Before government developed its safety fetish, American economy cars were genuinely efficient — and affordable.
Several state governments are going to a four-day workweek to save money. Some are issuing IOUs to taxpayers in lieu of tax refunds. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
So how come the same breaks aren’t being cut for the auto industry — and car buyers?
Why not, for example, at least temporarily suspend federal requirements that force the automakers to build 3,000 pound, 30 mpg “economy” cars that can’t match the fuel efficiency of the mid-sized cars of 20 years ago and which cost thousands more than they need to?
Yes, you can thank Uncle Sam — well-intentioned, as always — for the fact that if you want a car capable of 40 mpg or better, your choices are very slim, or very expensive. Only hybrids and diesels make the 40 mpg cut. The best of today’s “economy” cars are in the 35-38 mpg range.
Most are closer to 32 mpg.
Yet back in the early '80s, it was routine for economy cars to get 40 mpg. A few — such as the 1982 Dodge Omni — were in the 50s on the highway. The Mercury Lynx got 44 on the highway, the Chevy Cavalier 42 mpg’s. This was with Disco-era technology such as four-speed manual transmissions, incidentally. (Almost every new car sold today has at least a five-speed transmission.)
There were literally dozens of cars available in the early-mid 1980s that got more than 40 mpg.
There is not one available today — unless you count elaborate/expensive hybrids and diesels.
Doesn’t “progress” mean we go forward? What happened?
Over the past 25 years, our friends in Washington — who are always looking out for us, of course — have demanded, under penalty of law, that new cars be made ever “safer,” both in terms their ability to withstand a crash and also in terms of their ability to protect the occupants in every conceivable type of crash — frontal, side, offset. You name it.
Thus the weight of the average “economy” car has increased by 500-800 pounds (heavier, more reinforced bodies provide better crashworthiness) while on the inside, at least two and more typically four air bags have been fitted.
Thus modern cars are a lot safer. But they’re also much less economical.
Given a quarter-century of technological improvement (everything from five and six-speed transmissions to very sophisticated engine management systems that were not around in the early '80s), it would be simple — and cheap — to build a 50 mpg economy car today.
If the government would allow it.