I had an experience last weekend which shows just how far we could already be in the race for fuel economy, if we were really trying.
I had to haul some stuff around last weekend. Instead of renting a truck (expensive, burns a lot of fuel, overkill for what I needed to do) I rented a 4x8 U-haul trailer. I already had a trailer hitch on the car for the bike rack, all I needed was the wiring for the lights and the little doohickey with the ball on it. Two visits to the nearest shop (I got there too late the first day) and I was good to go.
This was a bit of a long trip, at highway speeds. I typically cruise at 65 MPH or the speed limit, whichever is lower; this was going to be no exception. The car (2004 Passat TDI) usually gets between 39 and 42 MPG. I figured that I might get 25 MPG with the extra weight and considerable drag of the trailer, especially going up and down mountains with the A/C running.
I was wrong. I measured 29.6 MPG.
900 pounds of trailer obviously wasn't enough, so I added roughly another half-ton of cargo (total vehicle weight measured at 5520 pounds) and headed back the other way. Up and down the same mountains, in the rain, using the A/C, I got about 28 MPG. And the sub-2 liter engine pulled up 5% grades without either slowing down or downshifting.
An engine which can pull a car and a ton of passengers, cargo and trailer up a mountain is clearly more than enough for every-day use. An engine which can do all of that while exceeding the CAFE limit for cars ought to be in just about everything, shouldn't it? It's not like any of this technology is particularly new. Yet Detroit's offerings are still biased toward trucks because they can't meet CAFE if they tried to fill the same niche with cars.
Why doesn't Detroit do better? If I knew, I'd tell you.
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