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Old Ads Remind Us How Little MPG Progress We Have Made

Posted by: David Kiley on August 4, 2008

I unpacked a box that was stuffed with newspaper. The ad, a Ford ad, advertised “79 Ford Pacesetters.”

That was a year in which we were, like today, very conscious of fuel economy.

Granted, these MPG ratings would be lower by today’s EPA formula, but only a little. And the real point is to show how poorly we have progressed on energy efficiency. Also, I’m not picking on Ford. It’s just that this was the ad that emerged from the box.

Ford Fiesta: 28/39
Pinto: 22/32
Futura: 20/31
Mustang; 21/31
Fairmont: 20/31

Today’s comparables

Focus 24/33
Fusion 20/28
Taurus 18/28

Reader Comments

Matt P

August 4, 2008 6:38 PM

I guess MPG per pound would be a better measure, not MPG per whatever is reflected here. The newer cars are more substantial machines.


August 4, 2008 10:20 PM

I think the 1979 numbers cannot be compared to 2008 numbers AT ALL for a couple of reasons. One, as you noted, the EPA has revised its MPG formula at least twice since '79, first knocking an automatic 10-percent, then redesigning the test scenarios starting with the 2007 (I believe) cars.

Second, emissions regulations have only tightened since 1979, and that affects MPG. I recall reading that looser (i.e. dirtier) regulations yield better MPG.

Third, to build a Fairmont today that meets (again) tougher safety regs means Ford would have had to add more steel to the Fox chassis. A heavier car also means Ford would have to to install a bigger motor. It's a domino effect.

So, even though the 2008 EPA numbers are illusory, Ford ought to be commended for even coming close to 30-year-old numbers. Today's Fords are clearly much more substantial cars; I know from experience that the 1980 Mustang was a POS.


August 5, 2008 9:41 AM

David, David, David... Regarding the fuel economy numbers you posted of the late '70's older cars vs. the new modern cars, I think that is really an apples to oranges comparison. What those numbers don't show, and something that many choose to ignore, is that safety equipment adds weight. Today's cars are REQUIRED to have multiple airbags and emissions for their exhaust system. Both of these items add weight and mileage penalties that weren't present 25 or 30 years ago. A bold start-up company by the name of Tesla, was boasting a year and a half ago an electric car prototype that provided a 250 mile range. Then, while during developement, they discovered that in order to meet U.S. crash regulations, they had to provide more safety items into their vehicle. Suddenly, the range dropped 30 miles to a 220 mile range. I'm not knocking Tesla by any means, but I'm trying to prove a point. We can't in good conscience compare a '79 Pinto to an '09 Focus--the two vehicles are in entirely different playing fields.

From Kiley: True, there are stricter safety regs, but it is also true that more is being made from plastics than they were in 1979, and less from steel.


August 5, 2008 12:27 PM

And this is why I laugh everytime a car commercial comes on trying to get me to put down the $18,000 on a new car that gets 5 miles more to the gallon then my 2000 Saturn thats paid off.
If I want to by a fuel efficent vehicle with sped I'll by a motorcycle, quarter of the price, 2-3 time the mpg.
The car industry is a joke, they are more focused on adding gadgets then improving the cars themselves.

Oil Guy

August 15, 2008 2:14 PM

Quickest way to better fuel mileage on ANY car? Answer: Slow down! My Civic was getting around 28 mpg but after slowing down, I consistently get 33 mpg. Next obvious answer lose weight, the average American is 20-50 pounds heavier than their counterparts 30 years ago. It is simple... transport less weight use less fuel. Put 40 PSI in your tires (tires are extremely over-engineered and can safely run on overinflation in the 20-25% range). Finally walk or bike to stores close to you. These ideas don't cost anything and pay terrific benefits! Remember what Pickens said, " we are sending over 700B$ overseas to governments such as Russian, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Venezuela who in turn are doing things with the money that threatens the long term survival of the US. I for one, don't want to help them all that much.


August 22, 2008 12:26 PM

Everyone knows those numbers would be slightly lower given today's safety features and added convenience, what the author's trying to say though, is the difference is pitiful given 30 years of supposed "innovation". And they're right. Chevrolet's advertising campaign has got to be the most ironically annoying, forcefeeding you this junk that their new Malibu hybrid with a 27-28 mpg average is somehow impressive and "green". I think this new-age psuedo-sustainability-for-profit is refereed to as being "Bright Green".

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