Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cars and Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, I was pleased to see that Autoweek, a weekly car magazine aimed at enthusiasts, devoted most of this week’s edition to green cars. Here are a few highlights.

They point out that the 2008 Honda Fit is a lot less economical than the 1992 Civic, 31 mpg versus 43 mpg, and even the Civic Hybrid at 42 mpg doesn’t quite match the old Civic’s EPA numbers. (These are all EPA combined numbers, using the new-for-2008 test.) Part of the reason is the 17% weight gain in the new car, in turn due to safety features like air bags and improved crash standards. (The 1992 Civic had only one airbag, and prior to 1998 there was no side impact crash test.) Safety is of course a good thing, but it just shows what we are up against when 16 years of “progress” results in a 25% decrease in mpg. (The most economical car back in the nineties was the Geo Metro at 46 mpg using the new test, better than the new Prius. The magazine suggests that the nearest thing today is the Smart ForTwo, rated at only 36 mpg and as it’s name suggests only a two-seater.)

There are also articles on: the ZENN urban electric vehicle (federally mandated maximum speed 25 mph); the Mitsubishi i MiEV 470 kw car, which looks a bit like a Smart car but has four seats; the Chevy Volt; plug-in hybrids; relatively green SUVs (the Ford Escape hybrid achieved 28 mpg, while the Mercedes ML320 CDI achieved 27 mpg on diesel.); and the Audi R8 diesel supercar. Regrettably only the SUVs are available right now.

Perhaps the most interesting article was about new rules for ALMS (American Le Mans Series) sports car racing which will allow hybrids and cellulosic ethanol. They already allow diesels, which have been very successful at Le Mans itself. ALMS also plans a special Green Racing Challenge award, criteria for which are still being worked out with the EPA. Some tree-huggers may scoff at this but think of it this way: the amount of fuel used in the race is small compared to the fuel used by fans to get to the event, so in that respect it is no different from any other sport, and it just might help diesels and hybrids gain greater acceptance.

There’s more on

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