Author Topic: Why are American cars so inefficient?  (Read 11651 times)

catalana

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Why are American cars so inefficient?
« on: February 19, 2012, 03:20:22 AM »
Please don't think I'm being cheeky, but I am genuinely curious why American cars are so inefficient with fuel versus UK/European cars.  Does anyone know?

velocistar237

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2012, 06:43:01 AM »
Can you give some examples? Don't forget the US liquid gallon vs. Imperial gallon conversion where appropriate.

Fuel is cheaper in America, and in America, bigger is better, so American drivers choose bigger cars. If you take comparably sized cars from America and Europe, they will have comparable fuel efficiency.

catalana

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2012, 09:43:25 AM »
Aha ..... perhaps it is this gallon thing that is the difference.  I had never realised!

So (if my googling is correct) US gallon = 3.785 litres and in the UK a gallon = 4.546 litres.

So - when I see 35 MPG advertised for a US car, that would be 42 MPG in the UK.  That's sounding more like it!

Mike Key

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2012, 11:52:55 AM »
Fuel is cheaper in America, and in America, bigger is better, so American drivers choose bigger cars. If you take comparably sized cars from America and Europe, they will have comparable fuel efficiency.

Our roads are also vastly different. In Europe some cities have roads that have been in place for hundreds or thousands of years, especially true in Greece, Italy, France, Germany. Which is why they often also build smaller cars.

American's aren't used to 3 wheel vehicles for example, but they're common in Europe.

shdrdr

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2012, 12:29:28 PM »
Gas prices in Europe are a lot higher than in the US. Not because the gas itself is more expensive, but because it's taxed a lot more. In some countries 80% of the gas price is tax.  The tax is high for two reasons, collect revenue, and to discourage driving. Public transportation is good and fairly cheap, so having a car is not always a necessity.  Cities tend to be more compact, built back when people walked or traveled by horse.  When new areas are built, the cities usually have a plan and construct a rail line or subway to serve the residents.  In the US a developer is often given a free hand to build as many houses as they can and setting up a bus service to the new area may or may not happen.

We in the US have enjoyed cheap gas for a long time, but the price at the pump only pays for the drilling and refining of oil and distributing the finished product.  It doesn't pay for the health and environmental costs that result from burning the gas.

Matt K

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #5 on: February 21, 2012, 07:02:19 AM »
Another reason for the discrepancy in efficiency is vehicle size and engine power.

The smallest BMW engine you can buy here is a 200+ hp inline 6. In Europe you an buy a inline 4 producing only 120hp (about the same as a corolla) in a BMW 3.

While the smallest typical engine here is about 1.6L (1.4L now for FIAT), in europe 1.2L is "normal" for a ford fiesta, three cylinder engines are common, and in really small cars like the FIAT 500 two cyclinder engines are common.

And then there is the vehicle size. In the US, Camry/Accord/Taurus sized cars are considered normal family cars. If you drive in Canada, you see that shrink by about one class, so the most common cars are Corolla/Civic/Focus (we've got lots of Camrys, but almost no Avalons or similar sized cars). In Europe, you can shrink that again so Yaris/Fit/Fiesta are now the more common cars (even for families).

To put that in perspective, a Mazda 6 (US family car) weighs 3400 pounds (and is pretty light, a Chrysler 300 is more than 4000 pounds). A Mazda 3 (Canadian norm) is 2900 pounds. A Mazda 2 (European) is a svelt 2200 pounds. The Mazda 6 makes between 170 and 250hp depending on engine, and the Mazda 2 makes 100 (and they have 80hp models in Europe).

As was previously stated, this is all driven by a mixture of tight roads and very high gas taxes.

adam

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #6 on: February 21, 2012, 07:30:26 AM »
The simple answer is that there hasn't been a demand for high efficiency cars until just recently.

1)Gas is still very cheap here compared to europe
2)Americans like big cars and trucks (for a number of reasons, but we could spend all day talking about that)
3)Our public transportation system is awful
4)Things are really spread out over here, making public transport at a decent cost very difficult

Mike Key

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #7 on: February 21, 2012, 07:40:21 AM »
3)Our public transportation system is awful
4)Things are really spread out over here, making public transport at a decent cost very difficult

3 and 4 are really big items when you think about how much of a postage stamp Europe is in relation to the US and Canada.

velocistar237

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #8 on: February 21, 2012, 12:32:33 PM »
From 1980 to 2006, Americans chose to drive bigger instead of cheaper, so gas mileage improvements just went to hauling more mass around.

http://www.technologyreview.com/article/39571/

The Mini Cooper and Smart Cars are two of many stepping stones toward a greater acceptance of small cars in America, the first being a generally accepted sports car, and the second stretching the comfort zone of how small a car can be. The number of sub-compact options has exploded in the past few years. I'm hoping this will be a bigger trend. Frankly, it has to be.

Mike Key

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #9 on: February 21, 2012, 02:24:28 PM »
There is really nothing smart about the smart car though. Plenty of reviewers have pointed out it gets the same milage as a Prius. But you get more room with the Prius. So how is that SMART? Not to mention the bloated price tag.

But I agree. Heck we're re-thinking the size/needs vs desires vs reality thing. :)

MsLogica

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #10 on: February 22, 2012, 08:04:06 AM »
I like this question!  Aside from the difference in size of the two countries, I think a lot of it is to do with how cheap fuel is over in the U.S.  There has until recently been no reason to build fuel-efficient cars, because people could afford to run them (and so it became a size and status game).  It's the same reason houses in Britain are on the whole very poorly insulated.  There was no need to build energy efficient housing because we had a domestic fossil fuel supply and heating was relatively cheap.

Now, of course, Britain can't afford to heat its homes and the U.S. will begin to struggle to run their big cars (if they're not already).  The golden years of cheap fuel are over :(. I think with hindsight, we should've both been more like Norway and continued to do things as efficiently as possible whilst laughing gleefully as we watched other countries burn (literally) through their fuels.

velocistar237

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Re: Why are American cars so inefficient?
« Reply #11 on: February 22, 2012, 08:39:30 AM »
Not to mention the bloated price tag.

This used to be true, and for the first few years they were in the US, I called them Dumb Cars (creative, huh?), but now they cost less than a Honda Fit, and half as much as a Prius. If the size works for someone, it's a decent way to go. For me, personally, it just means a subcompact isn't as extreme anymore. The boundaries stretch people's perception of what's possible and have an effect on the average.