Addicted to gas
It appears that U.S. drivers have forgotten the 1973-74 oil embargo by OPEC, which resulted in endless lines at the gas pump. Given that history, how did we become so enamored of gas-guzzling SUVs? In the wake of the embargo came smaller vehicles with better mileage in the early ”80s. Imports led the way toward smaller, more efficient engines and compact body profiles. Now, 26 years later, our vehicles have supersized, and there’s no more popular style of automobile in the country or city than the SUV. Never mind the abysmally wasteful miles per gallon to drive these beasts, ensuring America’s dependence on foreign oil, not to mention vulnerability.Back in 1985, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration called for fuel efficiency standards to reach 48 mpg by 1995. The auto industry declared it could reach 30 mpg by 1985, with GM in the lead saying it could do 33 mpg. So why are we at a paltry16 mpg today?In 1990 the landmark Bryan Bill was defeated in Congress. If it had passed, lightweight trucks – the class of SUVs – would be required to get 29 mpg. And if the acceleration and weight requirements had stayed the same as set in 1988, fuel efficiency and economy standards would have been reached. But engine strength alone went from 141 to 220 horsepower, with acceleration gaining a mere 2.5 seconds. Today the trade-offs are at considerable cost to the consumer.If we had the specifications set out by the Bryan bill, the 2002 fuel economy of SUVs could have increased by 40 percent. This would have reduced our dependence on crude oil from OPEC countries by 720 billion barrels of oil year, argues Public Citizen, founded by Ralph Nader. Bigger is not always better, as evidenced today by America’s prices at the gas pump. Gasoline prices in Eagle County are over $2.24 per gallon. We pay a lot at the pump here, to be sure, but the prices are even higher in California. Recently OPEC announced a decrease of 4 percent in oil production. This is not good news for owners of our large, thirsty vehicles.To go back as far as 1978, auto companies selling cars in the U.S. were required to meet 18 mile per gallon standards. It’s a shame that after 26 years, we have not made progress. The car industry has the know-how to manufacture more efficient cars. Our infatuation with super-sized vehicles and glutton for oil leave us vulnerable to countries in the most unstable parts of the world – most pointedly, the Middle East, where the War on Terror’s roots lie.L.C.