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Power v. Fuel Economy

November 22, 2009

A New York Times article about the Chevy Volt has brought me to speculate a little on the future of cars. The article focuses on the fact that the Chevy Volt, which is to be released as a 2011 model, runs purely off of electric power for 40 miles. After that 40 miles, a gas-powered generator for electric energy kicks into power and fuels the vehicle (the generator kicks at about 71hp, according to this article). The author of this article, who was able to witness the transition from electric power to gas-generated electric power while driving the Volt, stated that the transition was seamless and that she couldn’t tell the difference between the two modes of driving. I found the following part of the article very interesting:

“I push the accelerator and the engine sound does not change; the “gas pedal” controls only the flow of battery power to the electric drive motor. The pedal has no connection to the generator, which is programmed to run at constant, preset speeds. This characteristic will take some getting used to by a public accustomed to vroom-vroom feedback.”

Lindsay Brooke, New York Times

This segment struck me as interesting mainly because it signals a transition in the future of cars as we know them. The “vroom-vroom” factor that almost every car today has seems to be in danger. With the introduction of hybrid and electric-powered vehicles, cars are losing their sounds and trending towards silence. I certainly would miss the sound of a powerful V8 revving up or responding to a (ok, MY) lead foot.

The question that comes to mind here is whether we are willing to sacrifice power for increased fuel economy. Can a balance be reached? Lexus, at first glance, seems to be on the right track with their 2010 340 horsepower GS Hybrid and their even more impressive 2009 438 horsepower LS Hybrid. However, these hybrids only appear to save about 3 mpg when compared to a comparable Lexus-offered gas engine (this is still about 30 mpg away from the fuel economy available on the Toyota Prius), according to fueleconomy.gov.

I must preface this next comment by making readers aware that I’m an environmentally conscious consumer and that I probably care more for the environment than the typical college student. When it comes to cars though (if you know me well, you’ll understand why), I must say that the typical inefficient gas engine is my choice over the hybrid engines. I currently drive a 4-cylinder car which gets about 22-34 mpg and I love it (for more than just the infrequency of gas station visits).

My ideal car, however, is a gas-guzzling V8 sedan which only gets 12-19 mpg according to fueleconomy.gov. While this fuel economy is very low and also mildly depressing, it is my personal choice to take dazzling performance (0-60 in just 3.9 seconds according to Car and Driver) over saving a few miles per gallon. With regard to the environment as a whole, I feel as if there are other things I could do to offset owning a gas-guzzling vehicle. My love for speed and power overcomes my ability to see tens or possibly even hundreds of years into the future at what the potential repercussions of driving a car with poor fuel economy could involve for the environment. All in all, I’d love for the “vroom vroom” to stick around, but it seems that the increased demand for oversize golf carts may soon take control of the market. Seems like the V8 is going to be silenced by the much less powerful hybrid engine with the help of the forceful hand of government subsidies and incentives.

That said, when are we getting flying cars??

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