Do Americans care about fuel economy as oil spills into the Gulf and gasoline hovers around $3 a gallon? You bet they do, though they also have a fair number of misconceptions about how to squeeze a few more miles out of every drop.
The Consumer Federation of America's most recent survey says that if we had a 50 mile-per-gallon car fleet today, we'd save more oil than there the entire proven reserves in the entire Gulf of Mexico. And people care about that. According to Jack Gillis, author of The Car Book and a CFA spokesman, 87 percent of respondents said it is "important that the country reduce its consumption of oil," and 54 percent said it is "very important."
Remember $4 a gallon gasoline?
An amazing 65 percent support a mandated transition to a 50-mpg fuel economy standard by 2025a figure that presumably includes even some Tea Party supporters. That's a tough standard, some 15 mpg better than the ambitious goal set by the Obama Administration (35 mpg by 2016). (Though the Prius, the most fuel-efficient car on the road, gets 50 mpg today.)
"The expectations of American consumers are reasonable and achievable," Gillis said in a conference call." He said that using such available and on-the-shelf technologies as cylinder deactivation and engine cutoff when stopped (the so-called "mild hybrid" popular in Europe) we could make five to 10 percent economy improvements.
CFA says that Asian carmakers, compared to the U.S. competition, are offering twice as many vehicles with 30 mpg or better. "It's shocking that so few of today's cars get more than 30 mpg," he said. I agree. I'm test-driving a $17,000 Hyundai Elantra Blue that gets 35 mpg on the highway, and that kind of economy is routine for Asian carmakers.
Mark Cooper, CFA's research director, said that in five years of the group's polling, the public's views have stayed remarkably consistent: They want less dependence on Middle Eastern oil and higher fuel-economy standards.
Cooper pointed out that Gulf oil is a big player when it comes to U.S. reserves, but is "inconsequential" in terms of world supply. The U.S. has just three percent of world oil, though most people think we have a much bigger piece of the pie. When informed of this unpleasant fact, Cooper said, the percentage that thinks it's "very important" to reduce oil dependence goes up significantly (from 54 percent to 68).
People care about fuel economy, but they're misinformed about how to actually achieve it. The federal government's fueleconomy.gov site (very useful to check cars' mpg) just published the "Top Ten Misconceptions about Fuel Economy." Here are a few (the ones I like):
It takes more fuel to start a vehicle than it does to let it idle.
People are really confused about this one, and will leave a car idling for half an hour rather than turn it off and restart. Some kids I know started an anti-idling campaign in the suburbs and are shaming parents into shutting down their cars. Idling uses a quarter to a half gallon of fuel in an hour (costing you one to two cents a minute). Unless you're stalled in traffic, turn off the car when stopped for more a few minutes.
Vehicles need to be warmed up before they're driven.
Pshaw. That is a long-outdated notion. Today's cars are fine being driven off seconds after they're started.
As a vehicle ages, its fuel economy decreases significantly.
Not true. As long as it's maintained, a 10- or 15-year-old car should have like-new mileage. The key thing is maintenancean out-of-tune car will definitely start to decline mileage-wise.
Replacing your air filter helps your car run efficiently.
Another outdated claim, dating back to the pre-1976 carburetor days. Fuel-injection engines don't get economy benefits from a clean air filter.
Aftermarket additives and devices can dramatically improve your fuel economy.
As readers of my story on The Blade recall, there's not much evidence that these "miracle products" do much more than drain your wallet. Both the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Reports have weighed in on this. There are no top-secret 100-mpg bolt-ons out there.
Using premium fuel improves fuel economy.
You might as well write a check to BP if you believe this. Only use premium if your car specifies it.
Here's the complete list.
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