I was listening to a talk radio show earlier this evening, and the host was in the middle of interviewing Clint Wilder, co-author of The Clean Tech Revolution: The Next Big Growth and Investment Opportunity. During their discussion on conserving resources & recycling, they took a call from a guy with a great question; he said if his 1994 Honda Civic can get 45mpg, why hasn’t 13 years of automotive technological development improved gas mileage any more than it has?
That is an excellent question. My daughter drives a 1995 Civic with 120,000 miles on it, and I have personally seen it get 50mpg on the road. Heck, back in 1981 I bought new off the lot a Mazda GLC Sport; it would do close to 50mpg on the highway. So why are the EPA mileage estimates on the most fuel efficient car in America — the Toyota Prius — only 60/51mpg? (and the dirty little secret is that in real-world driving, the Prius is hard pressed to pull that off.) The next best is the Honda Civic Hybrid, which is rated at 49/51mpg.
That’s pretty pathetic when the top fuel mileage ratings for new cars is nearly matched by real-world mileage on decades-old machines. The new cars get slightly better fuel mileage only by using hybrid gas/electric motors, which have the side effect of increasing the complexity of the car’s mechanicals by a huge degree. The Civic without the hybrid drivetrain has an EPA rating of 30/40mpg; it’d be interesting to see how that compares to the EPA rating for the 1995 model year. I’d bet they’re close.
So what I’d like to know is why in the same amount of time, advances in technology have taken us from Apple computers like the 9500 that ran at 132MHz and cost $5,000, to the mighty Mac Pro, which runs two dual-core Intel processors at 2.66GHz, and costs half what the 9500 did in 1995. If the same progress had been made on the automotive front, I’d be driving a new Honda Civic that could go across the state of South Dakota on a gallon of gas, and would’ve cost me under $5,000. Or better yet, I’d be driving a Chevy Suburban that moves & handles like a Corvette, costs less than $10,000 and gets over 100mpg.
Ok, so that’s probably not a realistic expectation; advances in the computer industry can’t be compared to fuel economy advances. But shouldn’t we have done a bit better than that since the 1990’s? Or even the 1980’s?