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Europification of the Automobile

Posted by: David Welch on April 22, 2008

Welcome to the era of downsizing. And I’m not just talking about layoffs during the current economic malaise. I’m talking about smaller engines and cars. The Department of Transportation handed down some specifics on the proposed fuel economy rules that all auto makers will have to meet starting in 2010. They will likely have to boost fuel efficiency in their cars and trucks by 4.5% a year until 2015. Most auto makers figured it would be a 4% annual increase. So the DOT’s proposal for Corporate Average Fuel Economy, called CAFÉ for short, is more aggressive than the industry thought. By 2015, the proposal would boost fuel economy for cars from the current 27.5 miles per gallon to 35.7 mpg. Trucks would have to hit an average of 28.6 mpg from 21.7 mpg today.

Auto makers say they’ll meet those proposed rules. It will eventually be the law. But it will be a tough road for all of them, even Toyota. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration says it will cost the industry a collective $47 billion by 2015. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz has said vehicles with big V-8 engines will get V-6’s. And those six-cylinder cars will get four bangers. They may have hybrid systems or turbo chargers attached to boost zip off the line. But the power plants will get smaller. The vehicles might shrink, too. In all, Lutz has said repeatedly, some vehicles will need at least $6,000 in added hardware to meet the new rules. analyst Jesse Toprak said in January that the average run up in costs—and possibly price—will be more like $2,000 to $3,000 a vehicle.

Call it the Europification of the American automobile. In the Old World, small engines and cars are the norm and have been for years. In a perverse way, higher fuel prices may actually help the carmakers. CAFÉ is based on what vehicles the carmakers sell. With oil at $119 a barrel and gasoline hitting $4 a gallon in some places, consumers are already demanding smaller, more efficient cars. The new fuel rules may be tough for auto makers to hit, but consumers were seeking efficiency even before Congress started mulling tougher fuel economy proposals more than a year ago. SUV sales have been sinking for several years. Last month when fuel prices spiked, compact cars commanded a bigger share of the U.S. market than full-sized pickups, which hit their second lowest share of vehicles sold in a month since 2000. At least auto makers won’t be forced to create something the public doesn’t want.

But even with gas prices encouraging efficiency, auto executives contend that the new rules will pit them with a series of quandaries. One GM executive says that the truck CAFÉ targets aren’t attainable for any carmaker, not with today’s mix of suvs. A large pickup will need fuel economy that’s easily 20 mpg. What will it cost? Another question is, will gasoline prices stay high enough to push consumers into the efficient vehicles each company needs to sell to meet the standards? Will the costs of technologies like hybrid cars, electric vehicles and clean diesel engines drop fast enough to make the economics work for carmakers and consumers? Or will the added costs, as some auto execs contend, just make cars more expensive and force car buyers to delay their purchase for a few years? GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner has said that the new rules may simply shrink car sales. Those are the issues that will keep auto industry executives up at night.

Reader Comments


April 22, 2008 8:35 PM

Nice article, nice title. But, as usual, I am having a lot of trouble with the absurd mouthings of Herr Lutz. $6000? For what? Is a HONDA Civic that much more costly to build in its present form (and not the hybrid) than in some other? And what might that 'other' be? Downsizing engines is not all that hard, many exist already, most of non-US design,no surprise, but adding speed equipment so they are faster off the line can be expensive. I ask, "What is the need?" Will one get to one's destination any faster with burning hot tyres? One of the selling pieces for the almost ill-fated/defunct Tesla is its 0-60 in 4 seconds, whatever. Very useful in shagging a pizza while it is still hot.

The facts are that cars do not have to be built to satisfy all the out-of-control egos we have here in Barbaria. Let the speed demons take what is offered 'or go elsewhere'. Ha! Fat chance of finding anything legal. Ah, so very sad. Well, they can still go carve up lakes with their boats, tear up pristine meadows, destroy the wild lands, whatever, with their ATVs and older pickups.

In terms of pickups, survey the world, starting with the thousands of farming communities, and just try to find a Silverado, Tundra, or rattle trap Ford F-150. They do not exist. But smaller vehicles do, and somehow they manage to get much of the work done. And there are flatbeds of various makes, never American, that do the heavy hauling.

And so, once again we Mrkns are sticking out like a certain part of a former president in the presence of females. We create far more than our share of pollution, and thanks to Al Gore, Big Time Traitor, we are very far behind in intelligent power generation, as in Nuclear. He managed to kill all of that off. But the French caught it as it fell, the Japanese, Israelis, even the wimpy Brits. France is an exporter of electrical power. Reprocessing and reusing the spent fuel rods, as these people do using OUR SCIENCE TO DO SO, means that Yucca Mountain is both not wanted and unnecessary.

Once again, one has to hand it to the politicians, primarily the damned Crats. Hear me Harry Reid? But then Americans are now so weak in science that they favour new legislation declaring the Earth flat. According to the House and Senate 'experts' this olde tyme 'thinking' will save us a fortune in fueling our ships. But then again, so will sails if and when the wind is blowing. Or Congress is in session and aimed in the right direction.

Danielle Andre

April 23, 2008 9:14 AM

It may be a painful transition in the short term, but it will benefit everyone in the long term.


April 23, 2008 1:13 PM

Buy a motorcycle; take it to work a few times per week or ride it on the weekends, and keep the V-8 truck.


April 23, 2008 1:16 PM

These are completely ridiculous proposals. We need cars that go over 100 miles per gallon - and this is entirely possible even today: with small and efficient engines that make 60mph max. Who needs to go faster? Gas guzzling is so last century....


April 23, 2008 1:33 PM

By Mid 2006 people started to see real estate prices stall. prices are now in free fall. Same thing will happen to Commodities including oil and KWHrs.

Long term prices trends are down

Lower prices = higher living standards

China & 3 rd world joining mainstream world economy. Short term demand spikes and maybe speculation can drive up prices. But longer term technology and economy of scale will force all prices down.

Speculation is a factor - but I'm not sure good or bad. Seems to drive up prices - but that may encourage more matching production and actually create bigger markets at lower prices sooner.

Remember the gas lines - seemed like the end of the world -- Not.

Soon Al will be proven to be a fool as Earth starts to cool down - nothing to do with human activity.

There is no shortage of any material or energy on earth plus humans will expand to space where resources truly are infinite.

Veggie Burger

April 23, 2008 1:52 PM


I agree with much of what you posted, fuel efficiency is no pipe dream. In the 1980's Popular Mechanics, Science Digest, Omni predicted cars with 100mpg. There was a will and electric cars were developed. Cheap gas and collusion by the Automotive industry killed the electric vehicle. Why offer efficiency when you can encourage the consumptive and wasteful natures of a narcissistic nation? Why do millions of Americans commute to work, one person, driving in a huge tank of a vehicle?

I cannot, however, agree with you regarding nuclear energy. Nuclear plants require millions of gallons of water to cool and regulate. Security of nuclear plants and waste is lax as it is, disaster is waiting to happen. Not to mention, plants being built near geological fault lines. The recent coverup in Japan of radioactive material leaked from a damaged plant is a taste of what would come from widespread adoption.

Privatization of water has been insidious and pervasive. Capitalists dream of a world where only the wealthy control access to clean water. We do not need more nuclear power plants polluting our remaining potable water sources, ruining biodiversity and heating up this planet.


April 23, 2008 2:32 PM

I've been following the ongoing crises in supply of necessities of life : food, water, energy... What seems lacking is a comprehensive analysis of what is and is not possible.
The nuke bandwagon reminds me of the biofuel bumpf - unsupported by actual data. For instance, the Canadian blog Politic 'n Poetry at WordPress ran exhaustive exposes of the disasters in controlling tailings,etc. from uranium mining. All the proponents better show the fuel is there to be had AND we'll have a working natural environment at the end of the day.
The best overall general sketch for what needs to be done was posted by an occasional contributor to the Oil Drum, who analysed possible attacks to generate a national energy strategy. Mostly it sits ignored.


April 23, 2008 11:13 PM

Veggie Burger, a sue-happy/lawyer-rich loyal Sierra Club Member are you? Are you selling their anti-Nuclear line of BS or just giving it away?

Nuclear is high water consumption? Why, and for what? The steam out those stacks that photographs so well is water vapour, right? And what does it do? It condenses and falls to earth again. What is the s... belching from the coal and NatGas stacks that photographs well too but is never ID'd? Water vapour, CO2 and massive quantities of highly toxic filth in the case of coal, Mercury leading the list in mega-tons/ day, but also Sulphur and Thorium, etc. and so on. NatGas emits water vapour and huge volumes of CO2.

Turns out that water use (temporary consumption) for the three is about the same/KWH or whatever unit we are talking about. The fuels are used in heating water to make steam to turn the turbines to make the sparks. Period. It is then vented to the atmosphere.

How many drops of water had to be cleaned up in Japan? A few. Those people are on top of their jobs. There was no panic, no danger. but the left-wing media blew the tiny incident 'out of the water' as usual. Sold a lot of ad time. Scared the crap out of a lot of believing fools. And as to the fault lines? Guess where one of the two the plants here in CA, this one in Diablo Canyon south of San Luis Obisbo is located? On top of a fault line. And it has refused to fail time and again despite the earths rumblings and cracking/ shifting beneath it.

You might have brought up (like a bad meal) the olde Nuclear Waste vomit. Some time back, just in time for that fat-headed traitor Al Gore to render it deader than road kill, USA people came up a reprocessing of spent fuel rods scheme. It is used with tremendous success in France, Japan, Israel, even wimpy Jolly Olde. When finally spent, the rods are almost nothing in volume and their half-life is some 30-40 years, not Harry Reid's 10,000 years. Storage is a very minor item at this point. France is now an exporter of electrical power, and the cost of making the stuff is far less at about a penny/KWH than what I am paying PG&E (about 16ç/KWH).

Nuclear plants happen to exactly what we need, THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO CONSIDER WHEN ALL THE FACTS ARE KNOWN. Yet far too many believe what they are fed by our bribed and threatened politicians, the Sierra Club crackpots and their many clones. That leftist outfit is extremely well organized and funded. Fighting it with the bald-faced truth is super-difficult, especially when so many Americans are eggplant-stupid when it comes to SCIENCE (along with just about everything else including common sense). Perhaps what you need is a really good steak. Brain food. But I tend to think your kind is terminal. The sooner the better.


April 23, 2008 11:18 PM


Best to change to sniffing Nuclear plant vapours and lay off that exhaust from the coal-fired plants. The fumes have gotten to you already, your remaining time is short. You are obviously no economist and have little idea how the system works. But thanks for the laughs... and good luck on your way to further spaciness...

Veggie Burger

April 24, 2008 2:43 PM


First of all, left-wing media is an oxymoron. What major media outlet is not owned by right-wing, neocon sympathists and their capitalist cronies. Ironic that people of the "right-wing" revel in persecution syndrome as they heap intolerance and violence on the world.

Secondly, I am not advocating coal plants, the wholesale destruction of mountain ranges for coal or uranium.

You are wrong to understate the dangers of nuclear energy. We should be putting more effort toward conservation, energy efficiency and solar power.

You live in a fantasy world if you think that politicians are cowed by environmentalists. Or that they are well funded. You've obviously never been to a Greenpeace or Sierra Club meeting if you think they're well heeled. Most are volunteers, middle-lower income individuals, students, seniors, who are about the environmental legacy we leave to future generations. A nuclear wasteland is not something to aspire to.


April 24, 2008 3:34 PM

Currently the gasoline powered Astra (GM/Opel/Vauxhall) is available in the US under the Saturn "badge" with an EPA rating of 27 mpg(US) combined average and priced in the $15,375 to $16,925 range.
The Astra is also available in the UK with both gasoline and diesel engines.
The UK 1.8 VVT Life (A/C) gasoline Astra is rated about 38.2 mpg(Imperial) [31.8 mpg(US)] combined cycle with 178 g/km CO2 at a cost of ￯ᄒᆪ15,350 (Pound Sterling).
The UK 1.7 CDTi 100 Life (A/C) diesel Astra is rated about 56.5 mpg(Imperial) [47.1 mpg(US)] combined cycle with 135 g/km CO2 at a cost of ￯ᄒᆪ16,100 (or about USD$ 32,200).
It can be concluded from this data that the incremental cost difference for turbo diesel engine technology is ￯ᄒᆪ750 or about USD$ 1,500. And if NOx and particle emissions abatement can be accomplished for less than USD$ 2,000, the incremental cost for a US/California ready small clean turbo diesel should be in a range below $3,600.
This data suggests that there are manufacturing and marketing mechanisms that could result in a US/California ready diesel Astra in the US priced in under USD$ 21,000.

Jason Schade

April 25, 2008 12:45 AM

A short half life means it is highly radio active, you can hold most forms of plutonium in your hand because it has a very long half life. But I think recycling it is good, only problem, if large amounts of highly radioactive materials need to be transported or stored they can be stolen or there can be an accident during transport. I believe within 5 years the solar industry is going to be insanely huge as prices come down dramatically and there will be no argument about nuclear, because it won't make sense, as it does currently.


April 25, 2008 12:27 PM


On one count you are right. I have never attended a Greenpeace of Sierra Club meeting, but I am a former SC member before it turned rancid/putrid. And Greenpeace's founder is now long gone and fighting his former organization as the pack of con artists it is. That they sell their 'stuff' to the poor and mentally-challenged is a given, and the Crat so-called elite as well. The doolittles and know-it-alls. Solar is a loser on a number of fronts as a solution. A very minor and costly aid, perhaps. As a but it is a terrific business. Lots of suckers out there as usual., ready and willing to 'save the planet' and fatten contractors in the process. How well does solar work sans the sun? We shut down all electricity-consuming items at sunset? Or do we have billions of batteries of some kind? Lordee, what a boon to the criminal element the Crats have created.

Ownership implies the desire for a return on one's investment. Even far-left billionaire Jorge Soros will admit that. Sales means pandering to the masses, providing something they will buy at a profit. While the Right people may own some of the media, the down and very dirty part of that business are clearly leftists. That you do not either see or acknowledge this is just one of your many faults.

As to the dangers of Nuclear, you fail to understand facts even when faced with them, admittedly largely thru the fog of lies and distortions by the foes, ie: the Sierra Club and company.

As to our future generations, they will be impaled upon the awful sword of socialism. I hope you live to experience this first hand.

Kevin H

April 30, 2008 3:27 PM

Finally people are getting the message! Don't just rearrange the deck chairs, burn them for fuel!
See here:


May 1, 2008 6:00 PM

There is another advantage to the Arstra if it proves to retain its record for unreliability. It will simply be off the road most of the time awaiting parts from Germany. This is one of the hidden tricks of Mercedes of late. VW has been practicing as well. Good grief! Audi does well enough in just selling replacement front ends damaged in American-style parking.

Anyone ever factored in the cost of the Lufthansa 747 Partslifter freighters bound here to bail out buyers of their fine cars? Greeny Gore is costly in this regard too, scuttling around the globe to earn even more bucks, The man really needs a few more good deep-fried meals. But then he is getting 'credits' (thru his own company) for the replanting of the world's rainforests and other woodlands slaughter-ed to grow corn for ill-fated ethanol...

Some kind of full circle of hypocrisy and far worse? More like dropping a slinky down the dumper while holding on to the top ring.

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