There’s an easy, uncomplicated and entirely voluntary way we could cut our gas consumption by a third our more - without federal fuel efficiency dictates, pocket-picking gas tax hikes or force or extortion of any kind.
And this miracle solution is? Simply this: The 85-90 percent of us who don’t need or never use the power/capability of 300 horsepower (and up) vehicles revert - on our own initiative - to driving vehicles more in tune with that reality.
As an enthusiast driver, I’m all for high-powered, high-performance machinery and would never support a ban or punitive measures or threatening regulations directed against them. That said, there are a whole lot of people out there who are driving such machines at not much more than the posted speed limit and who rarely, if ever, use even 75 percent of their built-in capability. Is there anything more absurd than a geezing AARPer motoring along at 60 mph (and no faster) in a 300 horsepower V-8 Cadillac that can easily hit 130? Wouldn’t such a driver be just as well-served by a 200 horsepower V-8? (That power level, incidentally, was above the rated output of virtually every V-8 built for most of the last half of the 1970s and well into the 1980s. We managed to get by.)
How about the hausefrau shuttling kids to soccer practice in her Monster Truck 4×4 SUV - skid plates and Hill Descent Control, brush bars and all? It’s as pointless (and wasteful) as a fluffy cushion for a corpse.
The average 2007-2008 model family-type car has as much or more power than the highest-powered muscle cars of the mid-1980s. A new Toyota Camry V-6 for example, has almost 270 horsepower. That is 80 more horsepower than a V-8 powered “high output” 5.0 liter V-8 Camaro Z28, circa 1984. It is more potent than a Tuned Port Injection 5.7 liter ‘85 Corvette or a turbocharged 20th anniversary Trans-Am.
It’s a horsepower race, but no one’s going anywhere fast.
We - that is, American society - have bought into the image of cars, even though few of us want to, can (or are even willing) to use them as advertised. Be honest, now. When was the last time you were able to drive faster than 140 mph? Have you ever even driven 140 mph, for that matter? So what is the point of owning a car capable of 180? To do it furtively, maybe two or three times over the entire time you own the thing?
Why not just rent a really fast car for the day?
Same with all these absurdly over-capable $50,000 SUVs one sees filling up shopping mall parking spots and suburban driveways all over the land. If you genuinely need a two-speed transfer case and the ability to slog through deep mud and unplowed drifts of snow, there is nothing finer. But if you don’t - then why? An all-wheel-drive wagon of “crossover” (hell, a good front-wheel-drive car with decent all-season tires) would suit you just as well - and probably get 10 mpg better mileage, too. Need to tow a boat to your slip? Unless you’re doing that more than a couple of times each year, why not rent or borrow a big rig to handle that job when you need to - and the remaining 350-something days of the year, drive something more in line with reality?
And what about people who don’t even pretend to be enthusiast drivers? That’s got to be at least two-thirds of all new car buyers. Just ordinary folks who don’t even think about driving 100 mph or squealing the tires from a stop light. How many Camry drivers even think about doing that? So what do they need a 270 horsepower engine for? Image? Are we all that far gone?
It’s one thing to burn up a tank of $3.50 per unleaded premium tearing ass down some fine back country road or hauling it down a freeway at 80-plus, radar detector vigilant. It’s another thing entirely to suck it down idling in stop-and-go suburban traffic or cruise-controlling it to the office at 45 mph.
Pearls before swine.
Bottom line: If we don’t take the initiative, it’s going to be taken for us - and fun cars taken from us.
It’s in our own best interests to stop wasting fuel just for the sake of wasting it. And it wouldn’t hurt us a bit, either.
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