By Jim Kerr
The high gas prices of last summer brought the issue of energy sustainability to the attention of many drivers. Will there be gasoline shortages? Will we be able to afford the fuel so we can drive? What happens when there is no more oil? These questions still need to be answered.
Currently, the price of gasoline is lower. The economic slowdown in North America, combined with the previous high prices, have caused people to drive less, buy smaller vehicles and change their driving habits for a more economical style. With less demand for gasoline, the price has dropped, but when the economy rebounds you can be sure the prices will climb again too.
Other parts of the world also have increased need for gasoline. The huge populations of China and India are now becoming more affluent and looking for personal transportation and the fuel to drive it. So what will it take to provide energy sustainability?
The short-term and immediate solution is to make our vehicles more economical. The United States’ Corporate Average Fuel Economy rating, or CAFE, is currently 27.5 mpg for cars and 22.2 mpg for trucks under 8,500 GVWR (US mpg, about 8.7 and 10.6 L/100 km respectively). Proposed regulations will increase this to an industry average of 35 mpgUS, or 6.7 L/100 km. To do this, smaller and lighter vehicles will be one of the keys.
It is generally known that lighter vehicles get better fuel economy. For example, a 10 per cent reduction in weight will provide about 4 per cent improvement in fuel economy. If vehicle size is also reduced along with the weight, and a smaller engine used, the economy can improve up to 8 per cent with no change in vehicle performance. However, in the past 10 years, the average weight of vehicles in North America has increased 10 to 20 per cent. Some of this additional weight is because of more safety and convenience features, but most of it is simply due to larger vehicle size. Park a new pickup truck beside one ten years old, and the size difference is remarkable. Small and light is good when it comes to fuel economy.