20th Century Car Inefficiency, Conspiracy?

Source: F. A. Brockhaus

Jacob Pfau

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According to Ford Motor Company, the 1908 Ford Model T achieved an average mpg of 17; motortrends.com pegs the Model T at 25 mpg; higher still, a NY Daily News interview claims 40 mpg on this antique. Wait a minute, the acclaimed Prius – the treasure of any true Menlo Park auto aficionado – achieved fame for its 40 mpg. Now let’s go back to 1975, according to Pew research estimates the average car owner in 1975 couldn’t even eke out 15 mpg.

In the same time frame, BMW engines started out at 39 mpg in the first BMW 3/15 model, and in 1971 the BMW M30 slipped to 18 mpg. Although these engines had neither the size of those in modern SUV nor the speed of those in a modern Porsche, early fuel-efficient engines reached speeds of up to 55 mph. The fuel economy discrepancy between early models and their later counterparts cannot definitively be attributed to related interests in oil sales. However, without a doubt, the drop in efficiency has hurt consumers, an issue that car companies have erased records about.

As we saw, Ford’s own appraisal of their early fuel efficiency is practically inexplicable; for their reputation as auto manufacturers and engineers, higher fuel efficiency should boost sales. A recent Time magazine article commented on the Kia and Hyundai mpg inflation scandal and specifically mentioned Ford’s inflation of mpg ratings. Yet, all sources, from the NY Daily News to Wikipedia suggest better fuel efficiency values than Ford’s own, for the original model T.

In the same vein, BMW’s records omit any mention of original model’s fuel efficiency. The EPA has removed graphs of fuel efficiency trends. Detroit news removed an article discussing inflated mpg numbers from the EPA.

In comparison to the airplane industry, the auto industry degenerated in terms of fuel efficiency before the 1970 oil shock, whereas airplane industry graphs show pre-1960 fuel burn per seat costs as off the charts, and from 1960 to 2000 fuel efficiency has increased by 70%. Thus aircraft engines have steadily increased in their fuel efficiency, even as their automobile counterparts have stagnated or even declined.

Although statistics suggest the auto industry did manipulate consumer awareness to their detriment and to the benefit of oil vendors, the emergence of the hybrid and fully electric cars in recent years indicates a positive trend towards environmental awareness as we move forward in the 21st Century.

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One Response to “20th Century Car Inefficiency, Conspiracy?”

  1. shoover on January 8th, 2013 9:02 pm

    Interesting- I thought wonderful progress was being made in the fuel-efficiency department. Just shows you how powerfully marketing can influence our thinking.

20th Century Car Inefficiency, Conspiracy?