Comments

I'm on my second Ford Focus and in January 2005 they were set to bring the desiel verision to market in the U.S. It had been in Europe for several years. A few months later it was dropped for U.S. production. I didn't get my 40+ MPG car because Ford claimed they were waiting on U.S. desiel standards. VW was still selling TDI's as fast as they could get them and still are.

Well said Mike.
As the rest of the world seems to follow the US in so many ways let's hope your politicians and industry see the light soon.

Cheers, Robin
(from the UK where "gas" is $10 a gallon and a Ford Focus is a medium sized family car, not at all small!)

Mike,

Your idea of plugging the car in at work isn't too far fetched. A long time ago I worked 200 miles north of Quebec City. It wasn't unusual for 40 below zero winter temperature. We plugged in our cars' block heaters at the aluminum plant and used a extension cord at home. But remember in many places the electricity comes from burning something so electric cars do have an environmental cost. TINSTAAFL.
Bob

Actually, we use more energy during the day (due to those factories and offices), as such solar arrays could pick up the extra load. Though the nay sayers never bring this up. Furthermore, as a nation, shouldn't we want to preserve our oil reserves for when we really need it?

Great article Mike. Keep 'em coming.

«McCain and Hillary Clinton's proposed "gas tax holiday," whereby they proposed eliminating the relatively paltry current gas taxes for the summer, to bring consumers "relief."»

If the market can bear $4 a gallon with taxes included, it will bear $4.00 a gallon without the tax. In other words, eliminating a tax on gasoline will only bring relief for a few days, just long enough for the oil companies to take up the slack in the price of gasoline. The price will come up to what it was before the tax cut. This is a known fact.

«The big problem with solar farms like the one in Ontario pictured here is that they only generate electricity during the daylight hours, and that's not when we most need or use electricity.»

Solar and windmill farms help conserve water levels at hydro-electricity producing dams, especially during dry spells. The demand for electricity is increasing at a rapid pace and there are just so many dams that can be built, even taking into account the vast James Bay and Labrador hydro-electric projects.

Hydro Quebec is the world third largest producer, supplying electricity to New England, New York and beyond. In 2004, Hydro Quebec took everone by surprise when it annonced that its water reservoirs have been in constant deficit since 1991. It's been looking at other ways of producing electricity including thermal, solar and wind power. Hydro-electricity is not without limits.

Mike, I did my part over a year ago and bought a Prius. Couldn't be happier. Now if they would make an all electric vehicle you could take on the highway for trips...

I've had my Toyota Corolla for eight years now, and still get very good gas mileage. I've been trying to drive less, but the problem is that my work requires that I commute from Bloomington, IN to Indianapolis, and I'm getting ready to move cross-country, which requires driving out to my new city to find a house.

Here's what I think: why not comprehensive national rail lines -- something like Amtrak but actually useful and cost effective for passengers? If the Eisenhower administration could build the interstate highway system, why can't we build something on that scale that transports us around without us having to have our own cars? It just makes so much sense.

I agree about the gas tax -- I wouldn't mind seeing $1 extra per gallon now, with additional amounts added if the basic price of gas declines -- in other words, keep it at $5. I think it would continue to work even if the government decided to channel some of it directly back to taxpayers, via something like a Social Security tax rebate, which would really help the working poor.

The gas tax works in Europe, where you'll see all kinds of very small commuter cars. I also like the idea of a tax because it allows people to opt out. If you really need a gas-sucking Ford F150 for your work, you can still have it -- the vehicle is not banned -- and if it's *truly* for your work, you can deduct a portion of the gas tax as a business expense. But if you just want to knock around in a big truck, you're gonna pay.

I would also like to see a tax on engine size. If you're not towing, there's really no reason to have a six-liter engine in your car; it simply sucks gas and spews fumes. I think people should be allowed to opt to have them, but I think there should be a steeply progressive tax. Say, everything up to 2 liters is free, $1,000 for 2-2.5, $2,000 to 2.5-3, $4,000 for 3-3.5, $8,000 for 3.5-4, $16,000 for 4-4.5, $32,000 for 4.5-5, $64,000 for 5-5.5, $128,000 for the next five, etc. I would point out that when Princess Di was killed, she was in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes S-280; in other words, a luxurious S-Class Mercedes Benz with a 2.8-liter engine. I don't think you can even get one here in the US -- I think all the S-Class cars available here are now 5.5 liters. Why?

This may offended the more socialistically inclined, but I'm a great believer in the efficacy of status symbols: people absolutely should be allowed to do better than the Joneses, and to show it off. But it would greatly help the world if we had a class of top-end luxury cars with two-liter engines, like Princess Di's, getting 30-plus miles per gallon. It can be done; it'd help the environment and would help cool the energy crisis; but it's not being done. Instead, the car companies indulge in destructive horsepower races that are bad for everybody.

JC

Great article Mike,

I actually remember an article from a long time ago myself that talked about workers driving their electric cars into work and letting them charge there before driving home at night. Then, while at home, they would charge on the unit at the house that has been absorbing solar power all day long. I think it was a U.S. News or Time article...if I can find it, I'll forward to you.

For what it's worth, my wife and I both are on the bandwagon for high efficiency cars - we own a Honda Civic and Accord. We briefly owned a Chevy Town and Country, but dumped it quickly when we saw the potential downside three years ago. Additionally, we are relocating to the more environmentally friendly state of Colorado rather than stay in the very backward thinking state of SC (nothing against the residents - it's the officials and politicians that are backward thinking)! While there are only currently charging stations for the hybrids in California, it just makes sense that the trend will work its' way eastward over time and CO is closer to CA than SC!

I also remember an article about a guy who invested about $300K into a house that is totally self-sustaining. His greenhouse absorbs heat, and he uses natural resources (i.e. firewood) for his winter needs. Thus far his average costs for electricity are nil - the electric company buys it back from him every year for the excess he has! That one was a little more recent...again, if I can find it, I'll email it. Oh, and guess what state this guy lives in that is totally self-sustaining: Colorado!

FWIW, I get all of my electricity from wind. I pay $10 extra per month for it, but I have environmental asthma, so I feel it is a necessary expense.

Mike, thank you for writing this article. As a Prius owner, I want to point out a minor point. The Prius and other hybrids do use energy when stopped. They use electric energy from the batteries. The batteries can be charged when needed by the gasoline engine, but the efficiency comes from recharging the batteries by recapturing approximately 95% of the energy that otherwise would have been lost as heat when coasting or braking. The term for this is "regenerative braking", and it also saves wear on the brake pads. Other efficiencies that the Prius takes advantage of come from the Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine, the continuously-variable transmission (CVT), the car's modest weight, and its low-drag aerodynamics.
You are correct in that electric motors produce their torque immediately upon demand. That torque gives the feeling of power when starting from a standstill. Horsepower gives the top speed. There is a saying that Americans buy horsepower but they like torque. The torque from the electric motor makes the Prius feel "peppy" when moving about in traffic, but it is not going to beat out many cars when accelerating to highway speed.
Shai Agassi founded Project Better Place, which has partnered with Renault in producing electric cars for Israel and, I believe, also for Denmark. So that people do not have to worry about running out of a battery charge, there will be electric stations throughout Israel where people can either recharge their cars or quickly swap a depleted battery pack for a fully charged battery pack.
In regard to solar panels, in California the electricity produced by a house's solar panels that the owner doesn't use goes to Pacific Gas and Electric for free. So when people do install solar panels, they usually plan for just enough capacity to meet their needs. How's that for being counterproductive to increasing our solar capacity!

Good article, Mike.
This whole issue of conservation & environmental protection is all very confusing, and we have to be careful with not mixing things up:
> Global warming is to do with pollution, with excessive greenhouse gas CO2 emission by burning too much gas -- either by driving too much or driving gas guzzlers. But mind you when you plug you electric powered car into the outlet, that electricity has to come from somewhere, and unless there are enough solar farm or hydro power, the electricity would come from some fossil fuel burning plants, emitting CO2 (although may be at a better efficiency, but count the transmission efficiency too), causing the same global warming effects.
> Electric cars run on batteries, but the batteries have to be produced. Batteries are still very inefficient, and the production process are very polluting -- consuming lots of energy in the process of refining for the precious metal, and putting together such large batteries (imagine 1000 pieces of AA cells in your car!!) and transporting to the car factory (not to mention carrying the weigh around in your car) required energy!!
> The current crop of internal combustion engine cars are very efficient compared to pure electric cars, the "pollution effect" must be considered from an overall sum, not by what you work out from the curb, but omitting what you can't see. The Prius (hybrids) seems to provide the best of both worlds, burning less gas, and producing less pollution when sitting in traffic. Again, work out the total sum of energy + material (energy associated) cost of the total running life of the vehicle for a true story, I'm not too sure of the result. (Mind you, the end-of-life battery need to be disposed of, and the pollution of dead batteries, or the cost (monetary and environmentally) must be factored in as well.
> One last thing, don't be fooled by the "social consciousness" of Toyota, they are running a business. Heard of the LS600h? It is a 6 litre behemoth with a huge battery stash in the car, and hiding it's extravagant nature as a hybrid car -- imagine the 6L engine and all the material that goes into producing such a large car.... Something to make the "high energy content class" feel better when chauffeured around??
> From a conservation point of view, we should not be driving too many electric powered cars until we further improve battery efficiency, and reducing the environmental cost in producing and disposing of them.

Mike Mike Mike....we'll have solar powered cars as soon as Exxon-Mobil or BP or Shell figure out how to charge for every foot-candle of sunlight that falls on your charger array.

John R.

Slightly Off Topic:
I see a relationship between this post and your leadership topic - or rather the lack of leadership. What leadership skills or vision (there cannot be a leader without a vision) did Ford Junior show? What leadership are your presidential candidates showing on the topic of the environment?

As an European, I am used to paying lots of tax on my gas and even more on my diesel. It means I use public transport quite often (not always but often). There is no social stigma attached to public transport here. You even see people using it to go to the theatre or opera. However, we are more compact with our towns and cities and public transport as a concept has a completely different economic factor with a thinly spread population.

On topic:
Hybrid cars and fuel efficient transport are the way forward... car pooling halves the environmental impact :-)

Ravi

"Slightly Off Topic:
I see a relationship between this post and your leadership topic - or rather the lack of leadership. What leadership skills or vision (there cannot be a leader without a vision) did Ford Junior show? What leadership are your presidential candidates showing on the topic of the environment?

As an European, I am used to paying lots of tax on my gas and even more on my diesel. It means I use public transport quite often (not always but often). There is no social stigma attached to public transport here. You even see people using it to go to the theatre or opera. However, we are more compact with our towns and cities and public transport as a concept has a completely different economic factor with a thinly spread population. "

Excellent point Ravi! Another one of the reasons we are making this move is because of that - SC has a woeful system of mass transit. I actually changed jobs as a result of the congestion going into downtown Charleston every day! Additionally the roadways here are laid out without any sense of traffic and vehicular management, nor are the lighting systems. It's always stop and go, stop and go. Having lived in Denver, St. Louis, and visited Boston and NYC on more occasions than I can count - the mass transit systems were an important way to get around. In Charleston no one wants to give up their Hummers and pick-ups - they are status symbols! (I seem to recall a post on that here recently too!) Perhaps when they can no longer afford to fill their tanks and they need to get somewhere, the rail systems proposals that the city and state officials have been ignoring for the past 20 years will get reconsidered some time. Not soon enough for us though...

The first time I visited the US was in 1996, with 20 of my classmates from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands. We all were studying urban planning and came to learn about the difference in planning between the (arguable over)planned Netherlands and (possibly under)planned US and Canada. We saw the success of Toronto, the failure of Detroit, the struggle of Cleveland and Rochester’s dependence on Kodak…We saw big, big cars, big meals, big buildings, big people, big malls and big cities. We also saw beautiful, beautiful nature, beautiful countryside, beautiful cities and towns with wonderful people. We saw fenced neighbourhoods with a guard at the gate. We saw a restaurant two doors down from our motel on the strip with no way to walk there safely.
We were amazed when we saw ‘donut’ cities with commercial centres bereft of after hours live, and a ring of suburbs half the size of our country! This unchecked growth made possible by cheap gas and a lack of urban planning (more so in the US than Canada) has impeded much of the natural beauty of the land and now also poses a problem for the future of the commuting suburbanite. Suburbs as sprawling as those in North America can only exist because of the car. Commuting will keep getting more and expensive in the future and the transition to a public transport system as a viable alternative for the car is almost impossible in current suburbia. Who knows, maybe the rising gas prices will force Americans to surrender their malls and suburbs to farmers and nature, and force them to rehabitate their inner cities…

Mike, one car maker that is doing very interesting things with pluggable hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) is Fisker. The difference between PHEVs and the Prius is that PHEVs always run on electricity; the petrol or diesel engine is simply a generator that keeps the batteries charged after your 50 or 100 miles or whatever the battery will hold. This brings a huge advantage - you can run your internal combustion engine at maximum efficiency - if it were a diesel it would run around 1500-2000 revs and produce loads of power at very low consumption. Although Fisker's first car will be a luxury (but not quite today's luxury - a new twist) vehicle, one could easily imagine a smaller version avergaing in the 150 MPG region over longer distances and of course 0 GPM over short journeys.

There is another company taking a fully electric approach but aiming at communities (and countries) where driving distances are small (Israel, Denmark, Hawaii,...). It is called Better Place and I dearly dearly hope that it succeeds.

I have no connection with any of these companies other than agreeing with them that you Americans' use of fuel is obscene.

JC wrote: "I think there should be a steeply progressive tax. Say, everything up to 2 liters is free, $1,000 for 2-2.5, $2,000 to 2.5-3, $4,000 ... $128,000 for the next five, etc. I would point out that when Princess Di was killed, she was in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes S-280; in other words, a luxurious S-Class Mercedes Benz with a 2.8-liter engine. I don't think you can even get one here in the US -- I think all the S-Class cars available here are now 5.5 liters. Why?"

Here in Belgium we have exactly that - but not quite as penal. The tax on new cars ranges from 61 to 5000 Euro and the annual road tax ranges from 66 to 3560 Euro. Not yet totally prohibitive but encouraging. Interestingly I would guess that over 90% of Mercedes S class in Belgium are S320 CDI which have a 3.0 litre diesel engine.

Although I drive a fairly large car since I do quite a lot of long distance driving for my work, I have only owned diesels in the past ten years.

It was an interesting read, the post and the replies from people. It really puts USA and EU situation in perspective (regarding cars). EU citizen here.

1. If I were to buy a Ford Focus, I would be buying a substantially larger car than the one I have now.

2. Diesel is 8$ per gallon here and comparing to some other EU countries I consider this cheap.

3. JC suggested progressive tax. We have that here. The interesting thing is the lowest category he suggested is sub 2 litres engines. The LARGEST category we have is above 2.5 litres.

4. Compared to a modern diesel cars people have here, Toyota prius drinks 20% less gass.

5. Speaking out of my head the ratio of Audis vs. Priuses here is at least 20:1. Almost every fourth car is an Audi, while you rarely see a Prius.

I do have my own ideas regarding fighting the pollution. Take a car, any make, say VW Golf. It is in 5th generation now. Every new model was made longer, wider, taller and heavier. When will we get that it is not particulary smart to move 1380kg of mass while we actually want to move 80kg of mass?

I have a critical view on "clean power" as long as that means windmills or solar panels. First thing, producing a solar panel is not a particulary nice thing you can do to the enviroment. Second thing, for serious amount of energy (and we do consume serious amounts of energy) you need vast fields of windmills or solar panels. This is huge interference with enviroment.

On the other hand we have a very clean and very effective way of producing energy, lots of it really. We only need to grab it. Oh, and educate people first. Obviously, I am talking about nuclear power. I am a physicist by heart and profession and I find it very interesting that most people link nuclear power with polution. It actually is the cleanest way of producing those GWh we consume if you ask me.

The amount of radiation anywhere outside our nuclear plant is lower than in the middle of our capital city. The generous amount of energy earns enough money so you can afford expensive but safe nuclear waste disposal. By opening one such plant you can close 10 thermo plants. And I don't even feel like computing how many megatons of CO2 per day that saves you. It is an energy jewel, a lot of energy in one small space, a small interference with the surroundings and you could basically build a school right next to it (if people were more educated).

There is only one downside as far as ecology is concerned that I am aware of. You do have to cool the secondary water system somehow. This is usually done by a nearby river. This means that the temperature of that river rises a bit. It depends on the water flux, but usually that's in the order of 0,1°C. I don't know how significant is that for the ecosystem in the river. But you can cool it with an alredy poluted, dead river too.

I think when it comes to ecology you have to be very carefull. Some things that look clean and make people feel good are not really ecologically beneficial. Take neon lightblubls. You have a lot of folks that constantly turn them off - even for half a minute - thinking that they are saving energy while they are actually increasing energy consumption. Turning such lamps on and off shortens their lives considerably. When a substantial amount of energy is needed for producing such lamps the overall energy consumption actually rises.

Another thing all goverments should do (I think Switzerland allredy got it right quite a few years ago) is put a HUGE tax on waste disposal. Too many people throw too many things away - just to be replaced by the newer and shinier things. Which obviously means a lot of waste and increased consumption of energy for producing new stuff, more CO2 etc.

And by the way, why aren't incandescent lightbulbs banned yet?

I am writing from Spain, with gas at 1.22 Euros per liter (that is over 7 dollars per gallon), always shocked at how difficult it is to have obviously sound ideas and solutions implemented when they run against the interests of a few large corporations. SOlar energy is a good exemple: It has the potential to set you free from the electricity suppliers, but it has been blocked for ages. Now they are building those solar farms so that you still have to buy frion them...
You are not alone, these ideas have been around for quite some time now. But nobody ever dared to push them. So our Saudi friends are doing us a big favor by rising oil prices.
Cars are heavily taxed in Europe, and in Spain. But, from last year, the tax is related to the emissions prodduced by the car. Those with low emissions pay zero tax.
I personally did scrap my last car ten years ago (after I broke its engine). I use a bike and rent a car whenever I need it, and believe me, I am much happier, less worried and save plenty of money. I would recommend that to anybody. You can use a rented car and take a taxi when needed and at the end of the year you'll be spending less money than what you need to cover just the running costs of an average car. You can conmute in a motorcycle or a scooter, do you shopping with them, just like you would with a car, etc.
Anyway, I am an aficionado and love to drive, but roads are overcrowded now, the speed limits are ridiculous and enforced heavily, and it eats all the pleasure away.

Mike,
I agree with the gas tax. I've noticed that while people are complaining that the cost of fuel is overwhelming, everyone is still doing 75mph on the freeway! When the traffic slows down voluntarily, we'll know that the price of fuel is really affecting people!
I've heard that Honda hydrogen concept fleet is fueled by saltwater that Honda "cracks" using solar power. While I lived in NM, I was always curious why our govonor, Bill Richardson, did not do more to take advantage of the states solar potential and deep brine aquafier to position NM as a potential energy leader. After all, he was the former secretary of energy!

Here, in Ontario Canada we used to have license plate fees that varied on the number of cylinders in a cars engine. That very slightly encouraged small engines. To save fuel, I ride an old motorcycle. It does get 50+ mpg, much better than my smaller Toyota and infinitly better than the mini-van that I had for too long.
Unfortunatly, the furor over fuel prices will soon pass as people get used to $4 a gallon fuel ($1 per liter). Unfortunately, it will probably take a real shortage to get governments to act. In the meantime, a 2 price fuel system might be warranted. Every car owner gets coupons for 50 liters of gas a week at $1 per liter, and whatever more fuel the car owner needs is at market price. This would protect the reasonable distance commuters, encourage less or more efficient driving, and allow for people to either bank or sell their unused coupons. All that would need to be done is to keep out the criminal element. (psst! crack, whores, gas coupons?)

Mike, as Eddie and other have also noted, electricity usage closely follows human activity. Please see a daily load curve (figure 1), here:

http://www.countryguardian.net/Laughton.htm

A load curve represents the amount of power consumed during a certain time interval.

Mike - great article.

There is a technology that promises unlimited electrical power with virtually no pollution and no carbon footprint, which can be safely implemented almost anywhere in the country. No, it is not nuclear - it is geothermal heat mining.

Using oil field-developed techniques to fracture rock formations deep below the surface of the earth, hot geothermal water can be harvested for direct heating or to generate electricity for communities/cities.

The amount of investment is relatively low, compared to other polluting, non central technologies. A mere one billion dollar investment will supposedly deliver 10 % of our country's entire needs in several decades, and these numbers seem very pessimistic to me. What would ten billion or a hundred billion dollar investment produce?

The exciting part is that there is enough harvestable thermal energy to power all of the Earth's current needs for about ten million years.

I've also read an article recently (Boston Globe) about the decline of Hummer sales. It didn't take a genius to see this one coming either, but GM enjoyed taking its profits when they were hot, hot, hot, and now dealers find they have to slash prices in order to move them. There's never any questioning of "should we", or long-term planning for a vision of their brand that will stand up in the future. GM & Ford's trucks are their most impressive vehicles (I mean not best-selling, but best-made, best-to-drive), which was always a problem, because the small passenger car should be a company's bread & butter (see Accord, Honda & Camry, Toyota) if it wants to ride out these fads and ups & downs in the market. They doomed themselves with their product, and lack of vision.

I for one am glad to see 4$ a gallon gas. In reality, gas has been an extremely cheap commodity for a long time. Price in inflation and gasolined was actually cheaper in 2004 than it was in 1980. As a non renewable resource, the prcie of gasoline will follow on a bell curve. Where we currently sit on that curve no one really knows, but believe me it will get scary.

It would have been nice if our political leaders had instituted a higher gas tax some time ago, but the only way that could have happened would have been by secret vote. You can't blame them. Such a thing would simply not have been tolerated by the American people. I have never been able to understand how they got away with it in Europe.

Look for a big increase in diesel cars and trucks, and I don't mean the 6 liter diesel behemoths we currently have, to make a splash over here soon. I believe 50% of the cars sold in Europe are diesel. Five years from now we should see American consumption fall greatly, about time hunh. Hopefully, that will help prevent 9$ a gallon gas. Ten to twenty years out though, the only real solution I see is an all electric personal transporatation market, with fossil fuels being reseved for commercial applications and manufacturing. Glad to see no one mentioned hydrogen. That's never going to happen. ch

Magumi (and others),
We deal with a different set of customs and conventions here. You might scorn the Prius as not being "green" compared to options you have, but it's the highest-mileage car sold in America.

The Focus might be mid-sized in Europe, but it is "compact" (i.e., small) here. It would be a major change if everyone were to drive cars that small. As for the various bike-and-taxi suggestions, they're fine for densely compacted cities (more people in Manhattan do not own cars than own them), but it doesn't work very many places.

You have to bear in mind that for me to get to the West Coast of my own country (San Francisco, and I do have relatives there), is farther than it is from London to Moscow. And I'm supposedly in the "middle" of the country. My relatively out-of-the-way, sparsely populated state, Wisconsin (6 million people, give or take) is half the size of Germany--and it's not one of the larger states.

Life here is not set up for people living within a few miles of home and only rarely going outside of that. (That's part of our problem.) I'm 100 miles (160 km) from my brother's house and 400 miles (640 km) from our summer house. I live relatively close to shops and my son's school, but I find I need to go into the neighboring suburb to shop once or twice every two weeks, and into the city once or twice a month. I drive relatively little for an American--I work from home, after all--but I did have to live without a car for a while after an accident, while the car was being fixed, and it was not easy. And it's easier for me than it is for lots of people here.

The very distances involved make both trains and public transportation less effective. I went to summer camp when I was 13, and there was a pilot's strike when we were supposed to return home--and we had to take the train. It was just four states--the breadth of Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin--but it took three days and nights. It was like crossing the Russian Steppe. As for public transportation, it just works better in densely populated areas. It works fine in Manhattan. It's a silly idea in rural Kansas.

I'm not bragging about this--it's fairly inconvenient actually--but there's a reason why local customs became what they are. If you're European living in a city in a densely populated country, try this for an exercise--pick six of your favorite stores and half-decent retail establishments (restaurants, movie theaters) and three of your friends and imagine that those are the only ones local to you. Now imagine you can drive 100 km to another bunch of stores and a few more friends. And the nearest symphony orchestra and 3-star restaurant and university and live theater and foreign-language movie theater is 200km away. That doesn't describe me, but it does describe a fairly common condition in the U.S. Without a car here you can survive, but you might live a relatively more boring, monotonous life.

Mike J.

Here is an interesting thought: Segway. It kinda makes sense if your job and home are up to 5 miles apart. Less than 50kg, 20km/h top speed. I often use bicycle to go to work, but than I get there all sweaty. When they increase its top speed to 30km/h (so I'd actually be faster than on my bike) and cut the price in half, I'm buying.

Now here is the good bit: it fits in elevators, it goes thru doors. In the future we could all be using those (perhaps ones with colapsable rooftops - in case of rain). We could be using them in complement with high speed trains or other means of public transport. You could board the train with your "Segway" and than glide from train station to you office. Parking problems gone overnight - it has a smaller footprint than a bike. Or, if your work place is near enough, skip the train. It would require serious amounts of investment in improved public transport too, but it could work...

Mike,

Lots of rational thought and reasonable ideas. The problem with implementing any of your approaches is summed up by a George Carlin quote: "Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that."

Why will you never see this in the USA?

http://www.mini.co.uk/html/model_range/mini_cooper_d/home.html

The mini is less expensive than a hybrid, takes fewer natural resources to build, is a true *flex fuel* vehicle and has far better longevity too! So why is it not offered in the USA? Come to think of it, why are all of those extremely cool European vehicles not offered here?

Before anyone states the *seemingly* obvious here, European cars drive way better AND are much zippier than their cousins in the USA!

As for Electric cars: How do you heat them? How many BTU's does it take to heat an average motor car at say 10 degrees doing 50 mph?

Last question? What do you think the French are going to be driving in the next ten years? More importantly why?

The list goes on and on...............

PS. The next time a Prius driver gets indignant with your *larger car choice* just ask this one simple question, "how big is your house / what's your total carbon footprint?" Yes, thats the real Elephant in the room here - Mr Gore anyone!

In the middle of your very good article you actually described the upcoming Chevy Volt: see http://www.edmunds.com/insideline/do/News/articleId=127606
It is to have Lithium Ion batteries and a small engine to keep the battery charged up. However, there are skeptics who say that the battery technology is not there yet and has not been scaled up to the size and power needed for an automobile. Car makers are making a lot of announcements about new hybrids over the next 2-3 years, which will make it interesting to see what comes to fruition.

Gas prices are going to double on their own, again, in the next 10 years, just from inflation. Oil production has peaked worldwide everywhere but the Middle East, and maybe there too, but demand continues to rise. We can extend the peak out a few years by conserving, but the best bet is to move toward solar. Why aren't there solar panels on the Prius to keep the batteries charged? Why couldn't there be solar power, passive and electrical, retrofitted to most American buildings? I'm in favor of radically higher gas taxes to pay for that. I think we should punish energy inefficiency and reward efficiency with equal zeal. That will require political will, though...

"Why will you never see this in the USA? http://www.mini.co.uk/html/model_range/mini_cooper_d/home.html The mini is less expensive than a hybrid, takes fewer natural resources to build, is a true *flex fuel* vehicle and has far better longevity too! So why is it not offered in the USA?"

Chris Gibbs,
Unless I'm mistaking your meaning here (am I missing the fact that the "D" model is something different than a regular model?), the Mini Cooper is not only available but fairly common in the USA. I see them all over the place--in fact my cousin in Indianapolis drives one. She traded in her Honda Accord for it.

Mike J.

Agreed on almost all accounts, except the taxation thing. From what I gather, the government already has very high taxes on fuel. The taxes are actually higher than the gas companies' profits. Wondering where you got the information that the current taxes are "paltry", unless by paltry you mean in comparison to the proposed 200% or higher tax.

I wish such an idea would work - there's such a disgusting disconnect between drivers of huge gas guzzlers and what they're doing to the world (wars/politics, emissions, dependency on oil, etc. etc.)

Dave Feltenberger,
Fuel taxes in Germany are approximately USD$7.615 per gallon for unleaded petrol (Sep 2007).

In the U.K. it's USD$5.20 per US gallon for diesel.

"Fuel taxes in the United States vary by state. For the first quarter of 2008, the average state gasoline tax is 28.6 cents per gallon, plus 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax making the total 47 cents per gallon (12.4 cents/L). For diesel, the average state tax is 29.2 cents per gallon plus an additional 24.4 cents per gallon federal tax making the total 53.6 cents per gallon (14.2 cents/L)."

(Source for all these figures: see "Fuel Tax" at Wikipedia.)

Perhaps I should have said "paltry by comparison."

Mike J.

Mike J wrote:

"Unless I'm mistaking your meaning here (am I missing the fact that the "D" model is something different than a regular model?), the Mini Cooper is not only available but fairly common in the USA. I see them all over the place--in fact my cousin in Indianapolis drives one. She traded in her Honda Accord for it."
-------------

The *Cooper D* has more in common with the links below!

Again, never to be seen Stateside. Why? *That's the actual issue here*..... I know the answer. Do you?

Cheers,
Chris

http://www.jeep.co.uk/wrangler/models.html
http://www.jeep.co.uk/grandcherokee/specs.html
http://www.jeep.co.uk/commander/specs.html

Chris,
I'll guess it's a diesel, though I have no idea why it's not sold here.

Mike J.

Mike,
Make friends with the service manager at your local VW dealership and ask him about the problems they're having with getting the new TDI's on the road because of the *NIMBY's* (read: largest three markets).

It's not a problem they've (VW) have ever had in Europe or even Canada!

This is a fascinating subject, however, it rarely gets beyond that *dpreview mentality* - kinda like that sensor noise issue (this subject revolves around *hot air emissions* and unrealistic expectations too ;-)

Congrats to your cousin, she's obviously a smart (trendy) lady in that Cooper.

Cheers,
Chris

In fact, there is an effective subsidy on fuel in the US and to a lesser extent in Canada. Since fuel taxes fail to pay for the car infrastructure including roads, bridges, traffic law enforcement, car related health care costs and car regulatory infrastructure, any shortfall is actually a subsidy on fuel.
If the market were really free, no tax dollars outside of fuel taxes would be used for any bit of motor vehicle infrastructure and taxes would long ago have been well beyond $5 per gallon.
On top of this, we have a trucking industry that gets a fuel tax rebate and uses fuel costs as a tax-deductible expense and puts (in practice infinitely) more wear and tear on the roads than cars. Meanwhile, the railroads have to pay for their rail infrastructure.
I would like to see the government eliminate income taxes and turn to consumption taxes instead. This will be a turn toward the free market economy that corporations pay lip service to but do not actually endorse.
I personally believe that the cost of fuel is trivial compared to the human cost of car culture. I cannot believe that anyone can be truly happy spending two hours a day in a metal box so that they can spend two hours of their day working to pay for the metal box. I personally have chosen the bicycle. I commuted to work every day for 8 years traveling 42km per day in temperatures as low as -35C. I am not superman - or even averageman, I know that most people will say that they couldn't do it but the fact is that they could. I don't need to drive a Prius, I just need to drive less.
I suggest reading "Divorce your car" by Katie Alvord (through the TOP link to Amazon of course).
Doug

Doug,

You hit the nail on the head. It kills me to hear that in the suburbs the car is king. That's a joke. I used to compete in amateur motor sports (rally) and still volunteer at events so have been hanging around car nuts a lot of my life. The last thing that a car lover wants is to sit in stop 'n go traffic, one red light at a time.

It has always amused me that the market for modern sports sedans (remarkable engineering designs) is in large cities where the owners never get to experience the pleasure of driving those cars. I guess they're buying the illusion.

It's going to take creative thinking to get us out of this mess. I used to live in Toronto and though it's tempting to want to put in bicycle-only right-of-ways (we have PLENTY of room to do so), the sheer size of our suburbs works against us. It takes a long time to bicycle from one end of Mississauga to the other (as an example), and in a 3-piece suit in the rain or in winter, it requires way more dedication than we can reasonably expect from humans, I think.

I used to waste 2-3 hours per day in my car staring at highway overpasses and I never liked any of my cars THAT much. It's simply a lousy way to live, and may explain why we have so little regard for our physical surroundings; they are unpleasant. Here in Ottawa, I now have a 20 minute commute, with never any traffic. It's worth a $10k per year pay cut.

I think a lot of people are losing the plot here. More cars of any kind are not the answer. With more and more of the population living in cities, bicycles make more and more sense. Even a diesel Mini effectively takes up 3x the space on the road of one non-polluting person on a bike.

Around town, if I'm heading to shoot something that I need all my lights and gear for, I take a cargo bike, along the lines of my old mountain bike with an xtracycle attached, or my Surly Big Dummy. Some of my photog friends use Bilenky cycle trucks.

I accept that there will always been some people who are handicapped in some way that prevents them from riding, but for the majority of us, we're just lazy.

I do own a personal vehicle, and its use is limited to weekend jaunts out of town; rarely if ever do I drive it around the city.

Hullo
Been reading this for some time. Good that you´re concerned about what can we do on a personal level [ergo, individual activity]. However, there are other issues not addressed or incorrectly addressed in the statements above.

First things first. When taking environmental issues into account, it actually doesn´t matter the usage damage a car does, but THE LIFE CICLE it has. You have to take into consideration production, shipping, storage space, fuel consumption as a user, disposal waste, and reusability and recyclability [if that term were to exist, else I made it up].Up to now, and surprisingly, a Prius is a worse solution than, let´s say, a Town Car. It does actually pollute more than much bigger cars for the fact it is not produced locally for the States, but in Japan.

The second statement I don´t agree with is that about solar power being "off-beat" [meaning it is avaliable when less required]. It may seem to be true for a household, but overall it is far from being correct.

Overall, the biggest electricity consumption does not correspond to households, but to offices and other buildings with artificially induced climate [big-box retailers, shopping malls, office buildings, ...]. Those environments take a toll not for warming up, but for cooling down. Getting air to cool is much more energy demanding than warming it. Therefore, summertime and high temperature times are the energy episodes where most consumption is done, and where solar energy excels.

However, the biggest problem of solar energy is not the light dependability. It is how resource consuming it is. The panel fabrication is very expensive, and the soil or ground consumption is very high, making them unprofitable but for dutch inspired landscape [as in the infamous Dutch Pavillion in Hannover 2000 expo -which I rather liked, both aesthetically and because of its sheer lucidity -http://www.dutchdesignevents.com/images/strangelyfamiliar/mvrdv_dutch%20pavilion_lg.jpg].

Some people up there have said that some others had hit the nail in the head. Not that much. The true eco-whatever is really achieved by consuming less. And rethinking the way we live. Not the way we drive. But going some steps beyond. We hardly need ever more a private car [or at least, not under objective scrutiny]. We tend to live far away from our works, and then say city centres or CBD´s are unsafe. Well, start occupying AGAIN the city centres. Get to know your surroundings.

This last statement [the get to know your surroundings] is much needed. There is that funny little book called "X-Urbanism", by Mario Gandelsonas, which tells you a nice story -reality- on a big McMansion suburbia: two kids had to commute about 2 hours to get to one anothers house to play. When told to place their houses on a map, they realize their backyards where adjacent, just a water stream apart.

Currently, unless spectacular public authority transportation scheme failure, the car is mostly not needed.

And most certainly, were we to use any public transportation system, including cabs, or car hiring, we will both save money and parking stress.

There is another issue I´d like to address -let me scroll up a second, please-.

Yep. About visions. The point is that our future starts with this very present. Actually, the present is a tense that never exists. When it is about to come, it´s still the future. When it is gone, it is the past. Hence, does never exist. So we don´t have to prepare the future. We have to make the future happen. Which is quite a different thing, isn´t it?

Cheers.

Iñaki

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