Economy, unless built at home

The way some people think astounds me.

Imagine you want to encourage people to buy more fuel efficient automobiles. You’d think that needing less fuel and therefore saving money throughout the life of the car would be enough. It clearly isn’t, so what do you do? The federal government decided to offer a rebate. Buy a fuel efficient automobile and get a cheque from the government for up to $2000. Certainly this amount isn’t likely to mean even a 10% savings in most cases, but $2000 is not an insignificant amount of money.

The phrase “you can’t please everyone” is as true as ever, and some are not happy with the rebate program. The most remarkable complaint I heard was that the rebate program is unfair to domestic car manufacturers. If domestic manufacturers tend not to make vehicles as efficient as the imports, then the disparity isn’t a matter of fairness. Rather it’s a matter of the program doing what it was designed to achieve.

Although it’s now cancelled, I don’t think the program went nearly far enough. The domestic models appearing on the 2007 list of eligible conventionally fuelled vehicles included the Ford Escape hybrid, Saturn Vue hybrid, Jeep Compass, and Jeep Patriot. The best of the hybrids is the two-wheel drive Escape with a combined rating of 6.6l/100 km. The best of the purely gas models claimed an uninspiring 8.3l/100 km.

The only domestic cars appearing on the list were flex-fuel vehicles. They can run on regular gasoline or a blend of gasoline and up to 85% ethanol. A fuel economy of 13l/100 km or better is required for a rebate on flex-fuel cars. The Chevrolet Impala, Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and Chrysler Sebring flex-fuel variants appear on this list with the Chrysler offering the best economy at 12.3l/100 km. Just because a car uses ethanol, 12.3l/100 km is considered outstanding and worthy of a rebate?

As a point of comparison, the Toyota Camry hybrid is rated at 5.7l/100 km and the Mini Cooper uses 6.5l/100 km.

I read with interest that the Smart ForTwo was redesigned for 2008. Rated at 4.2l/100 km in 2006, the updated model uses 5.4l/100 km. What’s changed? They’ve replaced the diesel engine with one that uses gasoline. As a result, horsepower’s up, torque is down, and fuel economy is down by more than 25%. I’m curious to see whether the Mercedes BlueTec diesel will make it into a Smart in the future.

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