When I asked Matt if he was willing to help me gain some inspiration for the next Green Leaf blog posting he agreed to do a little poking around. He found inspiration alright and it led him to research some of the cars that Europe has available which get high miles per gallon and how those cars compare to the ones we have here in the United States. For the next few hours all I heard was furiously clicking keys. Here is what he found.
It may come as a surprise to some that we here in the US are not offered the latest and greatest technology when it comes to high MPG cars. In fact, the highest MPG car available in the US, the Toyota Prius with an average of 46 MPG (per EPA guide), would only fall in the middle of the pack in the UK. Sadly our thirst for larger, more performance oriented cars along with self-defeating EPA regulations have kept the highest MPG cars from ever reaching our shores. The high MPG cars that do reach our shores have features and performance tuning that reduce the MPG by 30% or more from their European models. Additionally, gasoline sold in Europe carries a higher octane than in the US. 95 is Regular in the UK vs. 87 in the US, and Premium is 99 vs. 93 in the US. The UK model of the Toyota Prius gets 65.7 MPG combined on 95 octane.
In Europe, the primary solution to the MPG problem is diesel. The advantages of diesel are tough to argue. It is a technology that has been tested and refined for over 100 years. Diesel fuel has more stored energy per gallon than gasoline, therefore is more efficient at powering an automobile. The engines need to be built stronger to withstand the additional energy, so they tend to be more durable, too. The down side is that diesel fuel is more expensive, and until recently, diesel ran much dirtier than gasoline. The dirty factor is why the EPA put restrictions on diesels in the US. Oh, how times have changed, though. Most diesels now run as clean or cleaner than comparable gasoline engines, and almost all of them release substantially less CO2 than gasoline. Also, don’t forget that biodiesel is a much more viable fuel than ethanol, and is commercially available now.
Here is a quick glance at a few diesels now selling in the UK:
Volkswagen Polo Bluemotion 1.4 combined MPG 74.3
BMW 118d combined MPG 62.8
MINI Cooper D combined MPG 72.4
For those of you who thought the Detroit Big 3 couldn’t or wouldn’t build a fuel efficient car, you are wrong!
Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi ECOnetic combined MPG 65.6
So, you ask….why can’t I get these cars here in the states? There are a few reasons. The EPA had clean air restrictions for particulates in place for many years that kept diesels from hitting our shores. Not that I advocate particulate matter in our air, but it’s a far cry from the greenhouse gasses that gasoline engines pour into our environment. New diesel engines have filters for these particulates, and Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel fuel has eliminated much of the remainder of the pollution, which is why there will likely be more diesel choices on the market in the years to come. The second reason is consumer demand. If these cars are going to be sold here, we as consumers need to let our auto dealers know that we want them. Americans have never had a love affair with diesels due their smelly reputation. That reputation should dissolve with the clouds of black smoke that used follow those old diesels around.
On a personal note, I am a former owner of a 1984 VW Rabbit diesel. Because of the relative simplicity of the engine, I was able to get over 300,000 miles on the odometer without a major engine problem. (Of course there were other little problems, but nothing major…) Even at 300K, I was getting over 45 MPG average. I wasn’t winning any drag races, but I cruised past an awful lot of gas stations without stopping.