General Motors makes a small VAN which gets 40MPG (better than the average small car in the US) which costs around $5,000 (unfortunately only sold in China.)
Kawasaki makes a motorcycle which gets between 60 and 70 MPG (The EX250R) – which also can go 0-60 in under 6 seconds and tops out at 100MPH – and costs $3,000.
These vehicles are substantially SIMPLER than most cars, with no hybrid systems, no turbochargers, not even fuel injection. What the two have in common is light weight, and low power, and a lack of luxury add-ons.
The average US family is 3-4 people, so there is no reason a three or four person car would not fit the needs of most Americans. Besides for that most US households have 2 vehicles, and the average trip is less than two people (driver and passenger) so a motorcycle, scooter, or ultra small car could be a families’ commute vehicle, with a secondary (4 person) car for weekend trips and family outings.
The only way for America to break its dependence on foreign oil will be for us to realize the difference between luxury and necessity. We may need to pick the kids up after school, but we don’t need to do it in a 6000lb 200hp car that gets 25mpg.
I have a 5000lb truck, a Ford F-250 which is about as long and wide as any SUV.
In my defense:
1 I work as a hauler / mover, so I actually do need its full size and power on a regular basis.
2 I run it on 100% modified, recycled vegetable oil.
3 for personal transportation I usually ride my 300lb 250cc motorcycle that gets 55mpg, or ride my bicycle.
The Prius aggravates me to no end.
I have yet to see one with 5 passengers in it.
There is no good reason Americans need a car that big.
There is a strong argument in favor of the automakers claim of market forces. They made a real hybrid for quite a few years. It was the first. It was small. It got 70mpg. It was called the Insite.
It didn’t sell.
Honda eventually discontinued it. The Prius however, allows people to spend a little more money, in order to feel good about themselves, without making any actual sacrifices at all. Normal amount of speed and power, plenty of room, all the modern luxuries.
It sells out.
My motorcycle gets significantly better mpg than the Prius. It is not a hybrid. It doesn’t even have fuel injection. It has a 36bhp, 1/4 liter engine, (although it is still capable of going 100mph, and goes 0-60 in under 6 seconds). It costs $3000, brand new.
In China GM makes and sells a van (not a mini van, but smaller than the US version of a full size van) which gets 40mpg. A van. 40mpg. Better than the average US compact car. Better even than the European standard. And its a van.
It is made by a US company, but they don’t sell it here.
We used to have one reasonably efficient car. It was very small, and it got up to 50mpg. It also cost under $10,000 making it the cheapest car available at the time (and cheaper than any available today). It was called the Geo Metro.
In the 1970s a guy named Craig Vetter held mileage competitors. They were held at highway speeds. The winners generally had to get over 500mpg. This was with 1970s technology.
Achieving 100mpg in a passenger car would not only be easy, it could almost certainly be done for less money than the average new car today. The changes would not need to be all that dramatic.
- Low power. If the old 1970s beetle could merge on to the freeway, we can learn to do it today too. 0-60 in 15 or 20 seconds should be sufficient for an experienced driver. The speed limit is the US is 75 (with a few exceptions) Rarely does anyone have need to go above 85. This is generally considered reckless. Yet cars are consistently designed to be capable of 100+mph. The more power you give a car, the faster people will drive. This is by far the most significant factor in how much fuel a vehicle – any sized vehicle – uses. It is insane that minivans come standard with 200hp today.
- Small. 4 passenger. 2 doors. Small wheels. Hatch back.
- Light. Aluminum frame and wheels. Not so plush seats. Plastic body panels.
- Manual. Stick shift transmission,
- No power robbing luxury add-ons. no A/C, no power steering, no power brakes, small alternator – these things are all a drain on the engine as well as adding extra weight. With a small light car they become unnecessary, which in turn allows it to be even smaller and lighter.
- Diesel. This would add a little to the cost and weight, however, diesels get better mileage and are way more durable (meaning the entire car lasts longer which is also an environmental plus), have less maintenance needs, plus now the US is mandating low sulfur diesel making them about equally clean (or slightly better) than gas engines, and of course they can be run on bio-diesel with no modifications.
These steps alone should easily get to the 60-100 range. Adding in expensive options like carbon body panels, titanium frame, continuously variable transmission, and, once its invented, a air pressure based regenerative braking energy recovery system (instead of the electric type currently used – that’s all a “hybrid” really is) who knows how much better it could get?
However, a key point really is sales. The people who sponsored the X-prize (10 million for the first private company to send a person into space) have a new contest: First private company to develop a 100mpg passenger car that can go freeway speeds. The catch? It has to sell. In the range of 10,000 units a year. This is an exciting competition. Obviously you and I aren’t the only ones on to this efficiency thing after all. They did get someone into space. Maybe they can sell 10,000 100mpg cars in the US too!
They require side by side seating, which I find very unfortunate, as it eliminates what I think is the best new design in personal transportation that I have ever seen, the tango.