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So What Will Those 42-MPG Cars Actually Look Like? (Hint: Not Golf Carts)

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2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

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No, we won't all be driving golf carts. We won't all have to drive a truncated 2009 Toyota Yaris either. Relax and chill, folks. Let's do a little reality-based projecting on what 2016 might look like.

In 2016, the new mileage and emissions rules announced today by the Obama administration require cars to average 42 mpg and trucks to achieve 26 mpg, for a combined average of 35.5 mpg across all light-duty vehicles.

We already contributed an analysis of three key points on GreenCarReports. And our colleague Rex Roy has already weighed in with testimony from Eric Fedewa of CSM Worldwide.

But let's look at what this night mean for vehicle design.

Former Congressman Dave McCurdy [D-OK], who now serves as president of the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, said that the new targets could be met with a combination of known technology and new models to be launched between now and 2016.

And that's important. Automakers have known for several years that sooner or later, mileage would have to rise. This hasn't come out of thin air. How will they do it?

Smaller, More Efficient Engines. Most of us love big torquey V8s, but their maximum power is used very little of the time. European and Asian cars already have smaller engines that can develop almost the same power but use a lot less fuel.

Example: Ford's new fun-to-drive EcoBoost engine uses direct injection and twin turbos to let a V6 develop V8 power. They're now using it in large cars like the 2010 Lincoln MKS and 2010 Ford Taurus SHO; the same system will soon make fours perform like V6s.

Lighter Weight. Ford CEO Alan Mulally came from Boeing, where airliner weight reduction was a religion. Cutting vehicle weight by up to 25 percent is one of Ford's five ways to sustainability; Ford and other carmakers will use a combination of high-strength steel, aluminum, and perhaps even carbon fiber along with rigorous design to remove material where it's not needed.

Example: The new Mazda2, an Asia-only model, is more capacious, more capable, and better equipped than its predecessor--and more than 200 pounds lighter. The best news: The 2011 Ford Fiesta is based on it.

Mild Hybrid Systems. Using the smallest and least expensive battery pack that can do the job, mild hybrids don't allow full electric running as any Toyota Prius does. But they do add kick when smaller engines need more power, and move the car away from stops while switching the engine back on. Total savings, 10-15 percent.

Example: The first generation of GM's Belt-Alternator-Starter system didn't make many waves on the 2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and two Saturn models. The second generation, to be launched in 2010 or 2011, switches to a lithium-ion battery and a more powerful electric motor. GM considers this to be a global technology; , with higher volumes should come lower costs. Do mild hybrids work? Consider the 2010 Honda Insight, which offers 40-plus MPG for only $20,400.

Diesels. German automakers staked their future on adapting European-spec diesels to more stringent US standards several years ago, though we think that's risky unless you're Volkswagen. But there's no denying that diesels get far better fuel economy than gas engines of equivalent power, not to mention oceans of enjoyable torque. And diesels often exceed their EPA ratings substantially.

Example: The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, a handsome compact sedan with great handling and high-quality interior that the EPA rates at 30 mpg city / 41 mpg highway. Independent tester AMCI did better in "real world" road mileage: 38 city / 44 highway.


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Comments (11)
  1. "The End of Automotive Freedom"

    The automakers, Obama-nator and Governator have destroyed what’s
    left of automotive liberty in America.
    While all-aluminum and carbon fiber SUVs may still be available to
    the Range Rover class of buyers, regular folks who punch a clock for
    a paycheck will be priced out of the market. And with the idiotic
    giveaway known as “cash for clunkers,” the supply of used SUVs
    will be decimated.
    What’s worse, the aluminum and carbon fiber SUVs will drive many
    high performance cars off the road — Cars that would have been
    built in a free market.
    The 35.5 m.p.g. fleet average will force a 42 m.p.g. average for
    cars. There won’t be anything remotely like an M3 or a Shelby GT500
    as we know it possible under that freedom-killing plan.
    The elite journalists parrot the line that the average cost of
    compliance to be passed along to consumers is $1,300.00 per vehicle.
    Which means that for low-volume sporting and high-performance
    vehicles, the cost of compliance will be $5,000.00-$10,000.00 or
    more. Moreover, volume limitations inherent in an “average” will
    mean that OEM and dealer gouging will be rampant for anything that
    remotely resembles a “performance” car.
    Thus, the liberty of regular wage-earners to purchase a large SUV or
    a high performance car is being regulated away.
    SOME OF US DO NOT WANT A “FOUR” OR A “SIX.” For those who
    have dreamed the American dream, played by the rules, struggled and
    saved up for a chance at the torque, power, rumble, and aural
    symphony of a V8 (or even an exotic v10 or V12), that future is being
    destroyed by the Obamaniacs. A “sealed-for-your-protection”
    EcoBoost six or four simply won’t cut it.
    Those who want a private jet, or a light aircraft, or a yacht, or
    energy-intensive vacations on cruise ships, or even a classic V-twin
    motorcycle instead of an affordable V8 muscle car will still be able
    to pursue their carbon-emitting dreams with abandon. But Socialist
    Obama and RINO Schwarzenegger have singled hot rodders, grassroots
    racers, V8 enthusiasts and the automotive culture to bear the
    lions-share of the quasi-religious “jihad” against the
    “anthropogenic climate change” bogeyman.
    Sadly, elite journalists (and some autobloggers) simply don’t
    understand all of that. Or if they do, they simply don’t care.
    Under the quick Obama-nator time-frame, V8 muscle cars are most
    certainly going to be slaughtered in the headlong rush to build
    soulless, happy, smiley FWD Obamamobiles that are acceptable the
    appliance motorist greeniacs and their steroid-addled RINO lap-dog,
    California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger.
    Detroit, humiliated, humbled and beholden to corporate welfare will
    meekly comply, mostly out of the horror that could have arisen had
    the 9th Circuit and the soon-to-be Obama-ized Supreme Court had
    permitted the Peoples’ Republic of California and thirteen other
    freedom-hating fellow-traveler police states to set their own fuel
    economy standards.
    Thus, the long, gloomy nightmare that will be a redux of the 1970s,
    albeit about ten times more expensive and repressive this time, has
    now been assured.
    For some of us, the environmentalists will get our “antique” V8s
    only as they pry the pistol-grip shifters out of our cold-dead hands.
    We are too old to wait out this long, dark, repressive nightmare. They
    may crush our collector cars and our bank accounts, but the power-mad
    looter vermin in charge will never crush our spirit and our
    resourcefullness.
    Others, someday, may anticipate a new birth of vehicular freedom.
    Whether it occurs is up to a number daunting factors, such as
    advancements in alternative fuel technology, geopolitics and whether
    a sufficient number of courageous, freedom-loving voters can
    overthrow this approaching midnight of our discontent.
    While the smokey, back-room Obama-Schwartzenegger-Enviornmentalisti
    power grab will dissuade millions of casual automobile enthusiasts
    from any defiance (mostly because pre-packaged muscle and sports cars
    will soon become neutered, sanitized, homogenized, and priced
    out-of-reach), a defiant core of resourceful believers in vehicular
    freedom and self-determination will reject the compromised,
    store-bought motoring appliances and hack together “freedom
    machines” that send but one unmistakable message to those who would
    attempt to crush our liberty and our dreams.
    While the going will become much tougher and the way less traveled,
    rest assured that some of us will keep on keeping on, if only to
    gouge the eyes of the “Governator,” the Obama-nator, and other
    pansies of motoring.
     
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  2. "Senior Scientist Nicholson Science"

    Just bend the sheet metal correctly and no engine changes will be necessary. No car manufactured today is aerodynamic. That means that more than 60% of energy consumed is used to drag the car through the air. Aerodynamic bodies, even crude ones (see www.aerocivic.com) will provide LARGER automobiiles, with higher top speeds and far better efficiency. 1. Close the crazy open wheel wells and use thinner non-crazy tires. 2. Make the car bigger by giving it a boat tail (see www.aerocivic.com), 3. smooth the airflow underneath by applying a belly pan and railing between the tires. We can change the bodies of our cars in one year and accomplish all our 2016 goals in 2011 if we mandated much lower coefficients of drag, too.
    Incidentally, there's a cure for compulsions (criminal compulsion, addictive-drug consumption compulsions, and sexually perverted compulsions): 150 mg in one single dose of healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid taken by mouth. Jealousy is the only side effect, in the recipient and in their osculation partners.
     
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  3. "Senior Scientist Nicholson Science"

    In a truly 'free' market there would be no road taxes and hence, no roads. The republican overloards would all drive Hummers and send their children to private schools, the only schools in a 'free market'.
    The Arab Oil cartel whips up these absurd 'free market' objectors to manipulate Americans into depending on them for our transportation energy needs! If what you propose (gas guzzlers and race cars for all) will lead inevitably to our national ruin, and you know it, why would you object to taking action to use renewable American sources? Because you are a traitor, that's why.
     
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  4. ""Free market""

    In the "free market" the American industry would have been dead years ago or at least it would have died completely last year :-) As much as I hate diesels, they are a good alternative indeed, they save fuel and pay for themselves in the long-run. Thank Obama and your descendants stuck with the bill for saving whatever we still have left.
     
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  5. "Money"

    The problem for the US car makers is that all this will cost money, money they don't have and money they will have great trouble raising after the Obama political bankruptcy that puts bond holders and other private investors at a disadvantage so in the future they will be more reticient to make an investment.
    A lot of this stuff is going on. Weight reduction is dependent in part on getting the price of carbon fibre down to a reasonable level and raising the public's acceptance of plastic body panels, plastic technology is much more advanced than when the Fiero existed.
    Stop start and cylinder deactivation alreadye xists and removing alternators and have electrcity generated from braking into small batteries to run electrics will add to the fueld reduction. VW's small turbo and small turbo and supercharger engines pave the way. There will still be a market for V8's but a more limited one to sports models and even then will be small capacity one's probably boosted by turbos.
    So the end is not neigh. But it may be for US manufacturers. All this change will be expensive and require volume and partners to share the cost of development. GM is in big trouble as it has neither cash nor partners.
     
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  6. "Aerodynamics, in cars, don't make any real difference..."

    There was a time when I might have agreed w/ the "Scientist". The "theory" is great. However, the reality is far less significant.
    All of the manufacturers (including the much vaunted foreign makers) have worked on aerodynamic designs for the last 30+ years. I, myself, started in aerospace design, and moved into automotive design. The results showed, unequivocally, that since the primary drag of any ground vehicle (not just cars) is underneath, at the rear of the vehicle, from "catching" the air in a big cavity, the overall drag cannot be significantly improved through front end or side designs/treatments/shapes. The giggest improvements came not from direct the air around an aerodynamic shape, but through it; with open front ends, and rear diffusers.
    Belly pans, and such, can provide a measure of improvement in that regard, but, sometimes, at the cost of stabilty & control should windy conditions (or, high speeds) cause air to get under the pans, and lift. (Far worse w/ a belly pan, or sealed underside, than when open.)
    Lastly, covering the wheel wells was something done long ago, and best returned to as a styling consideration, than for fuel economy. The wheel wells are "air grabbers," but, again, mostly at the rear, and skirts do not eliminate it, but, merely move the effects of the wind force, & drag - underneath & to the rear, again.
    Aerodynamics do a lot more for the looks of cars, than for their possible fuel economy.
    Make no mistake, better areodynamic design CAN reduce drag, just not at all significantly, and at much higher vehicle costs. (i.e.- Prius)
    As far as diesels, they may finally pass newer emissions standards (although continued future compliance is NOT a given), and they are far superior to their older counterparts. They also do provide excellent torque, if not power... but, driving diesels reminds me, that low emissions do not always equate to low odor. Diesels still stink.
    As for turbos... they were, and are, about getting more power, from a smaller engine. Call it better fuel economy, it's an effect; but, that wasn't the main purpose.
    The problems were long lags before the power would kick in, and burned out engines, from pushing the revs so high to get that power.
    Today's turbos may have less lag time, but it's still there. The engines are being designed for use with the turbos, so there is less likelihood of engine failure, due to an added on system overloading/overtaxing the engine. But, they still have to operate at much higher RPMs to get that power, and that still does reduce both the life expectany, and the long-term performance, of the engine.
    All in all, the new emissions targets & fuel economy standards, can be met. But, don't let anyone make you think it will be either easy, or cheap... or, that the consumer won't be the one paying for it. Projections of fuel savings on vehicles like the Prius & Accord Hybrid were also supposed to be sufficient to offset the additional costs of the vehicle. They don't even come close.
    As these comparisons are not a field I am involved with testing, I must rely on the tests done by others. I have never seen any tests/reports that support the notion a Prius will save you anywhere near enough gas money, in short or long term, that will offset the higher cost of the vehicle.
    Even most environmentalists will admit (dependant on their actual knowledge, vs. opinion) that buying a Prius or Accord Hybrid will NOT save the consumer, anything close to the extra purchase price, but, rather, that the ONLY good reason to use one, is for the environment/planet.
     
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  7. "wow--lots of feedback here"

    Diesels will do the job, with the least additional cost to the consumer. But Nancy doesn't like diesels, so I wouldn't bank on them even if they are the most logical solution.
     
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  8. "Other hybrid issues"

    I don't claim to be an expert or even close, but when it comes to hybrids and even EV's aren't there a lot of other issues that seem to get glossed over? For example, isn't the cradel-to-grave carbon footprint of one of these vehicles much higher than the public is led to believe (or chooses to believe). Should the cost of battery replacement be a more prominent consideration in the payback equation? Are government subsidies a factor? What about the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries and battery disposal/recycle? Also, what's going to happen to battery costs when hybrids become something more than a very small part of the market? Will costs come down or will they go up as the demand for the elements/materials required goe up significantly as well? Just wondering.
     
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  9. "Scientist? More like brainwashed"

    "Scientist", you are an elitist quack. Aero helps but is isnt a cure all, as the other poster pointed out. Use "thinner non-crazy tires"? Like on the Prius, the car that sucks to drive? What is with the "traitor" label? Your ilk are the anti America types that wont drill for domestic oil, wont support nuclear power, use the cloak of environmentalism to stall development. Add to that you faulty argument for bigger government and more regulation based on school choice? You are really out there. You probably believe Al Gore when he says sea rise is 20ft+. (Real scientists predict 12" by 2050)
    Call me weird, but I have a wife and three kids, and when we have friends along for the ride we fill up all 8 seats in the Honda Odyssey. At 25mpg, that equates to 200 people-miles per gallon, which is as good as your skinny tired aero mobile four seater with no storage space all day long. And God help you if you crash into something. It is about freedom to choose. Reasonable regulation and limits are ok, but cram down policies that offer no real options for the average guy, now that is anti American, and that makes you the traitor.
     
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  10. "not too bad"

    Those 42-MPG cars doesn't look so bad.
     
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  11. I drive a Prius, and I like it for a lot of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with gas mileage. The use of space inside the car is excellent; it's very comfortable for 4 passengers, but you can fold the back seats and front passenger's seat down to create a whole bunch of cargo space. It also has a nice ride, and the controls are set up well (eg, some of the radio controls are right on the steering wheel, so you can change stations without having to take your eyes off the road). Its only real weaknesses are a restricted view out the back window and that it would be nice if the driver's seat could move another inch or so back. (I have long legs.) But basically, it's the perfect vehicle for my daily needs.
    A question about diesel cars: I've never driven one, but I know that some people like them and others can't stand them. What is it that people don't like about them?
     
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