Force of Habit
writing this in response to Carl Pope’s “Gas Backward” [Opinion,
March 28]. Unfortunately, he has joined the swelling ranks
of those who would rather champion an issue than work on a
real solution to the problem.
Mr. Pope’s beef is with the proposition of higher CAFE (Corporate
Average Fuel Economy) standards, even though he didn’t particularly
state it. CAFE standards hold auto manufacturers to keep the
average fuel economy of all vehicles sold above a certain
number. The really hotly debated issue lately has not been
the hike in the average standard, but whether or not to include
light trucks and SUVs in the same category as passenger cars,
which have different, higher standards.
The reason many advocates state that we will all be driving
unsafe subcompacts is because safety features and size both
add weight to a vehicle, which reduces fuel economy. Once
you add the safety cage, engineered crumple zones, six airbags,
and more rigid structuring, you’re looking at anywhere between
200-800 pounds of extra material. In addition, features that
we’ve come to expect in a vehicle—air conditioning, power
windows, locks, seats, heated seats and mirrors, and a host
of other doodads—not only make our commutes more comfortable
but add even more weight, and in some cases (such as with
air conditioning) directly impact fuel consumption. Lighten
the load by removing safety and amenities, and you can reduce
But will this reduction in vehicle safety and quality really
happen if standards are increased? We’ve seen a glimpse of
the future today: Honda’s Insight hybrid vehicle, while achieving
extremely high fuel-economy figures, is a small, light, two-seater
with very little in the way of amenities. It rides on loud,
low-rolling-resistance tires, and doesn’t fare all that well
in standard safety tests. It can carry precious little cargo
and only two people (more on the importance of that later).
But it hits impressive figures that makes Honda look good,
makes hybrid technology look good, and sets a great example
of the possibilities in the future.
The Insight, in fact, takes advantage of many of the fuel-sipping
suggestions that Mr. Pope himself presents. But let’s look
at those more closely. He mentions better transmissions; how
specifically should they be better? Manufacturers already
cheat consumers by installing exceptionally tall fifth or
extra sixth gears to bump highway fuel economy, particularly
in sports cars with large engines. Manual transmissions, which
are the most fuel-frugal when used properly, are among the
minority in today’s vehicles by consumer choice. Ask the driver
of the next car with an automatic transmission why they chose
it, and the answer will usually be “I don’t know how to drive
stick,” or “convenience.” If you want a “better” transmission,
convince people to buy standard.
He mentions more efficient tires. These would be like the
tires on the Insight, which offer less friction to the road
so it’s easier to move the car. But these tires are loud,
introducing a much higher degree of road noise into the cockpit
of the vehicle, something that is totally unacceptable to
the average consumer. He mentions aerodynamics, specifically,
streamlined front ends. However, vehicles that have blocky
front ends, like trucks and SUVs, necessarily have them because
they have bigger engines.
So, if we attempt to drastically increase the fuel economy
of our vehicles, will we end up with small unsafe cars, or
trucks with puny engines that can’t do the job? Maybe, but
it doesn’t really matter. The real problem here is pollution,
not the issue of emissions. You can incrementally raise emissions
all you want, and it will have little effect because to really
reduce pollution you need to change the driving habits and
desires of the public. You need to convince people that using
the less convenient manual transmission is a better choice.
You need to convince people that they don’t need all those
extra, weighty amenities. You need to convince people that
what they really need is a minivan or station wagon instead
of an SUV. You need to convince people that driving habits
have a far greater impact than any fuel economy numbers ever
a recent story on women’s childbirth options in Saratoga County
[Newsfront, April 11], Saratoga Hospital was incorrectly identified
as an institution that believes vaginal births after cesarean
section are “too risky.” Saratoga Obstetrics—not the hospital—is
the organization that indicated that the procedure is “more
of a risk” than it wants to take on.
In another story on the Rensselaer County political corruption
trial [Newsfront, April 18], it was incorrectly noted that
North Greenbush Democratic chairman James Germano’s grandson
was given a job with New York state two months before the
beginning of the current trial. It was Germano’s son Anthony
who was given the job with the state Department of Safety
and Health; he received the job in Sept. 2000, two months
before the commencement of a grand jury hearing in which James
Germano was indicted.
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