Automakers are touting their high mileage rides in their TV and newspaper ads. And why wouldn’t they? After all, in case you haven’t noticed, gas is expensive.
From the commercials it seems like I’m supposed to be excited about a car that gets 30 miles per gallon. The actors in the ads are shocked at the amazing mileage the new cars get – usually 30-34 mpg.
The new car ads are proud. The subtext seems to be, “You wanted a car that gets good gas mileage. Well, we made it.”
But to be honest, I’m just not that impressed.
Edmunds.com compiled a list of cars the get at least 30 miles per gallon (combined city and highway mileage). Of the 74 cars that got 30 to 33 mpg, 51 are subcompacts or hybrids.
When you get to 37 mpg everything is either hybrid or all-electric.
So the way to get better gas mileage is to make the car smaller (so it weighs less) or not use the gas engine (as in a hybrid). To me the hybrid’s gas mileage, which includes when the electric motor is running, is like counting the miles I ride my bike toward my car’s gas mileage.
Sounds to me like automakers haven’t really done much to improve the actual fuel combustion efficiency. What have these auto engineers and designers been doing for the last 15 years?
I drive a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am. It’s a four-door with automatic transmission. Last month the original 2.4-liter, twin cam, 4-cylinder engine reached 182,000 miles.
On the highway it consistently gets 30 to 32 miles per gallon. And I’ve gotten as high as 35 mpg out of that old beast. Around town it will consistently do 26 miles per gallon.
Pontiac, which General Motors laid to rest when they restructured in 2010, was never known as company that made fuel-efficient cars. Yet a decade and a half ago they quietly made a car that got the kind of gas mileage that car ads expect us to drool over today.
I bought my Grand Am eight years ago for $2,000. I’m not planning on shelling out $15,000 (or more) any time soon on a new car so I can save money because of its good gas mileage.
Let’s say I buy a new Ford Focus that gets combined 33 mpg instead of my Grand Am’s 28 mpg. If I drive 10,000 miles per year that means I will save 54 gallons of gas over the next year.
Even if gas costs $4 per gallon that means I would only save $216 in the coming year. That’s not even enough to make one monthly car payment.
For automakers a car’s gas mileage is just another bell or whistle, a promotional gimmick, to help sell cars.
If they were as committed to improving their vehicles’ gas mileage as they are to making cars that park themselves and respond to 10,000 voice commands, then maybe we’d see a truly impressive improvement in gas mileage.
But I’ve been waiting more than three decades for automakers to turn loose America’s much-touted technological superiority on saving serious amounts of gas. Forgive me if I’m starting to lose hope that it will ever happen.