TCS Daily


Cars in Utopia

By Brock Yates - March 11, 2002 12:00 AM

Logic seldom wins battles of the heart. It therefore becomes nearly impossible for those trying to inject sense into the debate over CAFE standards and related subjects dealing with the future of the automobiles to seize the moral high ground from the greens and their liberal handmaidens. After all, who can be against clean air, pure water, sylvan vistas and chirping birds? Only the most ravenous capitalists and patent fools can be against such holy sentiments. This would seem to doom those seeking sensible solutions to the issue of CAFE on the side of unabashed evil.

That of course includes the usual suspects, the Detroit automakers, the oil barons and their toady press (no doubt including your humble servant), all of whom apparently choose unfettered consumption of petroleum, a filthy atmosphere and indentured servitude to OPEC in return for short-term gains.

This logic permits Senator John Kerry to demand a 50% increase in CAFE standards to 37 miles per gallon by 2014 while being celebrated in the national media as a crusader. Other so-called visionaries continue to demand an immediate switch to fuel-cells, electrics and the latest designer fuel source, Borax -- which theoretically can be converted to hydrogen with weird, modern-day alchemy and thereby unleash a Nirvana of mobility unimagined even in the fevered brains of the Sierra Club board of directors.

Of course reality intervenes, although none of the Utopians or their acolytes in the media bother to take heed.

Example: There is no way that a current vehicle mix of 50% pickups, SUV's and minivans can be maintained and still increase CAFE by 50%. Technology will not permit it. All the government laws, directives and edicts notwithstanding, the science does not exist whereby the horse power and torque required for American-style vehicles can be maintained and still double the fuel mileage. To do so would require:

  1. New engines that are not technically practical (fuel cells, for example demand more power to isolate hydrogen than their net output, which makes them, as well as electrics, currently unfeasible).

  2. Modifying conventional vehicles to meet such mileage standards would demand ultra-expensive, exotic, lightweight alloys and smaller, flimsier structures that would sacrifice safety, thanks to the irrefutable laws of Newtonian physics.

  3. Surrendering the domestic automobile industry to the Japanese and South Koreans, who lead the world in the manufacture of small, lightweight vehicles that, on paper, are exactly the kind that a 37 mpg CAFE standard would mandate.

But these arguments fall on deaf ears when it comes to sentimental entreaties for clean air and the end of global warming (whether it exists or not). The Utopians claim that only pure selfishness and technological sloth prevents miraculous new power sources from being adapted. The evil cabal of auto moguls and Enron-style oil-patch profiteers stand as roadblocks to progress.

Never mind that if somebody in Detroit or Stuttgart or Munich or Hammamatsu could figure out how to make a safe, strong, powerful, full-size car, SUV or pickup that would get 37 miles to the gallon, regardless of the fuel source, they would be in the marketplace overnight. The world-wide automobile business faces the ominous issue of overcapacity, which means that only the fittest will survive. Any possible edge on the competition will be pursued, regardless of the pontifications issuing from Washington.

When and if the internal combustion engine is supplanted -- which, in my opinion, will be no time soon -- it will come because its successor is economically, technically and practically better in all aspects. Until that day comes, all the blather from the pols, the lefties, the greens and the media ranges between the inane and the idiotic.

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