids, even as a 'stop gap measure.' This new technology needs to be desirable and in demand. Yep, it's time to tell the gas guzzling Fords (worst of all brands, on average) to exit stage left. A hybrid is certainly the most admirable NEW car to buy, if one feels compelled to buy NEW. (Again, any vehicle that averages 40+ mpg gets a gold medal in my book - 25+ for the bronze, 30+ for the silver.) But why churn up the factories of production by joining in the demand for a new car? Better to be green the old-fashioned way, by reducing demand, reusing what we've got and... recycling.

The bottom line is: Recycle an efficient car, meaning prolong its life and good health. Buy a good used car that gets 25+ mpg, keep it tuned, keep the tires aired up, make sure it's aligned and in good shape, and don't drive it much.

That's the real bottom line here: whatever you drive, don't drive it much.

I've done some checking. Here are the national averages per vehicle:

Average miles driven:

Per privately-owned vehicle: 11,904

Average miles per gallon:

Cars: 24.4
SUVs: 17.3
Pickup trucks: 16.5

So let's round these off (up ever so slightly), and say that the average we are shooting to beat is...

12,000 miles x 25 mpg = 480 gallons/year. That is just about the average for a car.

Many studies round annual car travel up to as high as 15,000 miles per year per vehicle, and this may be more indicative of suburban and semi-rural automobile commuters and travelers such as the AAA's membership, but this is not the national average per vehicle registered and in service. As of several years ago (the last reliable figures), that average had never topped 12,000 miles/year.

Given, these averages, it seems reasonable to me to propose that notable, even considerable conservation (the realm of "treading lightly") starts at a rate
of consumption 20% lower than the average, that is 384 gallons/year.

An example: 28 mpg x 384 gallons = 10,752 miles/year.

Now, truly admirable conservation would, I propose, start at more than 20% below the average, say 30+ mpg and 11,010 miles driven annually (367 gallons/year) - or similarly, 40+ mpg with fewer than 14,700 miles per year (also 367 gallons/year).

Let's do the math on the average and two extremes:

On the "treading lightly" end (that is, "treading lightly" for an American), let's say your vehicle gets 40 mpg, and you average 10,000 miles per year. You would consume 250 gallons of gas, and at $2.10/gallon pay $525 for gas per year.

In the middle, let's figure AAA's hypothetical (high mileage) average for an American car: 24.4 mpg x 15,000 miles per year = 615 gallons of gas at $2.10/gallon = $1,292 in gas costs per year.

On the "heavy consumption" end, let's say your vehicle gets 17 mpg, and you average 30,000 miles per year. You would consume 1,765 gallons of gas per year and at $2.10/gallon spend $3,706 per year on gas.

So, what does it take to crack $4000 a year in gas expenses?

Nothing unheard of: at $2.10/gallon, 1905 gallons. Who uses that much gas?

Four examples:

A Hummer at 11 mpg traveling 20,900 miles.

A Ford F150 at 16.5 mpg traveling 31,433 miles.

An average car at 24.4 mpg traveling 46,482 miles.

And how about a Toyota Prius, getting 52 mpg?

99,060 miles.

Wow. The conservative Prius driver might drive for a decade on $4000 worth of gas while some heavy gasoline consumers are topping the $4000 mark every year.

FTR (For The Record), especially since one commentor recently at "A Better Nation" said that I 'probably drive a car like the rest of us,' last year, yes, I do drive a car.

Years ago, I came up with the philosophical question, "what's the worst thing you've ever done?" I came up with my own answer, and it is: "driven a car." Overall, I still feel that driving a car is the worst thing I have ever done, as the many hundreds of thousands of miles I have already driven will impact the entirety of life on this planet for decades and maybe centuries.

But last year, due to a lack of employment, mobility and motivation, I pulled off a rather exemplary year for an American car owner, especially one living in the big, spread out state of Texas. I drove my car an exceptionally low number of miles, even for me: 7424 miles. Yes, that was the total for 365 days exactly. My car is a 4 cylinder hatchback with a 1.9 liter engine and manual transmission. It gets an average of 30-33 mpg per tank. Total gas 4/04 - 4/05 = 232 gallons @ $2.10/gallon = $486.

Also: I have no children and won't be having any children - who would also, most likely become consumers, car owners AND drivers. In the big scheme of things (a truly environmental model), their consumption would be added to my total.

Tomorrow: the $295 billion highway & transportation bill just passed by the Senate and how it fits into the big picture of trains, planes and automobiles....


At 5/19/2005 9:24 AM, Blogger Rhesus Pieces said...

Are you saying that the worst thing a person can do is have children? By that token the worst thing I've done in a car is conceive my daughter with my neighbor's wife. I've done both the car and the coveting thing, two sins.

At 5/19/2005 9:35 AM, Anonymous A Better Nation said...

Oh Rhesus, you monkey you - now you're monkeying with us. We here at "A Better Nation" recommend you keep your simian brain in your pants where it belongs.

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