Car Corner
Gas Mileage - "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

August 1, 2008
By Scott Lewis

I am currently starved for ideas for this column... with the sole exception of gas mileage. It seems to be everywhere with $4+ gasoline. I am going to spend the next few months covering a lot of material. I am still researching a few topics, so the good stuff will start next month. I may break this up a little with other topics, so you have something other than gas mileage to read about, but expect at least three more articles in the next few months related to gas prices and gas mileage.

Next month we are going to dig into Water 4 Gas. It is known by other names, but basically it is the same. With Water 4 Gas you install a device in your car that generates hydrogen and oxygen from water and introduces the hydrogen into the intake to be burned with the gasoline in your engine. How does it work? How does it really work? Tune in next month.

This month I am going to be more anecdotal. I keep thinking about an old saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Let's take a stroll down memory lane. This country suffered the pain of two oil embargos in 1974 and 1978. Back in 74 the car industry (yes, mostly the American car industry) was caught off guard by the OPEC oil embargo. There were lines at the pumps and everyone wanted cars that got better gas mileage. The second embargo in 78 did just as much to force the issue. Although manufacturers were starting to design more fuel efficient cars, it takes a long time to get there. Four years was not enough and it had a severe impact. Gas prices quadrupled from the early to the late 70s (from approximately 35 cents a gallon in the early seventies to over $1.50/gallon in the late seventies). In 1975 the government stepped in and created the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard that requires a manufacturer's fleet of cars to get a certain combined "average" mileage.

Does any of this sound familiar. Let's see, in this decade we had the 9/11 terrorist attack and Hurricane Katrina. Both of these caused a lot of gas price hikes due to speculation that the cost of oil (crude oil used to make gasoline) would rise. Truth be told, the price of crude oil has risen drastically in the last 7 years. Gas prices quadrupled from the beginning of this decade to now (from approximately $1/gallon before 9/11 to $4/gal now). What about CAFE? Well, after years of doing nothing with it the government stepped in and is now raising the CAFE standards, the fleet average the manufacturers must get, over the next few years.

Are we remembering the past or are we repeating it?

In the late 60s and early 70s the auto industry (mostly the Americans again) were in a hot horsepower war where faster and faster cars were the norm and no one cared about the price of gas. 1970 brought the highest rated horsepower car with the Chevelle equipped with the LS6 engine rated at a whopping 450 horsepower. The Hemi cars were at 425 hp, and Ford was not sitting on its butt with engines like the Boss 429. It seemed every American car had some kind of high power V8 engine available.

Today we are in the middle of a horsepower war. Ford's Mustang gets 475 hp for the Shelby GT500, Chevrolet's upcoming Camaro is going to have a 422 hp engine, and the recently released Dodge Challenger SRT8 has 425 horsepower with a Hemi (which I finagled a drive in, but that is a story for another time). We don't even have to look at Muscle Cars. Let's look at the two most popular selling sedans in this country, the Camry and the Accord. Toyota raised the horsepower of the V6 Camry to 268 hp with its 2007 redesign. Honda matched this with the Accord getting 270 hp with its V6 version... and the Honda moved up the food chain by growing out of the mid size class to the large car class. Everyone wants bigger, more powerful cars. But now they suddenly want better gas mileage.

Are we remembering the past or are we repeating it?

In the seventies the car makers would run ads telling about the better mileage of the "small block" Muscle Cars. They would claim performance (along the lines of good enough performance) and economy in the same package.

I heard that Chevrolet is going to "tout" the mileage of its new Camaro equipped with a 422 hp V8. I heard the heavy hitting Camaro is going to get 23 mpg on the highway. Why not tout this kind of mileage when the Challenger SRT8 with its 425 hp Hemi has a $1,700 gas guzzler tax and an EPA highway rating of 20 mpg. Yikes!

Are we remembering the past or are we repeating it?

In 1981 Lee Iacocca introduced the K-Car at Chrysler. This was a radically different (for America) front wheel drive platform (the K-Car was really many cars based of this same platform). The various K-Cars were slow (I mean really slow with 0-60 times over 20 seconds), but they did got good fuel economy even by today's standards with over 35 mpg on the highway back in the early 80s. The K-Car platform saved Chrysler from impending doom.

Today we have Chevrolet spinning up a radically different car with the Volt plug-in hybrid. Why is the Volt radically different? After all Toyota and Honda have been doing hybrids for years. Well, for one thing the Volt plugs in to charge its batteries at night in your garage. But that's actually not the radical part. What is truly different about the Volt is that the car is driven purely by its electric motor. When the gas engine comes on it is to provide electricity to run the car and recharge the batteries. This is really an electric car with an on board generator. The average commute in this country is 30 miles per day. The Volt is supposed to go 40 miles without the need for its gasoline engine. If you are among the population that drives less than 40 miles per day you could almost eliminate buying gas. This is a radical change.

Are we remembering the past or are we repeating it?

Enough with the past references. In the coming months I am going to look at the various alternatives to gasoline, including the above mention water for gas, pure hydrogen, electric, diesel, ethanol, E85, electric, solar, etc. I am also going to take a look at why gas prices are so high (does Exxon/Mobile have it out for us). Why don't the car makers do a better job? Are they taking pay-offs from the oil companies to artificially keep mileage down? I will also look at what can be done in the short and long term to help the current situation.


Keep coming back over the next few moths. Better yet, subscribe to my newsletter. It just comes out on the day I post my articles and I will never use your e-mail address for anything other than the newsletter.

I will try to keep this as entertaining as I can. Maybe we will all learn something. If you have any information you think I need or can use on the upcoming articles please e-mail me. I would love to get into a debate on what would be the best and worst things to come out of the current gas price craze.