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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fueling Fires

Just as the seasons occur in a cyclical order, so do fluctuations of fuel prices.  This is no coincidence.  Fuel is a consumable like any other.  Its price variations are strongly influenced by supply and the demands of the consumer and we happen to drive more during the holidays and the warm months.  In addition, after considering inflation rates, gas prices have not changed very much.  Still, there's no shortage of people who complain like clockwork when the prices start taking a hike.  While most give the generic complaint about high prices.  There's a particular subset of whiner that really annoys.

This subset consists of people who compare the fuel mileage of their first generation Honda Civic to the current model without any considerations outside that magical metric.  They ruminate endlessly about their precious first Civic covering 40 miles before moving onto its second gallon of dead dinosaur.  As they regain their self-awareness and refocus their eyes to the present, they realize that car is gone and their current model gets a paltry 34 mpg on the highway.

Yes, taking these numbers as they stand constitutes a travesty in itself as well as being a failure of modern engineering.  Without getting into engineering jargon, let's try to look at the whole picture here.  And by whole picture I mean the entire car to see where that not so insignificant 15% went.

First off, the eighth generation sedan is about 28 inches longer, 10 inches wider, and 4 inches taller than the first generation version.  All those extra dimensions equate to an increased curb weight of 1100 pounds and allow you to grab four buds and rock out pretty comfortably in between bars on the weekends.  This can't exactly be said for the Civic from the 70s unless you are all medically diagnosed midgets.

Though, the midget mobile does have one sweet party trick.  It can instantaneously become an accordion (the instrument not its bigger brother in the lineup) in the event of a head-on collision.  If those midgets want to survive in their 1-star crash rated petrol sippy cup, they better be priests and they better be praying hard.  In other words, that extra 1100 pounds and 6 mpg hit will keep you alive.  With standard ABS, a 5-star frontal crash rating, and a smorgasbord of airbags, crash survival for you and your four friends is a very good probability.  To hammer this point home, here are the crash test videos:

Note the driver's head in the older car. OUCH!

At this point in the discussion, that nostalgic owner will say something about still being alive even after driving his old Civic for an indeterminately long period of time.  This is all well and good except for the fact that according to the U.S. Bureau of Transit and Statistics there were over 250 million registered vehicles on the road in the United States in 2006.  This is the result of a steady growth of 3.69 million vehicles per year since 1960.  It's much harder to avoid stupid drivers today than ever before.

Fuel prices of the past several years have been akin to a roller coaster ride that has left the consumer holding on for dear life.  The current crop of small cars promises size comparable to mid-size family sedans of just 10 years ago without surrendering much in terms of efficiency.  That growth in size is only surpassed by the growth in available safety equipment.  While it's not the most glamorous topic, nobody ever complains about too much safety.

1 comment:

  1. Are those supposed to be "safety" pop-out windshields?!