View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Thursday, October 23, 2003

Easterbrook Gets Cars Wrong

Gregg Easterbrook's blog today looks at why your car should be less powerful. Easterbrook makes the valid point that car companies have been increasing horsepower as they increase power train efficiency, since there's been no federal requirement to increase fuel efficiency. Since fuel economy needs to increase, Easterbrook wants to regulate engine horsepower. Here's the money quote:

Commentators tend to assume that because fuel-efficiency averages have not risen since 1989, Detroit has not improved powertrain efficiency. Actually, gains in powertrain efficiency have been quite impressive in the last 15 years--it's just that all the new efficiency has gone into horses, not MPG.

Cars need to be able to accelerate for highway-merging and a few other real-world situations; most vehicles sold in the United States have sufficient power for merging and other legal-driving purposes. Horsepower has little to do with top speed, until you pass around 80 MPH; almost all new vehicles sold in the United States can sustain 90 miles per hour, and a spooky number can sustain 120 MPH or more. Otherwise, the arms race in horsepower is about feeling macho and cutting other drivers off.

Horsepower has never been regulated, but there's no God-given right to it. Fuel efficiency needs to go up. If the Bush analysis is correct, and weight reduction brings a safety risk, then how about horsepower reduction instead? Bonus: The driving environment would become less frantic, as fewer leadfoots stomped the gas pedal to cut others off.

Ok, Gregg, I don't know if you've actually driven outside of the DC area. There are some nice rural areas nearby, kept that way by a Montgomery County government determined to make sure that locally grown corn continues to stand in the way of a better Potomac River crossing on US-15. Maybe they're hoping for an ethanol contract. Drive to them sometime. Because there's a whole country out there where people drive, where they are no traffic lights.

Out here in Colorado, for instance, we have these things called "mountains." Sometimes they have lots of snow on them, and we can't drive up them. But much of the year, we like driving from Denver to other parts of the state, or even the country, and to do that, we need to drive over these "mountains." They're steep. They're tall. And if you want to get to Grand Junction while it's still daylight, you want to traverse them in a V-6. Try to cross I-70 in a V-4, and you'll not only get out to see if you've stopped, you probably will have stopped.

Also, there are these large states out here called "Montana" and "Texas" and "Nevada." Parts of these states are stunningly beautiful. Other parts of these states are best seen from a) 30,000 ft., or b) at night at 90 MPH. If I need to cover 700 miles, that 20 MPH is the difference between arriving in time to get some sleep, or arriving in time to wake up. Believe it or not, this is actually an issue for thousands of people in business. It's also an issue for millions of people who take vacations.

As for the leadfoots you hope to regulate into sedation: forget it. I realize that many people who like government regulation have only a tenuous grasp on the fundamentals of human nature, but stay with me here. If you take a raging, over-caffeinated, maniac with a V-6 or an SUV, and take away pickup and acceleration from him, you're going to get a more enraged maniac, hell-bent on endangering more lives. I am a much calmer driver with my Contour V-6 than I ever was with my Escort V-4. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the car. It had everything to do with my deciding that I really couldn't go through all the cars in front of me. In any case, if you power down all the cars, the maniac will have his advantage right back.

Blogarama - The Blog Directory
help Israel
axis of weevils
contact us
site sections