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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A False Economy...

When I was a kid I lived in the days of the giant land yachts - huge nine, ten or more passenger station wagons that could hall a family or a good portion of a sports team to an event.  Gas at the time was around a $0.25 USD a gallon and I recall price wars at gas stations taking the prices even lower on occasions.

These baby's had 455 V8's that cranked out 375 or so in horsepower, giant living-room couch-like seats that could easily hold four kids across and a giant, three-kid rear-facing seat in the back.  Even with all the seats loaded you could easily cruise at 75 MPH.

To support the 455 V8 there was a thirty gallon gas tank - a $7.50 expense to fill in 1971 - an a buck at the pump got you plenty of miles even though the MPG was only around 10 or 12.

The 1973 oil embargo changed all this, though, and pushed gas up to $0.75 or more a gallon.

In these bygone days there were some efficiencies with these vehicles, however.

Let's say you wanted to go to the mall.

The vehicle could carry not only the family of five but several of the kids friends as well - maybe a total of eight people.

If the mall was thirty miles away it might take two and a half gallons of gas to get there (at 12 MPG).

So 2.5 gallons of gas moves eight (8) people 30 miles let's say.

What spurred me to write this post was various holiday activities and the number of vehicles involved.

One of the things dad's do is take the "kiddies" off the hands of those doing the "cooking" during the holidays.  You can only do so much cooking with little tykes running around screaming and yelling and sticking their hands into the pie dough.  If the dad's are just sitting there they might as well take the tykes off to run around at a play center of some kind.

In the olden days everyone could pile into a single car for a trip to the mall for a couple of hours.

Using our mall example above that's 8 people x 30 miles or 240 people/miles for a one way trip.

If 240 people/miles requires 2.5 gallon of gas that means a gallon of gas moves things along 96 people/miles.

Today this kind of trip - eight people - cannot be accomplished with a single vehicle. 

You need two.

So with two vehicles you need 24 MPG to accomplish the same trip.

(In addition the kiddies all need special seats up until they're about 7 or 8 years old which makes it impractical to do any sort of seat reorganization for efficiency.)

Today's cars get this better mileage - but you need two.

Twice the number of tires.

Twice the manufacturing capacity in terms of auto plants.

Gallons of petroleum to make all the plastic parts in the cars (and car seats).

Twice the number of everything including the full support infrastructure of gas stations, repair shops, etc.

Sure the modern vehicles are smaller and lighter - but we need more (twice as many) of them to get the same job completed.  (And yes I know that not everyone needs to travel to the mall every day.)

So this has all made me wonder if the EPA mileage requirements are really helping - because having twice as many of everything uses even more fuel that only having one thing using more gas.

According to this there are probably almost twice as many cars today as 1971.

Domestic oil production has decreased significantly since then.

And gasoline consumption has remained relatively (within 20%) constant.

So while cars are more efficient we use far more gas, far more diesel, and import far more oil.

So I am starting to wonder if all this isn't a false economy (no pun intended), i.e., while we all think we are saving the planet we are in fact doing more harm than good because of the energy cost do it.

The problem is that no one thinks about the "big picture" - does a lot of requirements to create thus and such a MPG rate really reduce the effective rate of consumption - or is the consumption increasing and other effects masking the result?

Would people use less gas if MPG had remained low?

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