So much would be possible if it weren’t for the government.

Government, remember, is not composed of experts in much of anything – except control and manipulation. Politicians and bureaucrats are not people who do things.

They force others to do things.

In the car world, you have the ridiculous spectacle of non-engineer mechanical imbeciles dictating functional parameters of engine design to people who actually do know how a four-stroke engine works, the meaning of stoichiometry; who understand that there is an inherent conflict between fuel economy and “safety.” That the more a car is designed to meet the first objective, the less it will meet the second.

And the reverse.

Result?

The engineers are told to deliver both in equal measure – and we end up with cars that are heavy and thirsty.

It’s a tragedy – a comic one, when you put it in context.

Here we are – almost 2016 – and the typical new car is about as economical to drive as the typical car of 1985. This is hard to believe, but you should believe it because it’s true. The typical car of the early-mid-1980s was averaging mid-high 20s – just like today. There were numerous models available that approached or even exceeded 40 MPG on the highway. A few (like the diesel-powered VW Rabbit) got into the 50s.

They did this without direct-injection or even port fuel-injection. Many still had carburetors. Eight and nine-speed transmissions (with the top three gears being overdrives) were unheard of. Most automatics of this era had four speeds. Some still had just three.

But the one thing the cars of that era did have was less weight – about 500-800 pounds less of it, on average, than comparable cars have today. And the sole and only reason for all this additional weight is the increased demand for “safety” eructing from the solons in Washington. Well, so we must presume. Because the people who actually buy the cars were never offered the free choice. It would be interesting to find out what they’d choose if they did have that choice.

We can make some rough calculations.

Let’s start with a pretty fuel-efficient (but ridiculously heavy) car like the current/2015 Honda Civic sedan. This compact (by current standards) weighs in at 2,811 pounds. A 1985 Civic sedan (see here) weighed 1,962 pounds – 849 pounds less than the current model.

It is not surprising that – notwithstanding a direct-injected engine with variable valve timing and an ultra-efficient continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission – the ’15 Civic sedan only averages 33 MPG – vs. 27 MPG for its ancestor from 30 years ago.

A six MPG overall improvement.

Pathetic.

But absolutely understandable, given the almost 900 pounds additional metal the ’15 is carrying around. And it is carrying it in order to pass muster with Uncle’s “safety” mandates – which include a mandate that a car’s roof must be able to bear the entire weight of the car in the event the car rolls on its back. Of course, most cars live their entire lives – from dealer’s showroom to crusher, many years hence – without ever rolling on their back. Probably there are many people out there who would prefer to have been carting around 900 pounds less metal all those years – saving thousands of very real dollars in fuel costs rather than having to pay for some bureaucrat’s idea of what might be helpful if the car ever did roll on its back.

And it is thousands of dollars we’re talking about. If the ’15 Civic – with all its technological advantages – weighed what the ’85 Civic weighed, it is certain the car would be averaging 40-45 MPG. It would, after all be 30 percent lighter. And a 10 MPG or so uptick is probably a very conservative estimate.

Over a typical vehicle of life of 15 years or so, the savings would be no small change. Figure one less fill-up per month for the typical driver and assume a fill-up equals about 13 gallons at today’s $2.25 or so per gallon. That’s about $30 a month saved – or $360 a year in your pocket instead of ExxonMobil’s. Over fifteen years, the savings amounts to $5,400 – and that’s assuming the cost of gas stays the same.

Which, probably, it won’t. It’s likely to go up.

But even if it doesn’t, that’s still five grand you didn’t have to spend on gas.

Well, wouldn’t have to spend on gas – were it not for the fact that you’re denied this option. A bureaucrat in Washington (well, ok, several of them) have decided your “safety” – as defined by them – is more important than your right (past tense) to drive an economical car. The cost-benefit calculation has been taken out of your hands, as if you were still an eight-year-old and needed momma to make sure you don’t chew on lead paint chips.

Here, by the way, is a real-world example of the kind of car we could have – and which the Mexicans do have. It’s the Chevy Matiz – and it costs less than $7,000 U.S. and gets 45-50 MPG… . But it’s not “safe” – so you’re not allowed to buy it.

It’s even worse when it comes to diesels.

The federal flapdoodle imposed on them has made them barely more economical to operate than many of today’s gas engines – and a lot more expensive to buy, feed and maintain. Diesels used to simple and cheap. Now they are complicated and pricey – and their small advantage at the pump is very questionable, economically-speaking, vs. what you have to pay for them up front.

Again, Uncle.

With all the technology on tap, modern diesels would be able to deliver 60-plus MPG on average, in a car that weighed less than 2,000 pounds like our ’85 Civic example. You’d think – if your thoughts were logical – that government bureaucrats would be “all over” that. They are, after all, here to help… .

Except they’re not.

Consciously or not, the desideratum of politicians and bureaucrats is control and direction. If this were not true, then force would not be necessary. They’d rely on reason and persuasion. Surely that would be sufficient. If the object of the exercise weren’t control and direction.

But of course, it is.

And that, friends, is why we have “high tech” cars that get maybe 6 MPG better than their ancestors did 30 years ago.

This article originally appeared at Eric Peters Autos.com.


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