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Old 06-12-2008, 04:15 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The New York Times: Economy Champs Get the Cold Shoulder

Fascinating reading... from 1995

Economy Champs Get the Cold Shoulder
November 12, 1995 Matthew Wald

FOR years, the people who lobby against tougher fuel economy rules have argued that not many American buyers want the highest-mileage cars. The 10 most fuel-efficient models, they pointed out, account for less than 2 percent of sales. But now, they say, that argument is outdated; in the '95 model year, it was less than 1 percent.

The decline was modest, to nine-tenths of a percent in the 1995 model year from 1.26 percent in 1994. In actual numbers, the slippage was smaller, because the number of cars sold rose last year to 8.2 million, from 6.1 million the year before. But the lobbyists have a point; at the extreme high end of the fuel economy scale, as in the car market as a whole, gas mileage is clearly not as important as it used to be.

Honda, for example, has dropped the model that won the 1995 fuel economy derby, the Civic VX hatchback, at 47 miles to the gallon in the city, 56 on the highway. Hatchbacks don't sell well these days and consumers want more muscle under the hood, a spokesman, Jeffrey Smith, said. The replacement is the Civic HX coupe with a 1.6-liter VTEC-E engine and 115 horsepower, up from 1.5 liters and 70 horses.

The difference: a mileage rating of 39 city/45 highway, compared with 47 city/56 highway for the model it replaces. The car now comes with some comforts formerly associated with a guzzler: dual air bags, power steering, dual power mirrors, power windows, power locks and "a host of other convenience features," the company says.

General Motors dropped its highest-mileage model, the Geo Metro XFi, a 3-cylinder, 1-liter model, after the 1994 model year. Despite a redesign, sales of other Metros were off a bit in the '95 model year, to 100,092 from 108,000 for '94, but a company spokesman said it could be because potential buyers at the lowest rungs of the new-car market went for used cars instead, or for other reasons. "We could talk all day about how to account for a sales increase or decrease," said Daniel R. Hubbert, the spokesman. "It's kind of like polling the O.J. jury."

But he did identify one reason: consumers of the smallest cars are doing what buyers of bigger vehicles do. "People who previously bought a small car, or wanted a car with great gas mileage, are now going for small trucks," Mr. Hubbert said. They like being able to haul big things, he said, and they like sitting higher above the road.

Switching from the '95 Geo Metro, with the 1-liter 3-cylinder engine and a 5-speed manual transmission, to the Chevrolet S-10 pickup, with a 2.2-liter 4-cyclinder and a 5-speed, meant a mileage drop to 23 m.p.g. city/29 highway, from 44 city/49 highway. Jumping to the Geo Tracker convertible, the company's most fuel-efficient sport-utlity, with a 1.6-liter engine and a five-speed manual transmission, meant moving to 25 m.p.g. city/27 highway.

Moving from a car to a sport-utility vehicle or a truck means losing fuel economy for several reasons. One, vehicle weight, is obvious, but another is less advanced technology. In 1994, 70 percent of new cars had multi-point fuel injection, compared with only 3 percent of light trucks and vans, according to John DeCicco of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

And truck and van economy is going nowhere, literally. House and Senate conferees recently agreed to freeze mileage standards for light pickups, vans and sport utility vehicles for one year.

Mileage seems to be a lagging interest everywhere. At Ford, sales of the Aspire, the sixth-highest-mileage car in the 1996 rankings, are strong. But Ford's customer surveys show that economy now ranks 16th out of 19 reasons for choosing a particular car.
Finally, the sobering winds of change...


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Old 06-13-2008, 07:00 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I wonder where fuel economy ranks today?
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Old 06-13-2008, 01:10 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Of course what they don't take into consideration is the amount of money spent on advertising, and how it's divided among the different models. Then of course there's the fact that (until hybrids came along) the models that got the best fuel economy were always the cheapest ones, so the buyer who wanted to go upscale had to accept lower mpg as a consequence...
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Old 06-13-2008, 02:55 PM   #4 (permalink)
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akcapeco -

I have always ranked MPG at #1. Any car below 26 MPG City (old EPA) has been off my list (but I prefer 29+ MPG City). The car companies hate me because I will never upscale to a "family" sedan because they have never made those cars fuel efficient enough for me.


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Old 06-14-2008, 12:42 AM   #5 (permalink)
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I'm a bit different: I admit that at times in my car-buying life mpg has not been a primary factor (and indeed it wouldn't be now if just money were the issue), but size always has. I like small cars, whether the nameplate says Honda Insight, CRX, Austin-Healey, or Porsche. I've been that way as long as I can remember: when the other kids were dreaming about muscle cars, I lusted after a neighbor's old MG-TC...

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