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Mandatory Mileage Gauges?
Jamais Cascio, 23 Mar 05

Rod Edwards at Sustainability Zone suggests that making mileage information readouts mandatory would be a useful step towards greater driving efficiency. It's a not-so-unreasonable argument: the cost of implementation would be fairly low, so automakers couldn't complain about expense; it would be useful information, giving consumers a way to make better choices; and anecdotal evidence suggests that drivers change their habits when shown how mileage is affected by driving patterns. I'm told that many new cars already include mileage readouts (some with the ability to shut it off, when the news is too painful). Mandatory mileage gauges would by no means result in sufficient improvement in efficiency by itself, but it would be a good -- and easy -- start.

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Comments

Not so sure I agree. My car has a little gauge on the dash that provides real-time feedback on fuel economy. When I floor the gas, it shows my mileage plummeting; when I coast, it can indicate some pretty impressive numbers.

Problem is, I stopped noticing the gauge after about the first week. Since then: it's driving as usual.


Posted by: Joel Makower on 23 Mar 05

Joel, well you've raised a good point, I'll have to disagree with your disagreement. Do you also advocate removing nutritional labels from packaged foods, or warning labels from cigarettes? People still smoke and eat poorly, after all, so what good are they doing? All those labels do is create costs for their producer, which are passed along to the consumer.

The point of "knowing it for the first time" (in worldchanging parlance) isn't to drive immediate action; its to raise awareness and conciousness in a population, to reinforce the relationship between decisions and consequences, and lead to gradual behaviour change over time.

That being said, I'd still suggest that the surging popularity of hybrids is indication enough that there is demand for this type of information.


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 23 Mar 05

People only care about fuel mileage when gas is expensive. That's the long and short of it.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 23 Mar 05

Does "people" include us?


Posted by: odograph on 24 Mar 05

Sorry, I must not be fully awake this morning. There was a story making the rounds a few days ago that says people (and not just WorldChanging readers) think higher MPG is patriotic.

I've seen it several places, but here is Dr. Drive's coverage.


Posted by: odograph on 24 Mar 05

Does "people" include us?

People in general - it doesn't mean everyone.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

Its been brought to my attention that Mikhail Capone beat me to the punch by a few weeks on this one: please see his post of March 3rd on the same subject! http://mikecapone.blogspot.com/


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 24 Mar 05

Perhaps the idea of real-time gas-mileage feedback is to encourage people to care more, and to help train those who already care. After all, price is another form of feedback - one we've been habituated since childhood to notice. I agree that most Americans, at least, have little concern about gas mileage at today's prices, but that's not axiomatic - not what Dana Meadows used to call an "always true truth."

Maybe the gauge would be more effective if it showed a little video of Leonardo Dicaprio or Julia Roberts, or someone like that, saying, "Hey sweetheart, do we have a lead foot today?" or "Wow, you sure know how to go far on a gallon of gas, sugar!" or stuff like that.


Posted by: David Foley on 24 Mar 05

Here's what I wrong on this exact subject a while ago: Here, MPG-meters in all cars.

Joel: is the gauge in your car some small thing that is hard to see while driving? I'm advocating for small LCD screens like in most hybrids, with easy to read graphs.


Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 24 Mar 05

Perhaps the idea of real-time gas-mileage feedback is to encourage people to care more, and to help train those who already care.

I've touched on this in a previous post:
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/002303.html

It's nice to think that somehow people are going to wake up and be altruistic and ignore economics, but that simply isn't going to happen. We saw fuel price spikes around the time of the Gulf War in 1991, and that was a period of amazing optimism and attention given to environmental issues. What happened to that? Well, the economy got much better, gas got much cheaper, and greed got a grip on pretty much everyone towards the end of the decade.

You can go back and look at old magazines or newspapers and examine car ads. The only time that fuel mileage is ever touted is when gas is relatively expensive. In those times, we see new models brought out that have much higher fuel mileage than their predecessors. The Honda Civic VX is a good example of this.

To give you some more perspective, my cars both get 42 mpg on the highway. Do you know what model year they are? 1981. That's about 25 years ago. Do you know how many new gas-powered vehicles get the same or better highway mileage than that? 5. And three of those are hybrids.

It just so happens that 1981 is the time when, adjusted for inflation, the US experienced its highest gas prices ever. Since then, there have been vehicles like the Geo Metro (a Suzuki rebrand), the Civic CRX HF, and the Civic VX which all got highway mileage in the 50-60 mpg range. But you don't see any of them anymore - just the new hybrids.

Every time the sustainability movement gets a new wind, we go through this process of believing in a "shift in values". But the fact is that conservation, efficiency, alternative fuels, etc, all pretty much move with prices. It always comes back to true feedback - the pocketbook. "Values" are more fashion to people than anything else -- and like all fashions, they come and go. It's perfectly fine to hope for a permanent shift in values, but I certainly wouldn't stake everything on it, or you're probably going to be very disappointed.

Maybe the gauge would be more effective if it showed a little video of Leonardo Dicaprio or Julia Roberts, or someone like that, saying, "Hey sweetheart, do we have a lead foot today?" or "Wow, you sure know how to go far on a gallon of gas, sugar!" or stuff like that.

I hope that is completely tongue-in-cheek, because that's treading into Orwell territory there. I'm just trying to think of Americans, in their own car, being forced to have to put up with messages like that. The fuel mileage feedback system is a decent idea, but when you get into the realm of being mandatory (and at worse, obtrusive), then it will almost certainly do more harm than good in terms of reactionary backlash.

That's JMO.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

when:

"The poll also found an overwhelming 89 percent of Americans agreed on the importance of government action to reach a 40 mpg fuel efficiency level, to cut greenhouse pollution as well as dependency on Mideast oil."

isn't it time to stop complaining that people will never change, and leverage off that majority?

(from the previous Dr. Drive link)


Posted by: odograph on 24 Mar 05

"The poll also found an overwhelming 89 percent of Americans agreed on the importance of government action to reach a 40 mpg fuel efficiency level, to cut greenhouse pollution as well as dependency on Mideast oil."

Yeah - and what is the average price of gasoline right now compared to, say, 1999? And did they have a similar poll back then, or was it such a non-topic then that the question wasn't even asked?


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

Joseph, I've hear the 1981 Civic HF argument used before, to point to fact that Americans don't care about mileage, or that car manufacturers are transpiring against us, or whatever. There was a letter to the editor in Car and Driver a few months back deriding the state of automotive technology and the fact that with all their geewhiz technology, hybrids could barely equal the mileage of an early eighties Civic HF.

I'd like to point out, though, that this comparison is at least somewhat spurious, as the cars of 1981 and the cars of today are fundamentally different in a number of ways. Emissions devices, side impact beams, 5mph bumpers, and air bags are all mandated vehicle improvements that make a modern car's task that much harder. Additionally, consider that while getting Civic HF mileage in your Prius, you're doing so with air conditioning, a comfortable ride, a nice sound system, a quiet drive, and so on, and the comparison becomes moot.

A valid pure mileage comparison would be between a Civic HF and a Prius stripped of hundreds of pounds of collision equipment, sound deadening, HVAC equipment, stereo, emissions equipement, useable back seat and trunk space, etc. etc. I wonder what kind of mileage a Prius stripped to 1600 lbs would get?


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 24 Mar 05

Just to clarify - Odograph, I am not complaining about anything, just stating some basic facts about how people are and have been for many years. We've gone through this pattern before.

Absolutely - leverage the heck out of this moment. It's rare to have gas prices so high for such an extended period, along with a long conflict in the Middle East. Hybrids have sold like gangbusters because of that.

But to give you another personal example - I went to test drive a Prius a couple years back and there was no waiting list to buy one, no premium to pay the dealer. The dealer didn't even really know much about the car or care about it. Same thing when I drove a Civic Hybrid.

When Bush took office in 2001, gas was about $1/gallon. Only after the Iraq War started did gas clip $2. The only time I ever recall it going about that high was a brief period in California during the time of the Gulf War in 1991.

I even remember going out to eat at a local joint on 9/11/01. The restaurant is on a busy local street, across the street from a gas station. Now, what did Americans do on a day of national tragedy? What I saw was a line of cars going for blocks down the street, as people panicked and waited for hours to fill up their gas tanks, in case prices went through the roof. During our dinner, we saw more than one instance of cars almost hitting one another on the street and people getting into it with one another at the pumps. I'll never forget the absurdity of that, nor the disgust I felt at how people behave in critical moments.

A local gas station even had the gall to put their price at $4 that day.

That, my friend, is America. It's just the way it is.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

Joseph, I've hear the 1981 Civic HF argument used before, to point to fact that Americans don't care about mileage, or that car manufacturers are transpiring against us, or whatever. There was a letter to the editor in Car and Driver a few months back deriding the state of automotive technology and the fact that with all their geewhiz technology, hybrids could barely equal the mileage of an early eighties Civic HF.

No, they are just normal Civics - a sedan and a wagon. The "HF" designation is for certain models of Civic CRXs (you know, the little two-seaters). They are normal compact cars - four doors, seating for five. The wagon's actually pretty spacious.

I'd like to point out, though, that this comparison is at least somewhat spurious, as the cars of 1981 and the cars of today are fundamentally different in a number of ways. Emissions devices, side impact beams, 5mph bumpers, and air bags are all mandated vehicle improvements that make a modern car's task that much harder.

Well, emissions devices and air bags don't really weigh that much, a car has a bumber regardless of safety standards, and any side-impact beams weigh a negligible amount.

Additionally, consider that while getting Civic HF mileage in your Prius, you're doing so with air conditioning, a comfortable ride, a nice sound system, a quiet drive, and so on, and the comparison becomes moot.

The comparison is moot? I'm not really sure what you're getting at. I'm simply stating that cars were made with great mileage 25 years ago and in the interim, almost all advances in technology have been plowed into horsepower and not into fuel economy. The reason - cheap gas.

I didn't make a specific comparison of my vehicles with a Prius, nor would I. They're not the same cars. The Insight or Civic Hybrid might be more analogous - the Insight because its weight is approximately the same and the Civic because its size is about the same. The Prius is a midsize car and is definitely a big step forward in vehicle technology. I really like it.

I wonder what kind of mileage a Prius stripped to 1600 lbs would get?

I don't know. Insight gets 61/70, and my cars get 32/42. So, it seems the hybrid technology, combined with better aerodynamics and better transmissions, bumps it about 80-100%. Which, again, is great.

It still has nothing to do with the fact that the reason those cars are selling well is because gas is expensive. The Civic VX, which came out in 1992, was able to get 55 on the highway. Came with a lovely stereo, air conditioning, and all the fun. Same kind of size as you see in modern Civic hatchbacks. They stopped making it because gas got cheap again.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

I suspect that many people who would want to purchase more sanely sized cars are afraid to do so because the roads of North-America are filled with huge SUVs (or squared-out minivans, as I call them -- it's all about deflating the image). There's an arms race going on out there. People are afraid of being out-gunned.


Posted by: Mikhail Capone on 24 Mar 05

I suspect that many people who would want to purchase more sanely sized cars are afraid to do so because the roads of North-America are filled with huge SUVs (or squared-out minivans, as I call them -- it's all about deflating the image). There's an arms race going on out there. People are afraid of being out-gunned.

Yep.

"People also buy them because it makes them feel safer and it certainly is safer in crashes with other vehicles because of size. And as more people bought these vehicles, it became a reinforcing cycle to simply protect oneself from other oversized vehicles."
http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/002320.html


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

I'd just like to add my two cents. I've been taking an Energy Economics course at my school, and the professor illuminated a very insightful point: All of this talk focus on fuel economy, EPA standards, CAFE, etc, are possibly all for naught, because increases in MPG does one thing: It makes driving cheaper. If driving becomes cheaper, then surprise, surprise, people will drive more. The most effective way to decrease petroleum dependence, improve the environment, etc, etc, is to increase consumers' marginal costs of driving. That is, let the price of fuel go up, or make it go up. We could make like the Euro's and slap on a hefty-sized fuel tax. Or, we could just wait and let the price rise on its own...


Posted by: Michael Soto on 24 Mar 05

That is, let the price of fuel go up, or make it go up. We could make like the Euro's and slap on a hefty-sized fuel tax. Or, we could just wait and let the price rise on its own...

There's a difference between taxing and simple higher prices - where the money goes. In the former case, it can be used to pay down debt, invest in infrastructure (like all sorts DSM for transportation), and so forth, where in the other case it goes to make lots of totalitarian and/or corrupt nations with ties to terrorism very wealthy. It also enriches the political base for reactionary politicos domestically.


Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 24 Mar 05

Joseph (and others): Yes, the Leonardo/Julia comment was completely tongue in cheek. I'm too old to attempt irony on the Internet. It was an oblique way to illustrate what does and doesn't command our attention: celebrity does, energy efficiency doesn't. But there's nothing graven in stone that says that people will always pay attention to money and celebrity, but not to lessening their impact on the planet. I've heard the same person tell me that "All humans are greedy and shortsighted" as if that were a law of physics, and in the next breath tell me, "The 2nd law of thermoodynamics is just a theory," as if entropy were a mere opinion.

(That person was a tenured professor of economics, by the way. Weird and scary.)

We can learn. We can notice what seemed unimportant before. When everything else has deserted us, learning is still there, like a faithful lover.


Posted by: David Foley on 24 Mar 05



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