Friday, 18 January 2008

More Horsepower, Less Horse Sense: Why We Need Tough Auto Fuel Efficiency Standards

The front page of Le Devoir features a big picture of the new Tesla, an entirely electric sports car, and a big headline "Always Bigger, Always More Powerful." The story by environmental writer Louis-Gilles Francoeur reports that even though manufacturers have improved the fuel efficiency of their cars, the saving has been lost in jacking up horse power. He quotes a study by two Quebec anti-pollution, energy conservation groups of the fuel efficiency of 1997 car models and those 10 years later. It says, for example, that over the period the Honda Civic increased its horsepower from 106 to 140, a 36 per cent jump, while its fuel consumption got worse, dropping from 31 miles per gallon in town and 39 on the highway to 26 and 34 mpg respectively.

Francoeur's article is very timely. This is car show season--the Tesla is on display at Montreal's Salon de l'auto right now--and Lawrence Cannon, federal transport minister, started talking yesterday about setting the fuel consumption standard for Canada. He wants to peg it at an average 35 miles per gallon, or 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, by the year 2020. That’s the same as what the Bush government is proposing the US, but much worse than what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s government in California would like.

The premiers of Quebec and Manitoba say they’re in favour of standards more in line with California’s, which call for hitting the 35 miles per gallon point by 2016.

Yes, let’s do that, I say. Let’s also not be led around by our noses by a Conservative government that has a vested interest in keeping oil production going and has been blindly following George W. Bush’s lead.

But at the same time, let’s give some thought to actually using automobiles less. As I work on my next book, The Walkable City: From Haussmann’s Boulevards to Jane Jacobs Streets and Beyond, I’m becoming convinced that for 150 years we have systematically eliminating walking as the everyday means of transportation. To bring it back would require some fundamental changes in the way we live, and what they might be is a topic that I continue to wrestle with. More about that later.

In the meantime, I checked the fuel efficiency ratings on our 2002 Toyota Corolla, and it looks like it rates pretty well: probably about an average of 31 miles per gallon. Of course we don't drive it very much: it's gone 22,000 kilometers in the five and a half years since we bought it. BMW is more our style: bus, Metro and walk.

But maybe I should figure out a relevant measure of walking efficiency. What about something along the lines of: how many chocolate chip cookies per 10 kilometers or miles per pepperoni pizza?


Anonymous said...

Come on now Mary !! Why walk when you can get around on a Sedgway ?
They are fuel efficient, easy to park, they don't take a lot of space and you would look really cool (cooler than usual) riding around on it.
The only problem is they haven't made a 4x4 all terrain Sedgway to negociate Montreal's potholes and sidewalks.

Jimmy Zoubris

Mary Soderstrom said...

The problem with potholes and sidewallks is real, for sure, Jimmy.

Think I'll stick with shank's mare, though.