• Nov 6, 2007
We've all seen celebrities marching on Capital Hill and appearing before Congress to support their cause du jour of the day. In the same vein, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click n' Clack on their public radio program Car Talk, recently sent a letter to the House Select Committee on Global Warming urging the government to increase fuel economy standards. Believe it or not, they deliver just as many jokes when addressing Congress as they do their 3 million+ listeners every week. Their main point is that automakers could achieve a national fleetwide average of 35 MPG in five years if it were a priority. They argue that U.S. automakers have claimed higher fuel economy standards would ruin them for the past 50 years, and each time the bar has been raised a little higher, they've managed to adapt and still deliver unto us our SUVs and muscle cars. At the same time, the brothers remark that it may be time for more appropriately-sized and -powered vehicles, suggesting those days of large SUVs and high-power muscle cars should end. Curiously, they also seem to predicate their call for a higher fuel economy standard on the benefit of energy independence alone, making no mention of the environmental perks that are obviously associated.
The letter can be read in its entirety after the jump.

[Source: The Detroit News via AutoblogGreen]

Tom and Ray Magliozzi
Box 3500 Harvard Square
Cambridge MA 02238

Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
United States House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515

Oct. 25, 2007

To Members of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

You are about to make a crucial decision that may be a turning point for our country. As you consider how high to raise our nation's CAFÉ standards, you are undoubtedly coming under a barrage of lobbying from various parties. Including us! The obvious question is, who do you believe?

On the one hand, you have people like Ed Markey, who's been trying to increase fuel economy for as long as we can remember. Admittedly, he's from Massachusetts. And yes, we've seen his haircut.

On the other hand, you have the automotive industry (i.e. car salesmen), whose ratings for honesty are below even those of Congress in public opinion surveys. Let's remember why:

In 1972, Ford President Lee Iacocca, told you that if the "EPA does not suspend the catalytic converter rule, it will cause Ford to shut down." Hm. That wasn't exactly right on the money, was it?

A couple of years later, car makers were back in front of you guys, squealing over proposed new fuel economy standards. Chrysler Vice President of Engineering, Alan Loofborrow, predicted that imposing fuel economy standards might "outlaw a number of engine lines and car models including most full-size sedans and station wagons. It would restrict the industry to producing subcompact size cars-or even smaller ones-within five years." That thing got a Hemi, Alan?

As the industry triple-teamed Congress to keep America from improving fuel economy, a Ford Executive let fly this whooper: If CAFÉ became law, the move could result "in a Ford product line consisting either of all sub-Pinto sized vehicles..." Ask the man who drives an Expedition if that ever came to pass.

The onslaught of "we can't...it'll ruin us... you're denying Americans a choice of vehicles" begins every time we the people-through our elected representatives-try to bring the auto industry, kicking and screaming into the modern era. And every time, their predictions of motorized-skateboard futures have failed to materialize. Let us repeat that, because the historical record bears it out to a tee. Every single time they've resisted safety, environmental, or fuel economy regulations, auto industry predictions have turned out, in retrospect, to be fear-mongering bull-feathers.

Isn't it time we (you) stop falling for this 50 year-long line of baloney?
The truth is, significantly higher average fuel economy can be achieved. In fact it's already being achieved. And if we don't push our own auto industry to set world class standards, they'll be beaten again by the Japanese, the Koreans, and maybe even the Chinese, who will do it with or without U.S. Congressional action.

There are technologies aplenty that already exist that could be used to meet much higher CAFE standards.

  • Hybrid-electric vehicles. Hybrids offer, in many cases, a 50% increase in mileage over gasoline versions of the same vehicles. GM just introduced a hybrid Chevy Tahoe, that reportedly gets better city mileage than a Toyota Camry.
  • Clean diesel engines. With new, clean diesel fuel now mandated in America, expect a surge of clean diesel engines in the next three to five years that get 25% better fuel economy than their gasoline counterparts.
  • Diesel-electric hybrids. Combine the advantages of hybrids with more efficient diesel engines.
  • Turbo chargers and super chargers. These force additional air into cylinders to wring more power out of available fuel.
  • Cylinder deactivation. Cylinders that are not needed at any given moment, are deactivated, and instantaneously reactivated as soon as the driver demands additional power. Widely available now.
  • Plug-in, series hybrids. Now on the drawing boards, plug-in hybrids allow drivers to charge up overnight, when the electric grid is underused, and they'll handle most commutes without ever firing up their internal combustion engines.
  • Automatic stop-start technology. At least one energy analyst we spoke to believes that this simple technology, in and of itself, could result in a 10% decrease in fuel use. It's already used in hybrid vehicles, foreign and domestic, and is on its way in more vehicles in the next couple of years.
  • Higher voltage electrical systems. These save fuel by allowing energy draining systems, such as power steering, and air conditioning, to be run electrically, instead of by draining power from the engine and using fuel.
  • Regenerative braking. Captures energy otherwise lost when the car slows down to give further boost to onboard battery systems.
  • Safe, lightweight materials. Lightweight steel, aluminum and carbon fiber panels reduce weight, allowing a smaller, more efficient engine to propel a car just as fast on less fuel.
  • Better transmissions. Six speed automatic transmissions, widely available now from Ford and others, increase fuel economy by 5% and offer smoother acceleration. Mercedes has seven speeds. Lexus has eight. Nissan has CVTs-continuously variable transmissions. All of these improve mileage AND performance.
  • Common rail fuel injection. Now standard on modern diesels, this same high pressure fuel delivery technology is beginning to be used to increase fuel economy in gasoline engines, too.
  • All wheel drive systems that use electric motors at the non-driven wheels, like on the Lexus RX350 hybrid, eliminate heavy, gas-wasting differentials and drive train components on cars designed to go in the snow.
  • More appropriately sized and weighted cars. When we're facing a future of global oil wars and economy-killing gasoline prices, perhaps having single commuters drive 5,000 pound SUVs is something we'll just have to learn to live without. And modern computer electronics, such as stability control, can now ameliorate any driving dynamic issues that result from lack of mass.
  • More appropriately powered cars. In 1964, the most powerful, over-the-top Mustang muscle car you could buy came with an optional, four-barrel, 271 horsepower engine. Today, that's what comes standard on the highest rated minivans. 275 horsepower. To take your kid to nursery school? What does this say about our national priorities? Do we really want to send our kids to fight and die in the desert so that can go 0-60 in eight seconds instead of ten seconds?
The truth is, we could achieve a CAFE standard of 35 miles per gallon in five years if we made it a priority. Every one of the above technologies is either available now or is well along in the pipeline. There's nothing "pie in the sky" here that hasn't been thought of or invented yet.

Look what American industry did in World War II. Look what we did with the space program. It's time to make energy independence just as high a priority. And it starts with you guys (and gals), our representatives. Don't buy the "can't do" bull this time.

Not only can it be done, but by increasing CAFÉ standards dramatically, you'll be helping the American automotive industry compete-by forcing them to synchronize their priorities with those of the American people, and the populations of other countries where they will be increasingly marketing their cars.

It's the job of private enterprise to design and sell products. But it's the job of Congress to set our national priorities. Trust us, the car companies won't go out of business because America insists that they build the world's best, most efficient cars. We urge you to set the bar high for American ingenuity. We have no doubt out car industry will make the grade-to the benefit of all Americans.

Sincerely,

Tom and Ray Magliozzi


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  • 45 Comments
      • 7 Years Ago
      CAFE is what has brought the US to the mess they are in now. The older CAFE standards made it impossible to profitably make the sort of barges that used to be sold as luxury cars. Since trucks are exempt, the industry simply dressed up trucks as the new luxury barges now even heavier and less aerodynamic.

      Why does this work in Europe? Simple, petrol costs more. Taxing gasoline is the only answer that works. Arguments that this will destroy the economy have about as much merit as the above arguments about CAFE standards killing the automakers. Gasoline is now about $3 per gallon in the US. Is the economy dead yet?
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have to say that for such a touchy topic, there has been some really well-mannered, intelligent discussion here.

      Find me something wooden to knock on.
        • 7 Years Ago
        The problem with CAFE is that it is just an average. Automakers will make a few tiny cars that won't sell to offset the huge SUV's that everyone is buying. They don't have to sell 100 thousand 50 mpg cars to make 100 thousand 15 mpg SUV's, they just have to have them for sale. SUV and small car sales are directly tied to the price of fuel. CAFE also ignores the mileage of large commercial vehicles like semi's. What about the millions of semi's on the road getting 5 mpg? Don't they count as large fuel consumers? What about the massive amount of consumer products that are disposable and made of oil based plastic? The only thing that will actually make people use less fuel is high cost. An incremented tax increase on fuel will establish the fact that high fuel prices are here to stay and could pay for the Iraq debacle. You (the middle class) WILL be hit with a large tax increase to pay for the war anyway, regardless of which idiot is elected. CAFE is typical American thinking. Blame the automakers for our excess fuel use, blame McDonalds for us being overweight, blame Walmart for all of the imported Chinese junk. STOP buying the gas guzzlers and the automakers WILL respond. And for MT: THT's economics 101.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Never liked these guys very much. Have caught their show many times on NPR, and their bias is often evident. Plus, they never seem to recommend anything to callers other than a Toyota Corolla or Honda Accord.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Oops Civic I mean. Can't tell those Japanese cars apart. ;-)
      • 7 Years Ago
      Bill - sorry I wrote alonger reply but it didin't take... anyway from Wikipedia:

      "In economics, it is often common to use the word "rationing" to refer to one of the roles that prices play in markets, while rationing (as the word is usually used) is called "non-price rationing." Using prices to ration means that those with the most money (or other assets) and who want a product the most are first to receive it. Such rationing happens daily in a market economy."
      • 7 Years Ago
      Actually, I think we can all solve this problem in ONE simple solution.

      The government should buy Mercedes' DiesOtto engine technology for a high price (they're entitled to it if they share the tech) and then spread that tech out over all the relevant automakers so they can adapt it for power and whatnot.

      Then everybody gets 30-40mpg minimum and we can all sleep easier.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Repeat after me:

        Emissions does not equal fuel economy

        Diesel, per unit of crude used, is often not more efficient than gasoline.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Well smartypants. If you did your research you'd know that a DiesOtto is essentially a gasoline engine which achieves the efficiency of a Diesel Engine through Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI). So it is not a diesel engine.

        You'd also know that diesel fuel has a higher energy density than gasoline, containing approximately 147,000 BTUs of energy compared to a gasoline engine's 125,000 BTUs of energy. So therefore diesel IS more efficient than gasoline. And even if they used diesel fuel they could just use clean-diesel which has lower emissions and it is already widely available these days.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Oh goody, now some guys on a radio show get to tell me what size car I get to drive. Wow, talk about freedom of choice!
      • 7 Years Ago
      Ok, lets get something straight, in most states, gasoline tax makes up less than 50 cents per gallon of gas; in other words most of the current cost of gas is in fact not related to taxes.

      Further, if we can buy less fuel less often, then in fact fuel is an elastic commodity. Under current patterns of living, its hard for us to do either, thus fuel is mostly inelastic. That being said, over time, higher prices could encourage saving fuel, both through the purchase of better vehicles and through using carpooling, mass transit etc.

      Now in general, if implemented properly, a fuel tax could work... it has in Europe, and many European Countries have strong economies right now.

      Now, saying all of that, I am not in favor of fuel taxes for now. I am in favor of increased CAFE standards or other government mandated standards. The basic problem with the market is that it is essentially reactive to conditions to exist. It has very little ability to anticipate the future. Barring a truely major discovery (akin to finding another Saudi Arabia) it is likely that fuel costs will only continue to grow as China and India demand an increasing share of the world's oil supply. The market, though starting to react now, still produces plenty of ineffient vehicles and ultimately will while there are those who are willing to buy them barring government intervention.

      Now I expect someone will say, "if I an afford the cost, why shouldn't I be allowed to run an 8 mpg Hummer?" The reason is simple, by using more fuel, you are reducing the supply even further and thus driving the price up for everyone. And of course once demand exceeds supply, then even a moderate increase in demand results in dramatically higher prices for everyone.

      • 7 Years Ago
      mk,

      You really hit it the nail on the head with your comments. I can't believe how many citizens seem to actually want more taxes! They don't seem to understand that we simply cannot be taxed into prosperity.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Hey MK,
        I agree with you that taxes are not a viable option. It works better in Europe because they have a built in infrastructure of public transportation, but that is not so in the USA. In America the people rely on their cars by no fault of their own, that is why I think the car companies need to have a fuel standard of at LEAST 35 mpg. The price of gas is already $4 a gallon! that is more than ever before and Americans can't afford it!

        All of the excellent points you made about how taxing gas will be harmful will still happen, but through the natural rise in prices. A fuel standard is necessary if this is not going to happen. Also, as I understand it, the energy standard calls for an average of 35 mpg, so some cars can still get 25 mpg if others get 50mpg. This means that those that prefer big gas guzzlers can still get them while others craving high milage due to economic or environmental factors can too. The bill is an excellent undertaking, it will help the economy, create jobs, wean the US off foreign oil, and help to control pollution and climate change.

        I urge you to sign the petition at http://www.energybill2007.org in order to get this bill passed!
      • 7 Years Ago
      @ Sam Agnew
      "Why does this work in Europe? Simple, petrol costs more."

      Also the fact that they have better, more integrated public transport systems. That said, the sheer size and distance between places in the US means you can't really build effective transport systems to accomodate all those who would supposedly be using their car less and use public transport.


      Even though you all have different arguments (and some of you make very good points), the bottom line is that we all have to do something about it now and make a combined effort to change the status quo. It's not about people 'telling you what to do', its about us all pitching in (whatever way that is) to make sure our children do not have it worse off because we were wasteful and selfish in regards to the environment. When things are worse in 20-50 years, you'll wish someone had told you what to do. Get over it.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Im with Tom and Ray, anyone opposed to their Idea's and Logic lacks common sense, Its a No brainer, the technology exists.

      We could have many different combinations of vehicles putting less strain on one form of Fuel, that might lead to more competitive fuel prices.

      If American car makers sit around they will lose again, Its taken them years to jump on the Hybrid bandwagon.

      Leave taxes out of it.

      The car makers should be smart enough to figure this out.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Although raising the CAFE requirement will help feel good crowd (the media comes to mind) promote the notion if we just raise CAFE and get rid of those pesky SUVs, all our energy problems will be over.

      We really need an over-all energy plan but because of special interests nothing gets done and we continue to be mired down in not offending the 2% opposed to any movement towards relieving our energy woes. Can't drill here or there, can't put up windmills here or there, can't build a new refinery, can't built a new, clean coal power plant and so on.

      Has anyone reading this driven one of our coast to coast interstates lately. Count the number of 18-wheelers in five minutes.

      Never seen it mentioned, and over-all I am not in favor of gov't controls on anything since they can't seem to do much of anything very well, but throwing some of the money our gov't is so good at spending, at the rail system to get the long haul trucks off the highways seems like a better way to save fuel (let alone frequent road repair) than raising the CAFE. And yes, I know there would be a loss of road taxes - has not the gov't misspent the road tax money it's collected anyway.

      This whole thing with the SUVs and cars in general seems to be a feel-good approach that produces minimum over-all benefit. I for one have never seen a break out of where fuel is used - rail, airlines, military, civilian, gov't. Surely there are other areas that could heap huge savings in fuel with a minimum of effort instead of always going after the car folks.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I have heard their show, and I definately noticed bias toward oriental car companies. These guys are trying to kill american auto industry and don't comprehend the implications of the result.
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