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America’s Cars Are Getting Faster and More Efficient (bloomberg.com)
278 points by JumpCrisscross on May 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 515 comments

A few weeks ago I bought a Chevy Bolt EV...according to the dealer it was the first one sold in my state (Utah). I'd been on a waiting list for almost a year.

Sure, ICE engines are getting better, but EVs are rapidly gaining and will soon surpass. The Bolt is a bit expensive for a car of its body type, but "gassing up" at home is amazing, the 200+ mile range is great, and the sharply reduced emissions are a weight off the mind. It's also super quiet, as you would expect, and boy howdy does it have get-up-and-go. Sure, some of it is psychological because a) it's whisper quiet as it accelerates; b) the raft of batteries in the belly keeps that car planted to the road; and c) there's no pause to down-shift. But I've owned some fast cars[1], and this one feels like the fastest yet.

It's nice that ICE engines are improving, but between the Bolt, Tesla Model 3, and other soon-to-arrive practical EVs, I believe that the sunset of ICE is beginning.

[1] Notable examples in order of speediness: 1973 Dodge Charger (340ci), 1970 Dodge Challenger (383ci), 1996 Camaro Z28 (350ci), 2000 Camaro SS (350ci).

Electric vehicles are a tough sell now though. The Chevy Bolt EV has a 60 kWh Lithium-ion battery; to charge that fully costs $8.7 in Utah (14.5 cents per kWh). Per the EPA's measure that gets you 238 miles.

Gas costs approx $2.24/gallon in Utah. A Prius has a 11.3 gallon tank and a 540 miles range (again, EPA standard). That means that $11.15 would get you the same distance as a full Bolt EV charge in gas.

Now, before electric vehicle fans jump for joy at the $2.45 saving per 238 miles, we also have to account for the cost of the two vehicles. The Bolt EV costs $36,620, the Prius $23,475.

Therefore for the Bolt EV to make economic sense you have to drive 1,276,942 miles. Or fuel has to get much more expensive, or electricity much cheaper. Regardless, the economics don't add up at all when compared with hybrid gas vehicles.

Yes, I know, lower maintenance, but not $13K lower. And before you talk to me about the cost of driving to and from a gas station, let me remind you about battery loss due to cold temperatures (this is Utah we're talking about, after all).

In general people buying electric vehicles in 2017 are buying them for non-economic reasons. They lose money. Hybrids are likely the best bang for your buck, and may remain that way even after Tesla ship their $36K competitor (since no other major metric in the equation changes, electricity is still very expensive, and gas very cheap).

Economics is only a single factor though. Part of the decision for me was that zippy-peppy driving, it's mad fun. I haven't driven a Prius, but I don't get the impression it's so much fun to operate.

Also, I hate stopping at gas stations, not just for the monetary cost, but for the time and general annoyance. Now I just plug in every night, my car is always ready to go. I'm never rushing off to an appointment only to realize that my tank is nearly empty, which will make me late. And I never have to change the oil.

And now I can make my weekly ~140 mile round trips without feeling so much polluter's guilt. Sure, it's a drop in the bucket, but a full bucket is full of drops.

Did you take into account that these cars can be programmed to wait until nighttime to start charging, when rates are lowest?

Anyway, sure, economics is a big factor that will slow adoption, but it won't halt it.

Edit to add: Plus I get $9,000 in total tax rebates. Tasty.

> And I never have to change the oil.

Well yeah, you kind of do need to change the oil if you don't want the gearbox to die an early death. There's also still coolant that needs to be changed regularly as well. EVs have significantly less maintenance, but there's still critical maintenance that must be done on time if you don't want to damage your car.

What are you talking about? Here's the official maintenance interval for the Bolt:


It calls for tire rotations every 7,500 miles - not a lot you can do about that, and I suspect tire wear will be worse in a torque-happy EV. Skipping them will only reduce your traction, which I suppose could damage you and your car. And of course you have "required services" like brake pads when those wear out and start to squeal; probably less common due to regenerative braking from the electric motor: Engine braking is a habit that takes work with an ICE, but it's the norm in an EV. And you might want to change the cabin air filter when it gets dusty - not that my vehicles haven't gone...a long time...without cabin air filter changes. Skipping them won't damage your car, just your nose. But fluid flushes? Hardly necessary.

Coolant only needs to be changed at 150,000 miles - hardly "regularly". Most ICE cars don't need changes at less than 100,000 mile intervals. In an EV like the Bolt, coolant deals with a lot less heat than an ICE and doesn't suffer microscopic contamination from hot exhaust gasses and oil.

And the Bolt doesn't have a transmission; it's direct drive. Gearboxes (I assume you mean manual transmissions?) typically take synthetic gear lube now with recommended intervals of 200,000 to 300,000 miles. Differentials use the same stuff. I did elect to change the differential fluid in my Jeep at 250,000 miles - but those diffs are taking a lot more abuse than a typical car.

To be fair, I didn't know that the coolant in a Bolt is supposed to be good for 150,000 miles, that's a good bit longer than I figured. I was thinking closer to 90,000 miles, but you're right, the lower service temperature and also less metal surface area will make it last longer in an EV. But in an ICE, exhaust and oil should not be getting into the coolant at all. If it is, any long life coolant is going to need to be changed out immediately while your head gasket is replaced to fix the oil/exhaust leak. One of the major reasons why coolant has a service life is because of corrosion inhibitors present in it that get used up over time.

You're also right that brake pads are going to last longer, on an EV, they barely wear at all. However, there's the brake fluid that will wear out just as fast as on any car. Over time brake fluid picks up humidity, there's no easy way around this. It'll cause the car to potentially lose the brakes if ignored long enough or even rust out brake lines.

Then there's still every single suspension component that a traditional car has. Balljoints and tie rod ends are always going to wear. If you're lucky, your manufacturer might have chosen components with built in grease fittings so that with regular maintenance you can extend the lifespan of those components but that's the exception, not the rule. There's still bearings, shock absorbers, CV joints, motor mounts, and bushings on various things. Every one of those has a finite service life, just because Chevy doesn't list a recommended interval to replace them doesn't mean that they don't need to be inspected and replaced as they wear down.

As for the actual oil comment though, the Bolt isn't direct drive, it has a fixed ratio gearbox with a differential built in. It only has a couple of gears and the differential, but still, they're helical gears and they need the right viscosity oil. Over time, those gears are going to degrade the oil from the shear forces and add contaminants to it. Contaminants are also slowly going to seep in from the vent, you can't completely seal up a gearbox, you need to have a vent on it otherwise running it is going to push oil out of the seals around the axles. As for the recommended intervals you quoted, that's pretty unrealistics and most manufacturers aren't recommending crazy intervals like that.

Here's the maintenance schedule for a Honda: https://techinfo.honda.com/rjanisis/pubs/om/SI9999/SI9999O00...

It doesn't have that high of a service interval but for something like a 2015 Honda Civic it's still just using their regular long life coolant which is supposed to be good for 5 years or 60,000 miles. Brake fluid is something that's pretty much always going to last around 3 to 5 years regardless of manufacturer. And manual transmissions typically have a much more reasonable recommended fluid life of somewhere around 90,000 to 120,000 miles. Some manufacturers are listing some transmissions as having "lifetime" fluid, but there's also identical transmissions with the same fluid in other vehicles where the recommendation is 90 to 120 thousand miles. There's no such thing as "lifetime fluid", every single fluid in any vehicle wears down in use and picks up contaminants, eventually every fluid will need to be replaced. Any manufacturer who tells you otherwise is lying to you.

Do you have a source for some of your claims? Honestly the recommended change interval of 200,000 to 300,000 is higher than I've ever seen and even on stuff like a 2015 VW Jetta you're supposed to change the manual transmission fluid every 40,000 miles. Here's the 2014 Jeep Wrangler service interval for the manual transmission and transfer case: http://www.wranglerforum.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=198...

250,000 miles is much too long for a differential, I'd imagine the drain plug was probably coated in metallic sludge right? I've seen a few drain plugs out of differentials and transmissions that were all treated way better and still be coated in what used to be the gears.

I think you're confusing service interval items that are "check/verify" with "need to do". I'm almost positive you don't need to check or change anything that extensively on a manual transmission VW.

Also, we figured out a long time ago that sealed transmissions are okay, but it all boils down to how you drive the vehicle. Yeah, if you treat the car like shit, or you get the transmission checked (if this is even possible these days), if it's low then there's something wrong & you'll need to add fluid, or drain & fill. Otherwise? You don't touch it & it's fine. Volkswagens last a solid 200-300k miles before you actually need to do something major, but that's subjective.

Yes, there's all these wonderful suspension components, but I imagine with Tesla vehicles, those components are most likely heavier duty than a regular vehicle, given all the fucking obnoxious batteries. They also probably wear a lot differently & components will fail differently than they will & at different rates compared to a traditional ICE vehicle.

No the 40,000 miles really is for replacement. That being said it does sound pretty low and it is for their fancy dual clutch direct shift transmission. But sealed transmissions with "lifetime" fluid wear out faster than a decent transmission. There isn't some major transmission improvement that allows for a sealed transmission, it's just a regular transmission that you can't perform maintenance on.

As for whether or not it's strictly necessary, you can avoid oil changes altogether and a decent car will make it quite a long way before it seizes up.


You can do the same with a transmission or a differential, but they'll last a lot longer if you replace the contaminated and worn out fluid with new fluid.

But even just checking the fluid level in a transmission or differential, if the fluid is low, you can't ever just refill it. It didn't burn up, you've got a leak and it'll probably just get worse if you ignore it. There are plenty of vehicles out there with absolutely ludicrous mileage on them, on a modern vehicle, if you keep on top of maintenance, engines and transmissions can last hundreds of thousands of miles.

As for suspension components on a Tesla though, I would expect to spend a decent bit keeping all of them in working order. The suspension on a Tesla is really nice, but air suspension isn't nearly as robust as a simpler Macpherson strut setup on an econobox. It's fancy, but fancy suspension and more moving parts means more things to wear out and fail. You've got 2x the ball joints to fail in the front, additional linkages all over, and more bushings to wear out.

My toyota has lifetime trans fluid, which smart owners change every 100k. Chevy iirc was the 1st to try this in the corvette transaxle. It makes maint a lot harder if you keep a car more than a decade. No fluids additives can last that long. You will just end up replacing whole components instead of servicing them.

And all ecars have at least a differential, and many have gearsets, even if they do not shift. These are mostly heilical/hypoid style gears. That fluid uses shear additives that need to be replenished to abate wear. If you have not changed your trans/diff fluid in over 100k, now is the time. Your jeep, having a solid axle, is tremendously more simple and overbuilt than a normal car too. Extrapolating from that is not accurate.

The coolant on a Bolt EV needs changing after 150k miles (http://imgur.com/7hF0Ijg). What gearbox?

The Bolt is not direct drive, it has a single motor hooked to a fixed gear ratio final drive and a differential in it. It looks like Chevy doesn't actually provide a maintenance schedule for the oil in the gearbox but it's no different than any other gearbox, the oil will wear down from shearing and contamination will build up over time. 100,000 miles is probably a good service interval but Chevy doesn't bother to tell you how often you should change it.

Coolant on my Nissan Leaf is 75k miles. Reduction gear oil is just inspect; it's a single gear. Brake fluid is the normal 30k miles.

>Reduction gear oil is just inspect; it's a single gear.

Well actually, a Nissan Leaf is going to have 8 gears in the reduction drive. 4 in the differential, 2 to couple the differential to an intermediate shaft, and another 2 to couple that shaft to the motor itself. That being said, ATF does wear out over time, those gears are going to be adding finely powdered metal to the fluid and even just the shearing forces on the fluid literally breaks down the oil chemically. It'll certainly last a whole lot longer than engine oil but eventually that inspection is going to necessitate a replacement.

Everyone buying new cars is buying them for non-economic reasons. The purchase price of any new vehicle is a tough sell.

If your primary concern is cost-per-mile, it's hard to beat an old $250 moped off Craigslist that gets 100+ mpg.

If you claim you need something more enclosed, an old truck for $2000 might be your answer. In that rustbucket, you're belching smoke into the atmosphere and burning a dollar of gas every 5 miles, but it will still get you more than 100,000 miles before you match the purchase price of the Prius. In those same 100,000 miles, the Prius has been burning gas as well (true, at a whopping 47 mpg) but this gas cost would be enough to buy you a replacement old truck (or, let's face it, a second old truck).

To be more serious, I bought my 2003 Toyota Matrix XRS with 150k miles for $3100, and have been getting about 30 mpg for the past 60,000 miles. Every purchase of a new vehicle - hybrid, electric, or gas - is done for non-economic reasons.

Right. I drove an old corolla many years for this reason. It got 40mpg, got it for a song. 500 in maintenance per year.

Cheap. One kid still has and drives that car. Approaching 400k miles now.

> Electric vehicles are a tough sell now though. The Bolt EV costs $36,620, the Prius $23,475.

You could split the difference -- buy a Chevy Volt for $34,095 ($26,595 after Fed Tax Credit). Drive electric up to 50+ miles per charge, but still get 42mpg when driving on gasoline, with over 420 miles of total range per fueling.

> In general people buying electric vehicles in 2017 are buying them for non-economic reasons. They lose money. Hybrids are likely the best bang for your buck.

I'd argue plug-in hybrids are where the real sweet spot is.

It's only an extra $3k over the Prius, to get ~90% of your driving miles via zero-emission electricity, but still have full gasoline available for any long-distance trips. I think that's a really compelling argument. It's really easy to save more than just $3k on fuel alone, after a couple of years with that car.

Regular hybrids are cheaper up front, but are wasteful. They cheap out on tiny batteries that are way too weak to take full advantage of the vehicle's technology. Stick a wall-chargeable 10-20 kWh battery into a hybrid, and you get the best of everything in one vehicle.

Hybrids are cool, but now you have to maintain an electric and gasoline engine. I'm in the market for a new car and when comparing the prices of a new Chevy Volt vs. a new Chevy Bolt, it's not a huge price difference to go all electric and greatly reduce moving parts.

> The Bolt EV costs $36,620, the Prius $23,475.

The Chevy Bolt has a $7500 electric vehicle tax credit, many states have rebates of $1000 to $3000, and some utility companies offer their own rebates and incentives. That narrows the price difference quite a bit, and drops it well below the average new car selling price.

You're also not going to be producing gasoline at home, while a lot of people buying these expensive early electric vehicles are also early adopters of solar panels.

If you look at the $/kWh trend on lithium ion batteries (over 80% drop in 6 years), the most expensive part in these cars, it's only a matter of time before EVs cost no more than other types of vehicles without the government help.

> You're also not going to be producing gasoline at home, while a lot of people buying these expensive early electric vehicles are also early adopters of solar panels

I'm an electric car fan, but to be fair, unless your solar installation is proceeding more than you can use, and you don't have net-metering, then this is a false advantage here. Every KWh you use to charge your car is one you'll eventually have to buy from (or not sell to) the power company.

> are also early adopters of solar panels.

Solar panels which are paid for themselves by sending money back to the grid. If you redirect it into your vehicle, then you've just transferred the cost from the power company to your solar panel loan.

If you're out of the house during the day, you can sell those kWh to the grid at peak prices, then buy them back at night when they're cheap and you're home charging the EV.

You forgot oil changes in you calc. Also your $8.70 is only $4.19 in Washington :).

Costs are dropping on EVs and will continue to drop as economy of scale picks up. They may not make sense today but there's a good chance they will tomorrow.

Interesting. In Vancouver in CDN$ $5.15-$7.72 to charge and $25.80@1.369 per liter to fill up.


Yup, hydro is awesome for cheap renewable electricity.

Try to tell that to an Ontarian.

The hydroelectric generation is cheap in Ontario, but not overly abundant. The majority of the power in the province comes from much more costly nuclear sources.

And you get to go in the HOV lanes as well!

Until they get popular.

Maintenance costs are about 1/3 of ICE cars, too.

>You forgot oil changes in you calc.

Are you, perhaps, being sarcastic with your comment?

Anyway, there are few countries (if any) on Earth where EVs make financial sense for an average person. Their time will come, but buying into it now is not investing – indeed, as the GP commented, you do it for altogether different reasons.

No, he's not being sarcastic. Are you? EVs don't require oil changes. Or muffler/exhaust service. Or transmission service. And their brakes last longer.

Don't forget battery replacement... Our the environmentalist coast to build a battery

A properly designed EV (Tesla and GM, not Nissan, Kia or VW) has a properly designed cooling and battery maintenance system, and shouldn't need battery replacement for a _long_ time.

Small nit: The cooling system still requires service, however it's only every 50k miles and runs about $800.

That said last time I broke down my per-mile costs new tires at $1k every 40k was my highest cost by far.

Are you non-sarcastically implying that an oil change presents as a major expenditure in owning and using an ICE vehicle?

If so, I get it.. you don't own a car; which begs the question of why are we discussing this?

Yup and if you want to make a true comparison find a 500hp car(that will probably run on premium, get ~25mpg and use synthetic oil). That's what our 85D is.

Did I break even? No, but with prices coming down it'll happen.

>Did I break even?

Well down-vote me to make it up.

Here ya go then: http://teslapedia.org/model-s/tesla-driver/total-cost-of-own...

No, I didn't break even because I came from a '03 beater that I'd been driving for the last 15 years. The thing is, if no one buys EVs there won't be sustained demand. I don't mind spending a bit more on my end to make sure the industry moves forward(I believe they call that voting with your money).

100,000 miles changing oil every 3,000 miles at $30 a pop is ~$1000 so yes, within consideration.

>changing oil every 3,000 miles

What? I mean, what? Whatever you want, I guess.

Multiple people where I work change the oil in their cars at this rate. I explained that you can go further with more modern oils, especially synthetic, to no avail. I think you'd be surprised at how much people spend on car maintenance.

In the UK people are told to change their oil once a year or 10k miles. If you do it every 3k miles in the US, which of us is doing it wrong? Either we're damaging our cars or you're wasting money and oil. They're the same cars doing the same distance, and parts of the US are similar climates.

>Either we're damaging our cars or you're wasting money and oil.

The latter.

Most manufacturers recommend 10,000 miles now, some as high as 15,000 (Jaguar, known for being unreliable):


Being as how manufacturers have to cover the warranty issues that could be related to lack of oil changes, I go with what they recommend.

I guess I'm at the other end of spectrum by simply following what the manufacturer proposes: I change my oil along with the filter every 18,000 miles, and so far, after 100,000 miles (and then some) have not had any issues. (My car is rather cheap, or in EV sense practically free, so I'm not all too concerned, either.)

The engine does not consume too much oil, either, so a single 4L bottle – about a gallon I think – is easily all that the oil I need between changes. With European prices, that is the equivalent of a single refill (even with my modest tank size), which makes you simply laugh and wonder at all the people that (always) bring up oil changes in the discussion of ICE vs EV. I can't but wonder how many of those actually own and maintain a not-imaginary vehicle.

What vehicle do you drive that you can get away with 18k mile oil changes? And are we discussing actual gas or that diesel crap?

It's a VW Polo from the early noughties. Petrol, albeit a rather small engine to match the car :)

To clarify my earlier post, I meant of course that a single bottle of oil is enough for the refill (between 3 and 4 litres) and more than enough for any top-ups for the about 30000 km before the car starts to remind of the end of the “Long Life” maintenance cycle. Oil is certainly not up there when it comes to costs of owning a small car, ICE or not.

A cursory look at used oil: it's still rather like the stuff that goes in, albeit black, of course. Without specific tools, I think it's impossible to tell it apart from oil that's used for, say, 10000 km.

thats a pretty standard recommendation from practically all german car manufacturers - to change oil roughly every 30-35k kilometers - which is about 18k miles.

I've never seen that anywhere in the United States. 10k miles is the highest I've seen for BMWs & if it isn't that, people say the typical advice is "once a season" depending on how you drive.

I think the UK we don't even have the same 'lube shops' that you do. The dealerships change your oil at the yearly service.

It's a whole industry that you have that seems to be entirely redundant!

dealerships in the US are nicknamed "stealerships." People typically don't go to the dealership for service once the warranty is up, if at all. The dealerships in my area charge as much as 4x the cost of independent shops for maintenance: $120 for an oil change at the local toyota dealership vs. $30 at the garage 1/4 mile down the road. The dealership is also more likely to find non-existent problems with wear parts like brakes, belts, filters, suspension, etc to upsell you or push you to the sales department.

3,000 mile oil changes hasn't been a standard recommendation in the US for at least a decade, probably longer.

These days, most (all?) cars have an idiot light that pops on every 5-10k miles, based on usage patterns. Some have a more robust algorithm than others. Either way, in my experience, my last 3-4 cars (Jeep, Lexus, Volvo, VW) have all gone about 8k miles between services, as indicated by the light.

In all honesty, the only way you can really know when to change your oil is to have regular oil analysis done, to know when certain variables change that indicate "oil change needed soon" (or worse - service engine now). But that isn't cheap, and it must be done on a regular schedule, and you must also understand the results.

It used to be that the oil change interval was something like 3k miles for stop-n-go traffic (or dusty conditions) - ie, regular city driving. You could go about 6-8k for highway driving. If you were doing off-road driving, the number could be as low as 2k.

Today's oils are better, and so is the manufacturing and other factors; so longer intervals don't surprise me - but you have to be dealing with a newer car, something made in this century at least.

Even so, for my own vehicles I try not to go much beyond 6k between changes, and for one of my vehicles it's closer to the 3k mark (because I want it to last as long as possible - then again, its engine is a known oil-burner, and between oil changes I add enough oil for it to equal an oil change; I could almost just change the filter and do nothing else). The money I may be wasting isn't a big deal to me, plus I get a fresh filter (also, I do my own oil changes, so the numbers are a bit lower depending on what dino juice I use).

Generally, the best way short of an analysis to judge doing an oil change is by looking with your eyes at the color of the oil, by feel (rub it thru your fingertips), and by smell. It's a thing you have to get a "feel" for, and between that knowledge and what your miles since the last change, you can know if you need a change or not.

Another thing you can do (I learned this from a website that tested an analysis company - and to see how long they could really go between oil changes) is to (every 3k) drain a quart of oil out of the engine (you need something like a fumoto plug for this), and then swap on a new filter and refill with a new quart of oil. It's basically a "topping up" procedure, but if you do that, you can go for about 12k between full oil changes. However, you should only do this if you are analyzing your oil.

take the dipstick out, wipe it on your hand and give it a good whiff.

The 'idiot light' is not based on miles, but on how much oil is actually in the engine. There's a sensor in there that if it touches air, essentially, the light goes on. You can trip this on certain VWs if you turn very sharply & you are low enough on oil.

Compare this to GM/Chevy vehicles where this is a 'solved problem' with their on board DICT computer, it measurements the containment (via resistance? electricity?) in the oil & tells you the 'health' or 'life' of the oil until you need to change it. This leads to a lot more reasonable oil change intervals in line with Mobile's testing over the years: 5k, 7k or 10k change intervals are common.

BMW is one of the few brands that recommends once a season, or 10k, because they know what oil is capable of, in so far as they've removed dip-sticks entirely (retarded decision, but hey). However, most dealerships & shops? They still want that sweet money on that 3k oil change. 5k has become the 'open secret' standard, though.

The 'idiot light' is not based on miles, but on how much oil is actually in the engine. There's a sensor in there that if it touches air, essentially, the light goes on. You can trip this on certain VWs if you turn very sharply & you are low enough on oil.

I'm talking about the "Service Required" indicator/message that appears in the central info display, not the "Check Engine Light". Two different things in the VW, Lexus, and Jeeps I've owned.

> In general people buying electric vehicles in 2017 are buying them for non-economic reasons. They lose money. Hybrids are likely the best bang for your buck, and may remain that way even after Tesla ship their $36K competitor (since no other major metric in the equation changes, electricity is still very expensive, and gas very cheap).

That may be true in America. Here in Norway, fuel costs 1.7 euros/L; that is, $7/gallon. The calculation comes out rather different.

I think it's possible that the economics of electricity will change dramatically in the next few years. Already, in several states, we see days where solar generation momentarily dramatically exceeds demand - and with solar so cheap now, that's only going to get more extreme. Charging batteries seems like a good thing to do with a power surplus, and it makes more economic sense to charge a consumer's battery than to fill up some grid-storage solution.

For what it's worth, I've been driving an EV for three years and haven't spent a cent on fuel. My work parking garage has a free charger, as does my wife's. half a mile from my home there are free public charging stations as well. I could charge at home, but free electricity is awesome. I don't expect this to last forever of course, but it has made my car costs infinitely cheaper to run.

You'd be surprised at how much the maintenance savings are. They could easily make up the difference in price of the car. Especially when you count the $7500 tax refund for getting an EV. It's not just oil changes but everything else having to do with an ICE you get to skip out on. Plus brake changes are far more rare due to so much regenerative breaking.

Lastly I would add that you can't directly compare the cars on price in that way because the Bolt (and Nissan Leaf) are also much nicer cars than the base $23k Prius with many features the Prius doesn't have.

EDIT: oh and one more thing; I don't know about Utah but most energy companies in the US have different rates for electricity during the day or at night (off peak) and you can easily set your EV to charge overnight, saving even more money.

>I don't know about Utah but most energy companies in the US have different rates for electricity during the day or at night (off peak) and you can easily set your EV to charge overnight, saving even more money.

Thanks for mentioning this. It is significantly cheaper to charge at night if your energy company drops the price during off-peak hours. That $8 or $9 drops to like $3 or $4 here in MA with National Grid service. I did some really rough math and figured that it would cost about half as much to charge a Chevy Bolt from 0 to 100% than it would be to fill my current car, a 2014 Jetta, with gasoline. My greenhouse gas emissions will go down by over 50% judging from an estimate I got based on how MA currently generates energy.

That said, I put a deposit down on a Bolt Premier but am not sure if I will be buying it because it is damn expensive, even after tax rebates and such.

Honestly you can take the $10k+ difference and donate it to charity or save it up for your kid's college, if you have children. $10k can buy malaria nets for 4000 kids in Africa, if you donate to some place like Against Malaria Foundation. At the moment, I don't see any altruistic outcome from buying EVs. Personally, I am also against using any non-economic arguments in choosing cars, unless you are really rich and the difference is only a drop in the bucket.

Part of the equation is that, conceivably, it's a good thing to give Tesla or whoever enough money to iterate on the things they're designing, so that through the iterations they can make them cheaper.

The cynic in me would say that saving 4000 African children would actually adversely affect the environment, where as supporting development of electric vehicles is at worst trivially beneficial.

They aren't quite economically feasible now but they are getting darn close. Also, how long do electric cars last? I assume they would last longer with the simpler drive trains (except for stuff like battery replacements) but I'm not sure because they are so new. If they can make them last longer that also would solve the economic issue pretty immediately

I own a Tesla S85 and recently had a Cadillac ATS rental for a few days. It was an interesting contrast, since the official 0-60 times of the two cars are almost the same, yet the Cadillac felt like an absolute slug by comparison.

I think a lot of it is that there's a great deal of lag in traditional drivetrains, and we rarely do 0-60 in actual real-life driving. More typically we're doing 0-30 or 30-40 or 55-65. Once the traditional drivetrain does all of its clunking around and can start putting down the power, it can compete, and in a 0-60 run that initial period isn't too bad. But in normal driving, the relative significance of the delay is huge. It doesn't just feel quicker, it is quicker for more typical situations.

At this point, the main thing traditional cars have going for them is cost. And that's probably just a matter of time.

I also have a model S, but I have owned a couple of other high performance gas cars that are much more responsive on the 55-65 or 40-70 acceleration test (passing at highway speeds). That's the only common case where the tesla loses to gas vehicles, and then only high performance gas vehicles (e.g. 300HP+ coupe/sedan models).

But the 0-30 thing is exactly right in my experience. Even more powerful vehicles don't have the instant and smooth acceleration feel of an electric motor.

This is due to the rising power curve of ICE.

There's that, plus the time that it takes for the automatic transmission to decide that yes, you really do want to accelerate, and yes, maybe it ought to get around to increasing the RPMs one of these seconds.

Electric cars opened my interest car performance. I now have a higher performance ICE than I ever thought I would spend money on, but I still miss my tiny little electric Fiat 500e, even though my ICE is definitely better at 40-80mph.

Fiddling with gears, monitoring RPM, what a terrible system. Feels like a steam engine after being in an electric.

>Fiddling with gears, monitoring RPM, what a terrible system.

For some of us, this "terrible system" is one of the best parts of owning an ICE vehicle with a manual transmission.

I can totally see how that would be true. You build muscle memory and positive associations around the operation of the machine. But you've gotta see too how it's akin to turning a rotary phone dial.

In some ways, yes, but excluding dual clutch transmissions, manual transmissions really do have a performance advantage while rotary phones did not have any advantage over touch tone other than, maybe at one point, cost.

I doubt that there are many drivers who can outperform a modern automatic transmission.

I disagree. As eeks points out, fully automatic transmissions are kind of awful at making decisions.

I have a case when I was driving into work this morning. I got stuck behind a funeral procession going 35 MPH on a 65 MPH interstate highway (Uggghhhhh)

I look to my left-mirror, and I see a spot I can feasibly make, I just gotta time it right to get "into" the flow of traffic. So what do I do?

I drop to 2nd gear (The Gear ratios on the Ford Focus are kinda "weak"). My engine roars but its cool, because my engine's top-Torque is in the 4000RPM to 6000RPM band. When the "spot" opens up, I floor the acceleration pedal and get in just fine.


A fully automatic vehicle wouldn't "know" that I wanted to "prepare" for the sudden acceleration. It only knows after you push the pedal.

A manual driver however, can tell the car to "prepare" for acceleration, so that when you push the accelerator you are 100% ready to go.


Semi-automatic vehicles (including some "sport" CVT engines I've test-driven) would work. The important bit is to be able to change gears way ahead of time BEFORE you push the accelerator.

Automatic transmissions are better & smarter than you. you may have to drive a little differently if you're driving an automatic in the scenario you described, but saying that it doesn't ''know'' what you wanted to do means either your transmission is virgin & hasn't learned your habits, or, had a different driver for several years & is shifting at the wrong points. This 'ready to go' thing is all hogwash manual elitism.

Look, a CVT semi-automatic probably would outperform me. I'm no master driver or whatever.

But a typical automatic transmission? Dude, I have a huge advantage as a human. I have eyes. I can see things the engine cannot.

It takes time for a internal combustion engine to rev up to its ideal torque band. The Ford Focus is a turbocharged engine, which means it only achieves maximum torque above 4000 RPM.

Since most automatic transmissions are tuned for fuel efficiency (ie: 2000RPM band or so), they will perform worse when you're trying to accelerate. The manual driver has the advantage that they can choose fuel efficiency (ie: 2000RPM most of the time), or in cases of emergency... kick it into (low) gear for very high RPM to maximize the torque band.


ICE Engines are all about tradeoffs, and the manual driver can choose the RPM-band that best matches the situation.

Would a properly tuned automatic beat me in fuel economy? Probably.

Would a properly tuned automatic beat me in acceleration? Probably.

But no automtaic can be tuned to do both at the same time. Since high-Torque is high-RPM only... and fuel efficiency is low-RPM only... the computer cannot be tuned to try to do both at the same time.

Unless it's hooked into a sophisticated camera system, how could an automatic transmission possibly learn that I'm going to want a lot of acceleration in a couple of seconds once this car passes me?

By the way, I'm not a manual elitist, but rather an EV elitist. I like not having a transmission at all.

Automatic, yes. Semi-automatic, no. With semi, the driver makes the decision, and the system execute it (the best in class is within 10ms IIRC).

Most electric cars have only 1 gear (including reverse), isn't that a manual transmission? :-) It doesn't automatically shift...

That's no excuse

Tesla fudged the 0-60 times for the S85 to be slower than actual. They claimed 5.4 seconds, independent testers saw 4.9 seconds or better. I suspect this is at least some of what you saw.

The "lag" at launch would be the power curve...power doesn't peak at low rpms.

>I own a Tesla S85 and recently had a Cadillac ATS rental for a few days.

The MSRP on the Tesla is twice as much as the ATS, so I would expect performance differences.

>and we rarely do 0-60 in actual real-life driving.

Many people would be mostly satisfied with great handling over speed in daily driving, but don't know what that feels like in a car.

My point is not just that the Tesla performs better, but that it does so despite a similar 0-60 time. The price difference has nothing to do with that.

>The price difference has nothing to do with that.

Price has nothing to do with performance?

0-60 time is 0-60 time, regardless of how it feels. "Performance" can be measured. Maybe I'm still missing your point.

The person I replied to described pretty much the same experience with an EV that costs about the same as the ATS. My overall point is that EVs tend to perform better for normal driving tasks despite having similar 0-60 time because you don't often do 0-60 runs in normal driving tasks. The ATS may well match my S85 in 0-60 time, but there's no way it matches the 0-30 time, which is far more common in normal driving.

I recently completed a day of high performance driving school where we ran M3s and M4s the whole day (these were all equipped w/ DCT, the Competition Package, and Carbon Ceramic brakes).

There is so much more to actual high performance driving than acceleration numbers. You may say "oh yea, cornering!" and while that's certainly delving deeper into it, there's a _lot_ more than just that (and many, many things go into "cornering").

So the M3/M4 w/ the competition package makes 444 hp and does 0-60 in 3.9s, which is "slow" compared to a P100D in Ludicrous Mode. It's actually really fast with just 2 driven wheels, but there's much faster out there. But, now:

- The Transmission. Transmissions are a technical solution to a technical limitation of ICE, namely the fact that the delta of engine speed is much smaller than the delta of wheel speed (even at "just" legal speeds), therefore gearing was introduced. Transmissions are not necessary, and should not be seen as something that's great about a car, if a car is capable of being driven at the full range of wheel speeds its market segment targets w/o a transmission. While the DCT is perhaps one of the best transmissions in the world (on par with exotics found in much more expensive vehicles), it will be a good riddance when it's no longer necessary. No matter how good a transmission is, there will be an imbalance in power when shifting, which _will_ upset the vehicle in a high performance cornering scenario, which the closer you are to the limit (with something like DCT, you will need to be a highly skilled driver to even begin to approach having this matter), the more it will count.

- Suspension and, directly related, vehicle weight. Your Tesla can do 3.x 0-60, but you need high performance suspension and low weight to make use of it in corners. Something like the M3/4, and even more so the suspensions GM has been putting in its high performance products like the Stingray (which trickles down to Camaros and ATS/CTSes), are a world away from just "standard" high performance suspension.

- Differentials, electronics. Limited Slip Differential will make a marked difference in high performance cornering when you're not exactly perfect. All the electronics for stability control, traction control, abs/braking, they all work in tandem. On the M3/4 they work really, really well. I was able to feel like Superman by pulling some feats that simply would not be possible without these advanced systems and my skill level. You would think that this is not so much of a good thing, but it actually works both ways and _can_ be good -- for example, as I got more confident on the AutoCross part of the day, I started to hit some of the nannies, particularly stability control which would not give me full throttle until I had unwound the steering wheel. Now, the instructors had been shouting this in my ear all day long, but actually _feeling_ this really connected it for me and I started to get it and was able to learn _faster_ because of the feedback I was getting from the car due to the nannies keeping me from wiping out. It was quite amazing, and I'm sure that very few of my fellow students realized just how much the electronics had helped them that day.

- Brakes! You need to stop. The simple fact that the M3/4 can be spec'd w/ Carbon Ceramic discs (which also moves from 4-piston to 6-piston calipers) puts it in a different class. We abused these cars all day long, maximum acceleration and maximum braking most of the time. The brakes never faded, it was simply incredible. 35-40 ppl abusing 12 cars (6 M3s & 6 M4s) for about 6 hours, zero fade (and zero mechanical issues out of a dozen cars). This makes it a street-legal track machine (tool), compared to just a car that gets to 60 MPH fast. We were told early on to literally "try to break the brake pedal off," and, because some students had reservations, they insisted "please, you cannot hurt these cars, do absolutely everything possible to break the brake pedal because we want you to experience maximum braking" (this was during a maximum braking exercise early on, which the later exercises built upon), finally adding "n fact, we challenge you, if you can break the brake pedal we'll give you the car for free." God knows I tried. Contrary to what you would think, the brakes had one of the most profound, lasting impressions on me, and I would absolutely, without batting an eye, spec the $8,500 option for the Carbon Ceramic brakes on these cars if I had the slightest inclination of tracking them.

- "Abuse" capacity. I'm not talking about long term reliability, as far as the engine is concerned, an electric engine _should_ be night & day compared to a complex, "cave age" ICE. But there's more to it, there's the drivetrain -- yea, even with a single speed, there are shafts, some sort of differential, in AWD applications even more complicated stuff going on. 35 monkeys trying to break these 12 cars resulted in.. nothing, not a single one of them exhibited any issues. The school ran for the whole week and we were the Wednesday class, so these cars had already been abused in similar fashion the 2 previous days. Now, these cars are engineered to do this, so it's not really abuse since they're made for it. That's why you're paying $80k+ for "just" an M3/M4 (again, with all the right options, the brakes being almost $10k of that), on paper it looks like "wtf, a Mustang GT makes about the same power" -- you're buying a real-deal track machine that's street-legal and, in 4 door guise, can take your kids to school too.

I _cannot wait_ for the time when there will be a comparable machine that does away with all the now-unnecessary complexity of ICE. Not having gearing and the issues it introduces will change some of the dynamics of high-performance driving, it will be superior even in the hands of pros. Until then, ICE is still here with us, and the 0-60 numbers on most/all cars are like MegaPixels on digital cameras.

> and the 0-60 numbers on most/all cars are like MegaPixels on digital cameras.

I think you're telling the same story from the other side. And it's a good one!

I see two major problems to overcome before EVs can start to really intrude on this particular part of the world.

First is weight. A Tesla battery is somewhere around 1,000-1,500lbs. Putting it under the floor helps a lot, but that's a lot of weight to carry around. You can overcome that in straight-line acceleration by suppling lots of power, but other aspects of handling can't help but suffer. I'm not very experienced with this stuff, but I hear that the Tesla handles reasonably well for its size but at the end of the day it's huge and heavy.

Second is heat. The electric drivetrain is efficient, so it doesn't produce a lot of waste heat, but it still produces some. And it's a lot harder to remove. You'll never run into this in normal driving, but with the sort of activities you were getting up to, an EV would start to limit your power output pretty quickly.

Hey, I'm all for people who like track racing, but you know, there's other people who like drag racing, and still others who like being able to floor it from a stoplight and beat that Maserati driver who's scared to even try because he'll make an embarrassingly-loud noise and lose.

Different strokes and all that. And for 2 of the 3 groups I just mentioned, 0-60 times are not like MegaPixels on digital cameras.

Enjoy your track racing!

Not to be a jerk, but how much does such an outing cost? :\

Are you in any of the areas of Utah that are prone to a decent amount of winter weather? I'd be interested to know how the range is affected by cold weather. We routinely take 600-2000 mile (round trip) ski trips in the winter, so that kind of vehicle is a non-option still.

I'm in SLC proper, so I'm sure my battery range will be impacted in the coldest months. It'll still theoretically be well above my maximum needs for years to come, but just in case, our second car is an old fashioned ICE (which will likely be replaced with a hybrid one day).

I have an electric _bicycle_ that routinely dusts off ICE cars at stop lights. It just takes a while for all that machinery to start rolling.

I have a pedal-powered bicycle that dusts ICE cars at stop lights. For, like, 5 metres...

Not only does it take a while to get all that machinery rolling, doing it quickly kills your gas mileage. Most drivers aren't drag-racing out of the stoplights.

I have a pedal-powered bicycle that dusts ICE cars at stop lights. For, like, 5 metres...

I've noticed that too. I'm no athlete, but I can often beat cars across an intersection. Another thing I've noticed is that many cyclists don't shift down before they stop. They have to get up off their seat to even start. Even people in full kit on expensive bicycles do this.

The most 'ludicrous mode' vehicle for 0 to 5 metres has to be the small wheeled folding bicycle. After those first 5 - 25 metres other modes of bicycle will be going past at speed, but, in that initial start you cannot beat the low weight and low center of gravity found on a Dahon style folding bike with gears.

Trackstands are instinctive on the folding bike and the small wheel helps filtering through traffic immensely. The grip-shift gears are also very helpful, there may be only half a dozen of them but it is much easier to rattle through them than it is with conventional shifters. In combination the special features of the 'shopper bike' means that I ace the fixie guys, the guys that don't drop into the right gear, the road-pro's with their pedals to clip in to and the people that best know how to time the lights.

Getting off the seat is risky on a folding bike, putting a foot down easy, but there is no need for that or an awkward track stand, instead, for cool-ness(!) you can put your feet on the frame and coast along with feet up.

Anyway, as fun as it may be to be the fastest and for that to be achievable with simple gear selection on a folding bike, when I am on a different bike and going some distance, I do not care about acing every light through that town center, if I can merely get to where I am going without being sent on a mystery tour of a ring road, to not get lost (losing 5 to 30 mins) then I am happy.

Yep, I have a 6-speed Brompton; I have to make a conscious effort not to pop a wheelie at every light change. Having a 3-speed hub shifter means I'm always sure to be in one of the two lowest gears at a light.

I do appreciate being able to stay ahead of cars for half of each block.

> Another thing I've noticed is that many cyclists don't shift down before they stop.

Heh, I even try not to stop at all, but to slow down a while before approaching the lights in hopes of them turning green before I reach them. Works relatively often. Unfortunately, more and more traffic lights in my town detect when there's someone waiting before changing to green, so you have to paddle all the way up to the light and then stop for a bit.

It's the starting and stopping that kills mileage.

Rabbit starts don't really matter (modern engines don't waste a whole lot of fuel anywhere in the power band).

Its more about the loss, and subsequent regeneration of momentum. Some evs do quite well at this. But the real solution is better civil engineering standards like roundabouts that concerve momentum rather than forcing stops. That would benefit all cars, drivers, and non drivers alike.

Yep, me too. Stand on the pedal with brakes on; torque at zero RPM. Though I have an EV too. Can't do that with an ICE unless power breaking.

>I have a pedal-powered bicycle that dusts ICE cars at stop lights. For, like, 5 metres...

But wow do I feel great for those 10 seconds before they catch up.

> Most drivers aren't drag-racing out of the stoplights.

You sure about that? Out here they do.

I've always felt the biggest factor for dusting other vehicles is reaction time from the light going green...

That's because you're going full power and the car driver isn't.

Did you get the LT or Premier? Also, do you have a Level 2 EVSE at home? To me, the Premier version is the only version really worth getting (with the DC Fast charging port upgrade at the very least), but the price tag is a bit hard to look at, especially when thinking about the sale tax, dealership fees, registration fees, electrician fees for the EVSE installation (optional, but barely), etc. that go on top.

I deliberately chose the LT, few of the Premier options were desirable for me (I care not for heated seats, heated steering wheel, etc). Some of the driver assist options would be nice, but not enough to justify the cost for me. I'm a safe driver, I don't do anything silly like text or talk on the phone while driving.

Mine came with fast DC charge support, I don't know if they moved that to be a standard feature, or if I just got lucky. I've used public fast DC chargers a few times now.

At the moment I am relying on the equipped 110v home charger and public fast chargers, but I will eventually get a home 220v charger. It's just not urgent because I maintain plenty of range as long as I plug in whenever my car is at home.

One thing to consider is that a lot of stuff works well for electric cars simply because they are not that ubiquitous. For example, many states allow them in the HOV lane unconditionally. However, if they are a higher fraction of the total cars that will stop. I have seen electric car chargers at various parking lots. If you have an EV, you are likely now to find a spot. When they are a lot, the majority of EV won't find a spot. The other issue is overnight charging. People who live in apartments will have trouble finding charging spots, when nearly everybody in their complex also has an EV. In addition, the spike in nighttime power draw on the electric grid is going to be an issue, especially in areas that are dependent on solar power.

I think a large part of the driver for EV currently is as a social status signal. When, that start going away and the inconveniences of EV with respect to ICE start affecting people, a lot of the momentum will stop.

Highway rest areas in CT have EV spots for charging. I see normal ICE parked there all the time. It's infuriating

Electric cars have constant torque. And it's a smaller car then all those listed. That's probably why it feels faster.

The Bolt EV 0-60mph is rated at 6.5s. That's amazingly fast.

A modern electric car like a Tesla, Bolt or i3 (I've driven all of them) really takes off like a roller coaster. Silent and instant smooth acceleration. They are amazingly fun to drive.

Is it? My diesel SUV is listed 0-60 in 5.8s...

Not any more. A 2017 Camry (family car) with the V6 is 6.1 seconds.


> with the V6

Are lots of people actually driving V6 Camrys? When I look at normal sedans the V6 engine is always a significant cost increase and completely destroys the car's MPG

Googling around I see rumor of a 10-15% take rate on the camry v6.

Toyota sold about 430k camrys in the US last year, so that would mean about 43k - 65k. Which is 3-4 times the number of EVs sold that year.

Some perspective: a beautiful 1964 V8 Mustang goes from 0-60 in 7.8 seconds. I'd say both these cars are pretty fast and that you're nitpicking.


The list of 6-second cars is pretty long. One that stands out is the 2017 Buick LaCrosse at 6.0 seconds and is currently selling in the $28k range (there are some amazing deals out there at present). Again, family sedan. With numbers that 20 years ago would have been "race car numbers".

That Buick beats the time of the 1996 Saleen S281 Mustang.


I'm not sure that I believe their assertion that cars have gotten lighter. Perhaps the real land-yacht monstrosities have been weeded out (and replaced with SUVs). But it seems like comfort and safety concerns, coupled with more power and better fuel economy have been causing equivalent cars to become heavier (and more expensive) over time.

As an example, one of my first cars was an 84 VW GTI. It weighed ~2000lbs. Try to find a car that light today. There is a nice comparison of that car and a modern VW GTI here: http://www.automobilemag.com/news/then-vs-now-1984-volkswage...

I think the same is probably true of most 70s and 80s economy cars vs today's cars. Today's equivalents are much heavier, but much safer, and much more pleasant to drive

Car models move upscale as they get older and newer models slide in under it. The old 80's Honda Accord is physically smaller than today's Toyota Civic. The spot that was occupied by the Civic is now occupied by the Fit. A 1996 Honda Civic hatchback was about 2600lbs which is the same as a 2016 Honda Fit.

This is so true. My first car was an '86 Honda Civic with a manual transmission; I drove it till it was about to fall apart, and loved the way it felt.

I later bought a manual transmission Fit because it felt and drove EXACTLY like my beloved Civic, but wasn't old and crappy. The way it shifted just felt perfect. Wonder how long it will take till the Fit starts expanding.

Former manual Fit owner here. I dearly loved that car. Fun to drive, transmission felt great, and there was never a time I couldn't find some way to fit whatever I needed hauling inside of it, and maintenance is on par with the lowest of any car. If I ever go back to driving, I sincerely hope they're still making them.

Where does one buy this "Toyota Civic" of which you speak?

The Fit has done a pretty good job - 10 years and 2 generations, and it has only added about 100 lbs to the curb weight.

Ha! Why in the world did I type that? A good car to see the progression of weight is a that hasn't changed market segment like a Porsche 911. Car&Driver did this up through 2011:


> Where does one buy this "Toyota Civic" of which you speak?

With the right badges, type-r stickers, and engine swaps - anything is possible...

My 1999 Camaro Z28: 320 HP and ~3,400 pounds

My 2016 Camaro 2SS: 457 HP and ~3,700 pounds

Well, half-right at least...

That said, IMO that 2016 car drives like a budget Porsche Cayman while the 1999 car was a glorious tire-smoking muscle car. Ironically, I get slightly worse mileage out of the 2016 edition (22 vs 25 mpg).

Why would that be ironic? It has almost 1.5x the horsepower.

Porsche's are more known for handling than straight line speed. So I am readying the OP's comment to mean the newer versions ride and handling are MUCH improved over its predecessor.

I read it as the 2016 car being a pussified dentist mobile while the older one was a "glorious tire-smoking muscle car".

Even the use of the word "glorious" implies that he enjoyed the older one better. People don't buy Camaros for the handling, even if it may have been improved.

Hey, another member of the two-Camaro club! I had a 1996 Z28 automatic and a 2000 SS 6-speed. How do you like the 2016 (apart from its Cayman-like ride)?

Love it to death! And I've driven both the current Challenger (didn't like) and the Mustang (more practical, but not as fun). I actively chose the Camaro over a Cayman because of the price difference and over a Corvette because of the blind spot indicators and better storage space.

Well F150s dropped a couple of hundred pounds go to aluminum. The Chevy Volt; I own the second generation; is three hundred pounds lighter.

Now if you go back twenty plus years or more before the age of crush points and advanced passenger safety systems both passive and active, yeah you can find your lighter weight cars. Cars which won't handle a head on with a car two sizes smaller.

Weight is one reason why manufacturers are loathe to commit all out for BEV, that thousand pounds of battery not only takes an hour to charge fully it weighs the same with or without a charge and imparts little range (sorry but if your range starts with a 1 or 2 its commuter range)

now take into account that many nameplates moved up in size classification. Accords certainly were not mid sized when they came out and even Chryslers minivan if not Honda's first weren't very big.

Efficiency gains are certainly there but much is lost with the way people drive.

Do you like the 2nd gen volt? :0

Agreed - the idea that modern cars are in aggregate lighter than the stuff from even the 80s/90s is laughable. I was really enjoying this article right up until the end, where instead of taking average data for car weights they simply compared two models of Camaro that buck the trend.

Granted cars have gotten much safer, but much of that is due to increased crash regulations forcing car manufacturers to make modern cars much larger to account for the crumple zones etc that make them much better at protecting occupants as well as pedestrians in accidents. This in turn is a major factor in why cars are so often much, much heavier today than before. Colin Chapman is probably turning in his grave!

Economy cars have gotten heavier, largely due to safety concerns. Bigger cars have gotten lighter.

So perhaps it would be fair to say that vehicle weights are converging on the low-mid 3000lb range.

The new BMW M5 is 4400 lbs. 30 years ago the BMW M5 was 3300 lbs.

The new BMW M5 is also closer to the size of a 7 series from 30 years ago. Additionally, even with AWD being added it's 200lbs lighter than the last gen was. Cars are certainly heavier on the whole than they used to be, but lightening them is starting to happen again and they're much safer than any car from decades past.

Yeah, my 79 BMW 528 was positively tiny compared to current models.

I also greatly preferred its' handling. Newer BMWs feel (to me) similar to driving my parents' Crown Vic (a comment that irritated the BMW dealer considerably).

The e28 M5 is more comparable to a 1 series now.

The e28 has a shorter wheelbase than the 1 series sedan (but is longer overall due to its stylish 80's big overhangs...) It is also narrower than the 1 series.

Counter point, my 97 Town Car weighed 500 lbs less then my 2011 Crown Victoria.

A new Fiat 500, Chevy Spark, or Mitsubishi Mirage have weight and performance similar to your old VW GTI. A new GTI is much bigger and despite the name has no real relation to the 1984 model.

> A new GTI is much bigger and despite the name has no real relation to the 1984 model.

Agreed, it's safer, considerably faster and much more luxurious. It is also priced a lot higher.

> It is also priced a lot higher.

Taking into account inflation, it's only priced slightly higher. 8400 dollars from 1984 becomes something like $19500. Which would get you a Honda Fit, which is probably a lot more similar to that old GTI.

Cars are safer and more comfortable, but the idea that cars are becoming bigger and heavier is more due to marketing pressure that forces car models to become "better" each generation.

The closest today to a mk1 golf/polo is probably the "up". having been in both, the interior space is very close to the golf, the boot is slightly smaller than the original polo. There's even a 120hp turbo version, with slightly better performance than the original golf GTI :)

What assertion that cars have gotten lighter?

The article only references gas mileage improvements, which are substantial.

My 2015 Taurus weighs over 4000 lbs @.@

I have made this argument before on the internet and I have learned that it is a European vs American perspective.

American cars in the 70s and 80s were monsters. Definitely heavier than modern cars.

For example, here are 10 popular cars in the US from 1984. http://www.caranddriver.com/features/1984-10best-cars-1984-h...

    Audi 5000s: 2850-3100 lbs
    Dodge Daytona: 2830 lbs
    Honda Accord: 2300 lbs
    Honda Prelude: 2220 lbs
    Mazda 626: 2220 lbs
    Pontiac 6000STE:  3000 lbs
    Pontiac Fiero: 2580 lbs
    Porsche 944: 2830 lbs
On the heavy side, no?

Then again, the best selling car in the US in 2016 is the Toyota Camry which is 3,245 to 3,480 lbs so I guess I'm wrong. Maybe US cars were monsters in the 70's then?

Don't forget 'car' is a rather arbitrary category. The car > minivan > SUV 'soccer mom' transition added these beasts:

  Infiniti QX80 – 5,633 pounds
  Toyota Sequoia – 5,730 pounds
  Toyota Land Cruiser – 5,765 pounds
  Lincoln Navigator – 5,830 pounds
  Lexus LX 570 – 6,000 pounds

The Toyota Land Cruiser is not like the others, it's popular with militant groups. And has been in production since 1951.

That's a connection more or less in name only. Much like the connection between a military hummer and an H3. The 1950 FJ and BJ was a jeep knockoff with a cloth roof. https://www.fj.co/blog/history-of-the-toyota-fj-series/ http://www.toyota-global.com/showroom/vehicle_heritage/landc...

The FJ40 from 1960 is somewhat comparable, but weighed 1/2 (3263 lbs) what the modern beast weighs.

The FJ60 (http://tlc4x4.com/fj60.htm#sthash.nB2cpi4h.dpbs) from 1981 was even closer and heavy at 4246 lbs, but again still 1,500 lb lighter than the current version.

Meh. The Chevy Suburban has been in near continuous production since 1929. The gap? When they used the factories that made them to turn out tanks for WWII.

Most of the cars you listed are the small side of the ones you'd see on the road in the US in the 80's.

I'm in Canada, and although I wasn't very old in the 80's, I remember seeing lots of Caprice Classics and Crown Victorias, which were around 3500 pounds, possibly more? My family have a Chevy Malibu wagon, which was a mid-size car but was definitely 3000+ lbs. Smaller cars were starting to become more popular, but there were still lots of monsters around.

So there were lots of heavy cars roaming the US and Canada in the 80s - but a new car of equivalent weight will usually use a lot less fuel, and be a lot more pleasant to drive.

But those monsters have been replaced with SUVs, which are just as heavy, if not heavier.

Eg, the 1977 Ford LTD Country Squire Wagon had a curb weight of 4500lbs. It has been replaced by SUVs like the Expedition, with a curb weight of 5500lbs.

> On the heavy side, no?

No. Car weights in America fell dramatically after the 1973 oil crisis, reached a low point in the mid 1980s, and have been rising since. Here are the 2017 Car & Driver 10 best

  BMW M2 3450
  Chevy Bolt 3563
  Chevy Camaro 3883
  Chevy Corvette Grand Sport 3428
  Honda Accord 3336
  Porsche 718 Cayman 2988
  VW Golf GTI 3027

Ah ok so 1984 was pretty much the worst year to look at when finding heavy cars? That explains a lot :)

Wow, a Fiero weighed 2580 LB? That must have been before it caught fire.

I suspect that people of the future will look back and be amazed that for more than a century we've been legally allowing our slow-reacting bodies [1] to ride around at 80mph in a 2-ton hideous mechanical equivalent of a horse, killing ourselves [2] and simultaneously destroying our cities [3].

I myself used to be a "petrolhead" my 20s and it's quite amazing to observe this awakening when looking in the mirror. I suspect it was caused by the revolution in electric/self-driving tech and traveling more and comparing car-centric US cities to other places.

  [1] 250ms delay at best, for young and healthy adults.
  [2] #1 cause, ahead of all guns, including suicides.
  [3] https://progressivetransit.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/cars-kill-cities

In the US only about 1 out of every 70 deaths is from an auto accident. As a single cause of death, it's not even in the top 10.

Less than 1 in 3 accidental deaths is auto accident related.

More people commit suicide (42,000) than die in auto accidents (40,000).


Deaths per mile driven have plummeted over time. From 24 per million miles in 1921, to 7 per hundred million miles in 1950, to 2.5 PHMM in the 1980s, 1.5 PHMM in early 2000s and now about 1.1 per hundred million miles.


They are set to plunge further as automated braking and collision avoidance become standard features over the next decade.

Edits: Corrected to deaths per 100M miles, not deaths per 1M miles.

1 out of 70 is pretty damn huge. We have global campaigns about preventing cancers that are less dangerous than car accidents. There was panic over Ebola, which killed essentially nobody compared to car accidents.

Yet the general response to 1/70 people deaths being because of cars is "meh, oh well."

Agreed. Part of the problem is that we use the word "accident" when it's almost always someone's fault.

Everytime I see someone driving terribly I know there's a 50%+ chance they have a sizable dent on their car from a car crash or from them hitting some inanimate object. It's actually a game I play - I'll see someone driving poorly and then say "where's the dent" and look for it. Sometimes I'll even switch lanes to check the other side where it will inevitably be. For certain cars like the Pontiac Grand-Am, my theory puts the dent % and dent damage much higher.

In many ways, insurance and how we treat collisions as "accidents" enables them to drive with no regard. By the time they're dropped from insurance, they probably already hurt someone.

Except that statistically car injury accidents are so rare, they probably haven't.

I was talking about those that get dropped by insurance (usually multiple crashes) and also - you can get injured and not report it.

But anyway, 4.6 M injuries isn't rare. "But there are also millions more who are seriously injured — an estimated 4.6 million in 2016 according to NSC" [1]

[1] http://fortune.com/2017/02/15/traffic-deadliest-year/

One day you'll be so intent on checking dents on other peoples cars you will cause an accident yourself! My theory is that people should be looking at traffic, not at the detailing on someone else's vehicle.

I'm not that hardcore focused on it haha. Most of the time I'm trying to get away from them and get a distance. I'm also checking in on them for any sudden movements.

If someone's car is dented, like real dents from a crash, I take extra precaution. It's a filter that works. I'll notice big dents all the time and then the person drives like shit but I'm aloof and safe. I look for people on the phone (calling or texting) too and avoid them. I'll look for 90+ year old people too; their reflexes aren't as quick.

Knock on wood, but I've never been in a car crash. Apart from when I was stupid as a teenager, I'm very cautious.

Driving through Chicago always worries me. People in big cities like that often drive like maniacs, and the number of BMWs, Audis, and other expensive luxury cars I see missing their bumpers or with large amounts of damage on quarter panels is astounding. Yet they're still zipping in and out of their lanes to get to their exit 20 seconds faster than everyone else.

Because you don't make an implicit cost/benefit analysis when you get ebola. You do when you drive. Every time you drive, you willingly take some risk and accept it.

It's the same reason people shrug their shoulders when a mafia guy gets gunned down but lose their shit when a child is killed by stray gunfire. The mafia guy opted in to the risk.

Ebola doesn't give you freedom to live where you want and work where you want. We live in a world where we can afford to travel what was once long distances to do so, all due to the automobile. We spend tons of time in our cars, and it's safe time because we have to drive 100 million miles before we can expect one death among us or our passengers.

I think you might misunderstand the statistic. He's saying one out of every 70 deaths. If there were only 70 deaths a year, one would be from a car accident. Far more would be from suicide, cancer, and heart disease.

I grasp that. ~1.5% of deaths is a significant number. People worry about getting brain cancer or being struck by lightning more than they worry about the risk of being annihilated by a machine, despite the latter being more common.

Well fortunately car accidents aren't contagious like Ebola. If Ebola had spread it easily could have killed far more people than car accidents, hence the panic and need to quickly address it.

1/3 of avoidable deaths is not insubstantial - and traffic accidents aren't the only harm done by autos.

Add in an estimated 53,000 deaths in the US due to transportation emissions.


Potentially millions killed by auto emissions worldwide.


The leading cause of death in the US for people under the age of 25.

This isn't even considering the massive amounts of secondary pollution via production and maintenance of vehicles, the enormous land use and sprawl costs (financially and environmentally), harm done via driving induced stress and sedentary lifestyles.

Cars may be getting safer on those who can afford to be on the inside, but for everyone else outside they're a nightmare. Our climate, resource and many of our social problems are not going away as long as we center society around the car.

Except that some illnesses like cancer are avoidable, it's not just accidents.

Except that buses and trains and horses and teslas kill people and pollute. Even bikes kill people. Every mode of transportation is a killer, so if you want to eliminate travel deaths you can only eliminate travel.

If you eliminated cars completely tens of thousands would likely still die in the US from transportation accidents. But now you've trapped people and forced them to live close to work, do less traveling, and live crappier lives.

Automobiles provide freedom to choose where you want to live and work. They are cleaner than ever and getting cleaner every year.

And the vast majority of the US is empty land.

And the below age of 25 stat is incredibly misleading. People under the age of 25 rarely die of disease or cancer, which are by far the leading causes of death. They rarely die at all which is why car accidents are disproportionally represented for young people. In reality 99% of people who die had a cause of death unrelated to traffic accidents.

The health benefits from riding bikes more than offset the dangers, especially when they're not forced to share lanes with road tanks piloted by people who don't take their driving responsibility seriously. Driving cars don't yield the same benefits. When you take that into account, driving is much more hazardous to your health.

Also, forcing cities to accommodate cars via zoning has lead to a huge host of problems, from making centers that are no longer walkable, and destroying the social fabric of the city that used to happen via face to face interactions. Anywhere there is fast traffic, people no longer want to walk, because it's incredibly stressful being near speeding cars.

If you want a visible demonstration of the difference, visit some small pre-car cities in Italy, the public places are wonderful, and you can see people bumping into each other and chatting all the time. People walk everywhere. Compare with the sprawling wastelands of asphalt we've created, including on some of the most expensive parking lots in the world in Silicon Valley.

Yes, people in Italy are poor and trapped in small urban areas unable to leave. That's not better.

Have you been to Italy? or Germany or any western European county?

Even relatively podunk towns have typically walkable centers and local transit connecting to frequent regional train service and sometimes stops by long distance, high-speed services.

In Germany, regional all day rail passes can be had for as little as 10 EUR! I imagine the situation is quite similar in Italy.

Sorry, you don't know what you're talking about. They make less on average, but the trains are ubiquitous and can take you from city center to city center in less time and for less money than it would cost to drive, even at US gas prices. They're not "trapped", Europeans travel far more than Americans.

>>If you eliminated cars completely tens of thousands would likely still die in the US from transportation accidents. But now you've trapped people and forced them to live close to work, do less traveling, and live crappier lives.

>>Automobiles provide freedom to choose where you want to live and work. They are cleaner than ever and getting cleaner every year.

I think you're still ignoring the pollution deaths and massive negative external effects the automobile has on society, especically on those who can't participate in an auto-dominated society. The waste is colossal.

Automobiles provide freedom if you're luck enough to not be young, old, poor, disabled etc. Why do we want to design society around excluding huge groups from mobility, when bikes, effective public transit and walkability can open up our country to everyone?

You essentially want to enslave people to push your dated concepts of how to live on them.

My job is 20 miles away, I'm not riding a bike. I don't want to spend hours going to and from work every day. I'm not moving my kids into a shittier house without a big yard in a shittier school district, just so I can bike to work.

I'm not going to move my family in a shitty apartment just so we can have "density" and force everyone to use shitty mass transit.

My daughters dojo is 5 miles from my house, she ain't walking there. I'm not sending her to the shitty dojo down the street.

No one is getting excluded. The young, old, poor and disabled are driven everywhere in cars. If they can't drive themselves, someone drives them. Thats what we do for family members. And soon the car itself will drive them.

Can it not be argued running billion dollar freeways through urban neighborhoods, flattening their commercial districts with "free" (subsidized) parking lots and choking them on pollution is enslaving people at the expense of how you want to live? You still haven't addressed the issue that driving fundementally pushes large costs on others and society in general.

There are plenty of ways to have a accesible city designed for multimodal transportation. Look to many European cities to show how this used to be done. It doesn't take much imagination to find out it doesn't have to be "shitty".

I don't think you really understand what life is like without a car in America. Like it or not, people are being excluded. A third of households in my city don't have a car (likely not out of choice). Transit is sparse. How are they supposed to access job centers, , shopping education opportunities built in the auto dominated sprawl? Hint: you can't build your life around asking other people for rides.

You don't seem open to the idea of a different lifestyle. I get that. At the very least I ask that you consider the real impact your choice of driving has on other people, and how it's subsidized by society.

The sure way to avoid cancer is not palatable to most people.

> Except that some illnesses like cancer are avoidable


Sorry, keep smoking your cigarettes, it won't be your fault.

1) I don't smoke

2) You can get cancer from many other things than cigarettes.

Most lung cancer is caused by cigarettes. Many cancers have a "lifestyle" component. This does not mean that every single case of cancer is caused by something the person did. It does mean that we need to give people better information. Some lifestyle factors are much stronger than others. Smoking causes a lot of cancer. Alcohol causes less.


> Smoking tobacco is one of the biggest causes of lung cancer. More than 8 out of 10 lung cancers (80%) are caused by smoking .This includes breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke.


> Over the long term, drinking alcohol increases your risk of serious illnesses, such as mouth, throat and breast cancer1. Of course, not everyone who drinks will get cancer. But scientists have found that some cancers are more common in people who drink alcohol than those who don’t.


> One study has estimated that around 4% of all cancers are due to alcohol consumption

I'm objecting to the general statement that 'cancers are avoidable'. Some cancers are, not all cancers are and there are plenty of people that ended up with lung cancer that never smoked so even that isn't a guarantee.

I used the word "some".

Except road "accidents" are the biggest killer of teenagers aged 10-19, people who are pretty much on the lowest possible spot on the natural mortality curve:


For many of those, it was someone else deciding to drive that killed them.

So yes, if you take slanted statistics and add some "but look over there" rationalizations... well, you still end up at "1 in 3 accidental deaths".

What you should be looking at is comparative injury rates for other methods of transport such as rail or tram. The picture is rather shocking, but even more concerning is the lack of a safety culture in the car manufacturers and ultimately the agencies regulating them and the vehicles on the road. Every plane crash has a root cause investigation, but we still have the same truck designs with massive blind spots because...? By the time autonomous driving becomes a reality cars will still have side mirrors with blind spots, you can't make this stuff up.

A more complete analysis of death rates compares the cause of death vs the otherwise expected lifespan of the person. Cancer and heart disease are major killers, but they primarily affect old unhealthy people.

Car crashes and suicides are much more likely to kill young people -- while they may be a relatively small proportion of "total deaths" they are a much larger contributor to "loss of average lifespan"

Driving is super safe. There is no evidence that driving is any less safe for young people. They just rarely die of anything.

Right. Which is why when they do die from preventable causes it has such a large impact on average lifespan. If we want more humans alive for longer we should not ignore these high impact relatively low frequency dangers.

If you're under the age of 35, driving may very well be the most dangerous habit you have.

If you are under the age of 35, you are essentially immortal, because if driving is incredibly safe and it is the most dangerous thing you do.

Yea, young people almost only die in accidents, so obviously cars would be a large proportion of their almost infinitesimal death rates.

Well yes, that is what we are trying to figure out here?! What is killing healthy people not expected to die shortly?

For people approaching 90, everything from a fall to a cut can be deadly. But that tells us more about 90 year olds than cuts or falls.

Driving is super safe. There is no evidence that driving is any less safe for young people. They just rarely die of anything. Your argument is akin to arguing the most egregious type of death is abortion, because it costs someone their entire lifespan

> no evidence that driving is any less safe for young people

Glad you checked all that evidence for us, saves us the hassle.

Interesting stat. 1 death for every 1 million miles. If the average person drives 12,000 miles per year for say 60 years (18 to 80, yes it's over estimating), that's 720,000 miles driven. That would infer your chance of dying in an auto accident is ~70% over a lifetime.

Oops! It was 100 million miles, not 1 million miles, my mistake.

That makes more sense. So your chance of dying in an auto accident is 0.7% over your lifetime.

It's probably less than that since I'm sure the average fatality per accident is >1.

Our odds are likely many times better than that. Deaths per 100MM are provably going to be cut in half over the next few decades, if not more. Automated driving assistants alone will do that, even without fully automated cars.

Average fatalities per fatal accident maybe.

I think this is often overlooked. Traction aids and computer control has filled in so much as horsepower and weight increases. It's absolutely mind-boggling that people drive around in giant SUVs with huge amounts of horsepower until you look at the suspension and brakes - which are bigger and more complex than performance cars of just a few years ago.

* still a "petrohead" but I prefer light weight and low displacement (Lotus FTW!)

NA Miata owner here :) Wouldn't mind just a little more in the power department though.

I don't think people should generally be driving day to day, but as a passionate driver and motorcyclist, it does make me sad to think that I won't be allowed to tear rubber up and down, say, Highway 1 sometime in the future. Tracks are great and all (and where the real speed belongs) but nothing beats bendies next to the ocean.

I truly hope they don't ban motorcycles. Motorcycles will be much more fun once we no longer have to risk getting killed by an irresponsible driver on a commute.

Though I often see idiots on motorcycles; exclusively on sport bikes. I just call them "organ donors", not that there'd be much left to scrape up.

Yes, and of course they will do from the comfort and safety of a confinement bubble such as seen in the Matrix... because absolute safety trumps all.

I sure hope I don't live long enough to see a world full of people scared shitless at moving at 80 mph on a road designed for that; and I quite would like to live some time, too.

I'm not scared of moving at 80 mph; I'm scared of what arbitrary human beings can do (by accident or on purpose) with their vehicle, in the opposite lane of non-divided highways, when we have 160 mph of relative velocity (i.e. ~100k newton-seconds of impulse on impact, assuming 2tn vehicles.)

The obvious question, of course, is what you would've recommended for us to use between 1950 and 2000?

Transportation and moving around fast is pretty dang valuable. It lets us do a lot of things, markets become larger, and the different number of highly specialized people I can interact with increases.

Higher population density in urban areas severely reduces the need for cars. It's possible to live in cities developed pre-car (London, Berlin, Boston, New York) without owning a car. Americans have put ourselves in a pickle by building sprawling suburbs, which then require cars to increase the "number of highly specialized people" they can interact with.

There are however many people who find high-density living to be unappealing

That, and they drastically reduce housing costs, and increase incomes. Two of the biggest areas we're currently sliding backwards with in modern cities.

Road safety is much better in Europe than the US. The US seems to have a problem with driver education. I actually think the prevalence of automatics is part of the problem as they present themselves as a big toy and convenient luxury rather than as a powerful machine that comes with a lot of responsibility.

I wondered if the design of the roads themselves plays a big part, but I no longer think it is very significant here. In South Africa the roads are basically built to British standards but they have even worse safety than the US. The big difference I noticed there is the extreme variety of vehicles on the road. You get modern, powerful cars just like in Europe, but also rattly old rust buckets that would have failed their MOT test in the UK years ago. This variety makes navigating the roads much more difficult.

Driver education in the US is a joke and everyone treats driving as a right, not a privilege.

If we had far better education and mandatory retesting every 10 years accidents would drop significantly.

> 2-ton hideous mechanical equivalent of a horse

This phrasing makes me curious: how did "horse-related accidents" rank among the causes of death for people who rode horses everywhere? Or people who rode in horse-drawn carriages everywhere?

Probably high. Those dealing with horses are kicked in the head not infrequently. Marie Curie's husband died after being run over by a carriage.

I'd be interested to see that. While yes people falling from a horse might be in trouble - generally horse will try to avoid danger themselves - and there would have been only so fast that you could ride a horse in a city, due to the roads available for this.

Generally, "cities" were much smaller (and fewer) then; not large enough to have much need to ride "through" one. Most horse-riding (though not carriaging) would involve using a horse to travel between the various towns in an area, via not-necessarily-well-kept roads.

Some non-negligible percentage of horse-riding was also done by the nobility, where the horses were used either for hunting, or for military campaigning—both places where a horse "avoiding danger" can actually be fatal.

Re: hunting, horses would often rear back from predatory-looking animals, dropping their riders and possibly dropping onto their riders, crushing and laming/killing them. "Hunting accident" was the old world's "boating accident."

Re: military cavalry usage, horses could be spooked into stampeding—this was an incredibly large problem when in a closely-packed cavalry formation. Cavalry warfare was phased out upon the introduction of guns not because horses were more likely to die by a bullet than by an arrowhead; but rather because the sound of rifle or cannonfire was usually enough to spook horses un-used to the sound, turning many of the first rifle-era battles into instant routs.

I always wondered why American cars are so inefficient. Seems such a waste of your significantly cheaper gas :)

I drive an Opel Astra H 1.7 CDTI and I can get up to 50 mpg (4.7 l/100 km) on the highway, and I never dip under 40 mpg (5.8 l/100km) even when doing a lot of city driving. I understand that my car is comparatively somewhat smaller (1200 kg) and underpowered (100 hp), yet I can't imagine needing more horsepower. It's a very comfortable ride as well.

But even my parents' larger car doesn't get even remotely as low as 25 mpg. First time I saw a car with less than 30 mpg was when I drove a company van.

When I compare these numbers with my American friends, they're incredulous as to how low they are, and they're not exactly driving SUVs either. What do you get in the place for this lower efficiency? Are American cars that much heavier? More comfortable? Faster?

"What do you get in the place for this lower efficiency? Are American cars that much heavier? More comfortable? Faster?"

I cannot speak for everyone, but as someone who lives in the US and also spends a lot of time in Europe, there is a very big lifestyle difference at play here.

First, I have a five person family (wife and three kids) and you[1], statistically, as a European, have 1.6 children - and as a highly educated HN reader, probably less (on average).

Second, Americans move around a lot more than most europeans do. On the occasions that I have lived in Europe, I always spoke of how interesting it was that we could just "drive to St. Petersburg" or "just drive to Transylvania" or whatever, and otherwise smart and interesting european friends would look at me like I was a crazy person. It is very, very rare to meet Europeans who drive across multiple countries for leisure.[2]

So when I drive five people, weighing over 500 lbs total and accompanying luggage the equivalent of one Europe away and over two mountain ranges[3] I am going to need something more than a lawnmower engine. This is not an edge-case - this is something we do multiple times per year.

That being said, there are some very interesting cultural differences in the other direction ... once while in Denmark I saw a decent sized horse trailer being hauled by a nice, new Audi A8. Basically 100% of the driving public in the US would have considered this a gaping tear in the fabric of reality.

[1] Not you, but you on average.

[2] Zurich to Transylvania is 1800km - about the same as SF to Denver which is ~2000 km.

[3] CA to MN, for instance, over the Sierras and then the Rockies.

> On the occasions that I have lived in Europe, I always spoke of how interesting it was that we could just "drive to St. Petersburg" or "just drive to Transylvania" or whatever, and otherwise smart and interesting european friends would look at me like I was a crazy person. It is very, very rare to meet Europeans who drive across multiple countries for leisure.

Me and my gf did a Bucharest-to-Geneva and back car-trip last year and it was wonderful. There's something to be said about getting up to 2,000 meters in the Swiss Alps using a 1.4l gasoline engine car with 86bhp (probably less now, as the car is already 10 years old), all in third gear. Plus riding on the Austrian and German autobahns, as a car-lover that's pure bliss. Or riding on the Autostrade of Northern Italy in the middle of the night and stopping for an 1-euro ristretto at a gas station which was better-tasting than the majority of coffee-drinks that I had ever had.

But you're of course correct, ours was an isolated experience. I think my car was the only Romania (or Eastern-Europe)-licensed plate on the streets of Geneva (and Lausanne). If only gasoline were less expensive...

"But you're of course correct, ours was an isolated experience. I think my car was the only Romania (or Eastern-Europe)-licensed plate on the streets of Geneva (and Lausanne). If only gasoline were less expensive..."

Good for you! I love to do these trips.

It is so baffling how uninterested most Europeans are in just getting out and driving to parts unknown. It's tremendously rewarding.

Uninterested in doing it by car maybe, but not uninterested. Just that we have good(ish) train, plane, ferry and coach services - most people I know (I'm British) will have traveled a lot in Europe.

Also, don't forget that doing it by car is pricey for us - another comment above quoted $2.50 or something a gallon in parts of the US - here we pay about £1.20 a litre currently - so for example the cost to my brother of driving his van from the UK to northern Portugal (which he does to take his tools with him) can cost about £360 - where as he could fly and then hire a car there for a week or two for less money (if having his tools to do up his house there wasn't the reason for visiting!)

> Second, Americans move around a lot more than most europeans do.

I think it's just because flying is so inconvenient/expensive in the US. Sure, I could drive 10 hours from Lisbon to Barcelona, easily spending $100+ in gas and tolls.

Or I could pay 50-100 to fly and be there in 2 hours.

When I was in Europe, flying could be a weekly opportunity to visit other countries (with the cheap 20eur tickets). Now instead, I try to drive to avoid all the hassle.

Sure, but if you were taking a family of 5, suddenly your $100 plane ticket turns into $500. Driving becomes much more competitive as soon as you start adding passengers to the vehicle.

> It is very, very rare to meet Europeans who drive across multiple countries for leisure

Then you've never been to the south of France in the summer.

It's filled with license plates from all over the EU. Mainly Dutch, UK, German. I've even seen Estonian plates.

It's ~1200Km from the Netherlands to the south of France. People do it in camper vans all of the time.

Also Italy, north Spain, Croatia. And Germany/Austria/Switzerland in winter season.

It might not be as widespread to travel long distances by car as it is in the US, but it is definitely not "very, very rare". I would even say it's common for many Dutch, Danish, German, Belgian, Polish (from what I can observe).

Indeed. There are places in Croatia where you see more German plates than Croatian in the summer.

I witnessed that as well in Europe. They don't like driving any distances and they have some great countryside and fun roads. In London - people seemingly stay really tight to where they live and work. They have no problem flying to other countries, but exploring their own city and country or even neighboring country is a chore to them.

I think a lot of it is because there are so many different and interesting countries nearby combined with super cheap flights. And many have good public transportation and don't own a car, or if they do - they own an Urkel-mobile which does the job for short trips and fits into tiny parking spots where they live and around town. And gas/diesel is a lot more over there too. So it's a lot of things that sway travel choices to the tube or trains and planes over cars.

Regarding car size - yes you lose something like 7 HP for every 100 pounds. So if you do have a bunch of passengers and gear you need something with more power and you also need something with more comfort/room which leans towards vans and SUVs.

I'd say it is the cost of fuel vs the cost of public transport. I've taken the train London-Paris for £58 return, or flown to Spain or Greece for less than £50 return with easyjet or similar. Even with 2 or three of us travelling it would cost far more than that to do it by car (plus have to sort out European insurance and breakdown cover), and then struggle to find places to park in Paris, and pay through the nose for it.

Instead I can get on a train to Paris for just over 2 hours, or I loved leaving work one day at 5pm, getting the plane to Amsterdam for £27 each way, and arriving there at 8pm UK time (9pm Dutch time), and was in the city centre drinking by 10.15. If I'd tried to do that by car...

> It is very, very rare to meet Europeans who drive across multiple countries for leisure.

I don't have statistical data, but I have that experience. I have never heard of anyone doing that in Europe. Long car travels are avoided as much as possible. I heard of a guy that did a really long trip by car because was relocating and didn't want - or was too expensive - to move his dogs in any other way. He was not happy about it. I always see going by car as painful, while using trains is a good experience (https://visitsweden.com/getting-around-sweden-train/) and by plane is just fast.

But when people wants to visit the USA, to travel long distances by car looks like something you want to do. I know Europeans that have done that, in the USA.

So maybe it is not just a matter of taste, but it is geography or you just want to do what you see in the movies.

>But when people wants to visit the USA, to travel long distances by car looks like something you want to do.

Especially out West, for vast areas of the US, there really are no good alternatives to driving. For example, there's very limited ability to visit most National Parks without a car.

And most of the cities are too far apart to reasonably take trains between them.

So you're left with flying which gets expensive and a hassle, especially for a family.

If you want to visit cities in the Northeast you probably don't need (or want a car). But elsewhere it's between convenient and necessary.

> Especially out West, for vast areas of the US, there really are no good alternatives to driving ... > And most of the cities are too far apart to reasonably take trains between them.

Heh, that's a very USian response ;). That's largely because the US doesn't have proper long-distance trains. In a lot of other countries you'll be about as fast or faster with a train rather than a car, and can comfortably work for most of that time. Even if a 6h car-trip becomes a 7h train-trip, I'd almost always take the train.

Compare driving Cologne-Frankfurt Airport by car (2h, if the traffic gods smile), and train (45min). That's a faster track, so not quite representative, but even Berlin-Freiburg on mostly slower tracks - I've done that over a hundred times - is ~6.40h train vs. ~8h by car.

I don't see the US getting comparatively nice long-distance trains anytime soon.

> For example, there's very limited ability to visit most National Parks without a car.

Yea, that's true. I've so far done that with rental cars, works well enough unless you're going in winter... Hm, I should plan a trip soon.

The US has a comparable train to your Berlin-Freiburg route.


Unsurprisingly, it goes through a high population density region.

Even a route like this one wouldn't service all that many people and isn't even halfway across the country:


(It does a decent job of passing metro areas; Pittsburg, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Des Moines)

> The US has a comparable train to your Berlin-Freiburg route.

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acela_Express

Well, it lags by over 100km/h of allowed speed (and more in practice I tihnk), but then the fast trains in Germany can't use their top-speed in a lot of regions either. The network isn't even remotely as varied. But, as you say:

> Unsurprisingly, it goes through a high population density region.

Everything in Germany is extremely dense compared to large swathes of the US. It'd not be feasible to have every medium sized city on a high-speed train network in the US.

But the situation on the US west coast, where I now live, is really kinda bad. There not being reasonable "public"/rail transport between Seattle<->Portland<->SF/Bay Area<->LA is hard to understand from a European/German perspective, although I see the political perspective of it being hard to do.

You really get used to that tho. I recently went to a conference in Stockholm, and reflexively wanted to hail a cab from the airport to the hotel/venue. Just to remember to check public transport: 15min less than by car.

You need a certain population density for high speed rail, or even decently fast rail, to be economically viable, don't you?

I've had brief experiences with high speed rail and I loved it. Much more comfortable than the whole taxi/airport/plane scenario. Though I do understand HSR doesn't scale for very long distances.

I don't understand this comment:

>too far apart to reasonably take trains between them //

It's way nicer IMO doing inter city travel by train. One of my favourite journeys ever was from Wales, via England to South France.

Aren't railways one of the main ways to do long journeys between cities?

No. A handful of city pairs have reasonably popular rail service (Milwaukee-Chicago, Boston-New York) which you might use becasue the freeways tend to be congested. The duration is comparable to a drive in clear traffic.

For any other route, a family would fly and then rent a car if upper class or drive if middle/lower class.

Amtrak sometimes serves these routes, but costs more than flying and takes days instead of hours (3 days Chicago to SF, 24 hours Chicago to New York or New Orleans, and if Chicago isn't on the way, you'll need to detour through Union Station). The max flight time here would be ~6 hours.

Too far apart does mean that A to B is so much further than A to B in Europe. It means that there's nothing in between them, so it would be insane to build a passenger rail line (i.e. high speeds, high priority on the queue, locomotives, ect). A 1000 km length of track in Europe serves 10, 15 cities. In the American west it serves the passengers of 2.

As a guy from Belgium, who lives half the year in the bay area, I can confirm. Maybe because Belgium is so small, but when I'm in the US I have no problem driving an hour just to get to a walmart. In Belgium, this crosses half the country and I only do it on very select occasions. In the US I even drive from SF to LA and back every month, when in Europe I wouldn't even consider driving that far.

Each time I spend some time in the US, I'm thinking: 'I should drive to more places in Europe', but as soon as I'm back, my European stay-at-home mood kicks in.

> we could just "drive to St. Petersburg" or "just drive to Transylvania" or whatever, and otherwise smart and interesting european friends would look at me like I was a crazy person

Well, yeah, do you know what the roads are like? There are no interstate or federal highway funding. And a train or a flight is faster…

I would compare your US story to AU; I did multiple Adelaide <-> Nowra trips with my parents as a kid, and at uni we'd think nothing of driving 2 hours to a party (4 for a 21st).

Why? Because driving was way cheaper than flying, and way faster than trains; and because we'd still need a car at the other end to get around Nowra since the public transport there was non-existent.

The Audi A8 thing, is that because A8 is an expensive car? Or because it is comparatively smaller? If it's the second one, I've seen horse trailers pulled by smaller cars (even Golf, I think).

No, you see - in the United States it is assumed that any towing or work activities must be done with a truck.

I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you that the minimum acceptable size for this truck is larger than most freight/delivery trucks in European cities.

Here is a completely normal, totally average truck that millions of people in the US use as a daily driver and have on-hand because they occasionally buy some boards at the hardware store:


> No, you see - in the United States it is assumed that any towing or work activities must be done with a truck.

I love subtle cultural differences like this where two sides are completely unaware that life could be any other way than it is. :-D

In the 80's and 90's in Sweden, I remember that every single car had a trailer hitch with a tow ball. And if you needed to buy something bulky at a hardware store, you borrowed or rented a small trailer. Every single hardware store has trailers for rent! Most large gas stations has trailers for rent! The only people who own pickups are farmers! Why would anyone want to buy a pickup?

Meanwhile, in the US, tow balls are extremely uncommon, and I don't think I've ever seen small trailers for rent anywhere.

Another funny difference is what camping looks like.

In Europe, it looks like this: http://www.widlundshusvagnar.se/valj-dragbil-och-husvagn-med...

In the US, it looks like this: http://www.rv-camping.org/towing-a-vehicle/

The first time I saw an RV towing a pickup I was completely dumbfounded.. It's on backwards! The car goes in front! Whyyyy?!?

> Meanwhile, in the US, tow balls are extremely uncommon, and I don't think I've ever seen small trailers for rent anywhere.

They may not be as common but are still common. Many people have hitches on their cars. You're correct that there aren't a lot of places that rent small trailers but you can rent trailers small enough to tow with a car for $20/day from Uhaul.

Also, tow balls aren't common because the bumper of a car or truck can't handle a lot of weight, so receiver hitches are more popular. And you're not supposed to leave the hitch in the receiver after you use it (unless you want it to never come out again due to rust).

The reason pickup trucks are used for towing generally is because they are body-on-ladder-frame construction, not unibody with sub-frames. With a receiver hitch attached (which is why you don't generally see the tow-balls on the bumper of pickups), you can haul and pull a lot more weight (because the hitch is connected directly to the frame).

If you have a regular sedan with a tow ball in Europe, you know that you can't attach very large trailer or pull a lot of weight. Knowing how much you can tow and under what circumstances are part of the written driving test in Sweden at least.

But, and here come the funny cultural differences again, for many Americans it's always MAX STRENGTH or nothing. Regardless of the actual future needs, most would go "YEAH BUT WHAT IF I WANTED TO PULL A HORSE TRAILER? I CAN'T? THEN NO!"

Please, there's no need to use all-caps for emphasis (and it's against the guidelines). If needed, please use italics (using asterisk for demarcation) instead.


And the scary thing is how many large trucks and SUVs are sold without the hardware necessary to tow a trailer. It's absurd to buy something like a Suburban with a V8 that doesn't even have the potential to be burdened with the kind of load that would differentiate it from a van.

I don't own a pickup but they are quite fun to drive. Gaffigan has a related joke:: "why are they called a pickup? I'm pretty sure everyone that owns them aren't picking ANYTHING up". haha. So true.

This lifestyle is not unique to the US, but the big, inefficient car thing seems to be. South Africa is on a similar scale to the US and probably much more mountainous in general. Yet most of the cars there are European sized. And it's not just because they can't afford bigger ones; many of them can. It just seems that if they are going to choose one vehicle they choose the one that makes sense for every day of the week, not the few times a year they drive for 8 hours across multiple mountain ranges.

I live in the UK and I'd been told by Americans "you just don't understand" many times. But I can tell you now that it's perfectly fine to make day long road trips across mountain ranges in something like a VW Golf. You don't need a 3L+ monstrosity.

> Zurich to Transylvania is 1800km

You forgot to mention: 4 different languages (Swiss dialect, German, Hungarian and Romanian) and one border (Swiss - EU).

Having lived (and appreciated) Europe and their cars:

1. You guy drive a lot less than us. I do trips three times as long as what would destroy me in Europe (twice a month I drive 500 km without stopping and back the next day)

2. Are you using the imperial gallon or the american gallon? Very common mistake (the mile used in the article looks like and probably is the 3.8l gal)

Edit, you're using the right gallon.

Sure (if true), but that's not the point, because driving more doesn't increase mileage. Why does driving more make you prefer less efficient cars? What do you get back from it?

Sorry I forgot to finish the point for 1.

A larger car (more space, inertia and soundproofing) with a bigger engine (lower rpm therefore less noise) with more cylinders (less vibration) is more comfortable and wears you down less. And I loved my wife's no frills stick-shift Versa (4000 rpm at 80 mph really got annoying though)

As to American's driving large distances, based on my personal experience, there's no comparison. American cities are further apart, families are more scattered, families are larger. Don't forget that in many ways America is actually two societies in one. One America lives in places largely undistinguishable from Europe. The other has 90 mile one way commute (a colleague. Mine is only 17).

Driving 500 kilometers without stopping is terribly dangerous for yourself and the people around you. Please be considerate.

It's a matter of practice. 500 km is 312.5 miles. At 60 mph, this is about 5 hours of driving. You can definitely handle 5 hours of driving at one shot. Start at a time when you don't expect to feel sleepy for the next 5 hours and you'll be set.

No, it isn't. It's the difference between driving in the EU and driving in N America.

I can't think of any 500 km route in Europe that wouldn't destroy me. And a little engine screaming for dear life wouldn't help

no it's not. that's 4 hours of highway driving. waking up and starting a drive at 6am and driving until 10am is not any more dangerous than normal short trips and in fact is probably safer since you aren't dealing with intersections.

> I always wondered why American cars are so inefficient. Seems such a waste of your significantly cheaper gas

Cart before the horse? Cars are inefficient because gas is dirt cheap. If gas were expensive, people would shift away from guzzlers. We have documented evidence of this happening after both the 70s gas crisis and the shift towards hybrids/EVs during the $4/gallon gas $100/barrel of oil days.

It's a pretty easy optimization game to play. If we increased gas taxes instead of flat demanding a fleet MPG (which the manufacturers simply game by making one or two hyper-efficient compliance vehicles which lets them continue to build guzzlers), you'd see how quickly the market would turn...

Diesel vehicles for the most part which has caused European cities (Paris, London etc...) to have terrible local air quality but lower CO2 emissions!

American cars (read SUVs and Trucks) are much, much bigger. I drive a Mini Cooper (R56S) which is probably about the same size as your Astra. Most of my co-workers and non-"car guy" friends think it's impossibly small. Even "small" CUVs (a smaller, more car-like SUV popular here in the States) dwarf my car. Vanishingly few US folks would want to drive something with under 300 hp and fewer than 4 doors. Not to mention the interior space people think is "appropriate".

Your first sentence really covers it. We have really cheap gas, so we don't care that fuel economy is bad. Every time someone I know comments about how poor gas mileage their car gets I respond with "what are you willing to give up"? They aren't - they want a giant SUV with hundreds of horsepower and they want to get 50-60 MPG.

Very few Americans drive diesel cars, and diesel MPG is not comparable to gasoline MPG. Do your parents drive diesel too? What's the power of your parent's car engine?

There are a ton of Priuses on American roads, which I think are a bit larger, will easily meet or exceed those fuel efficiency numbers, and do it all while burning gasoline instead of diesel. (Diesel is more energy dense, so it's easier to get better MPG numbers with it. Diesel is also more expensive in the US, so it's not cost effective unless the efficiency gain is significant.)

It's not all that hard to find efficient cars here. The Honda Civic is rated at 32MPG city/42 highway (and our ratings tend to come in a bit worse than real-world driving will give you), Toyota Corolla is 30/42, Chevy Cruze is 31/47. You can do worse if you want, but you don't have to.

Good points, but diesel's higher MPG doesn't have to do with the difference in energy density but in cycle efficiency.

The Diesel cycle is, all things equal, inherently less efficient than the Otto cycle. Hoever, since it allows much higher compression ratio it's efficiency ends up being very high (20 vs. 30 traditionally) [see Faires]

Cheaper fuel is the reason the US doesn't care as much about MPG

Also worth mentioning that the US gallon and imperial gallon aren't the same size

@kmm's measurements are in Liters per 100KM. The translation is correct.

American cars are bigger (longer) and faster. When I've traveled in Europe, I'm always surprised by how small most cars are and how small the parking spots are.

High mpg options exist in the US. Americans seem to prefer to trade gas savings for more power and bigger cars rather than saving some cash, at least at the current price point of gas.

Re: parking spots

My family keeps growing (in numbers, age and size) and as I'm approaching midlife affordability I would love a decent large SUV, like the Volvo XC90 etc to replace my ageing Ford Focus estate.

But for the life of me, I can't imagine the pain of owning such a large vehicle. Parking would be a nightmare. At home, in town, anywhere. I live in Hampshire in England and the parking spots around here are all designed with 1970s Golfs and Morris Minors in mind it seems so not SUV compatible at all.

I already frequently can only open the door 1/4 of the way and really squeeze my stomach in to get into the car. With a large SUV, I would surely have to enter via the boot all the time. They may only be 5-10cm wider on each side, but that is totally impractical around here.

Tesla-esque self-driving/summoning would really solve this as I could just ask the car to reverse a little before I get in, so parking tightly would then not be a problem. For me at least.

Thankfully SUVs would be 4x4 as I also would surely have to go partially off-road when meeting other cars on the lanes around here.

Wouldn't automated reverse parking create problems for others? And leave dents and dings in your door?

Yes. Should really have been a "For me at least*" with a note that it would piss others off until most cars can be summoned.

It makes sense - most of the infrastructure was built before the car. So it's not really feasible to accommodate large vehicles.

It's not even possible for them to put the toilet anywhere other than INSIDE the shower in many places because the apartments are so small. Sometimes they even have "floor urinals". I get a laugh out of it every time but they do have some serious size constraints in many places over there.

I would think much of the infrastructure had to be rebuilt after WW2 though, no?

The roads? Rights-of-way & property boundaries didn't get bombed, and one narrowing due to right-of-way passing through historical-significant properties restricts the maximum vehicle size for the entire road/region (https://goo.gl/maps/BzJrXer8HmF2)

Consider this local intersection ('junction'): https://goo.gl/maps/UPjtR5VdSXM2. It's a favourite for the practical driving test: from the left lane, turn right into the side street. It's extremely dangerous, as you have to creep around the corner to the left to get visibility of the oncoming 30mph traffic, without getting so far pass the side street's centre line than you can't safely turn in.

Opel is owned by GM (well, until March 2017). You're actually driving an American car. Assuming the 2015 and up model year it's platform sharing with the Buick Verano. The big difference here is that your engine is a diesel, and that makes a big difference in city driving when you're idling a lot.

I've just come from a trip around the US national parks, and noticed something similar.

I rented the cheapest, smaller car that I could, which was a 2015 Dodge Dart which would probably be about mid-range in the UK. It claimed 30 miles / gallon for optimal driving. Converting, that's 36 miles / UK gallon.

I don't actually own a car at the moment, but for a few years I owned a 1995 Peugeot 106 which normally got just under 50 MPG, say about 40 miles per US gallon.

Makes for a pretty disappointing comparison. 20 years later and still 25% behind?

Looking at the Wikipedia article for the Peugeot 106 most of the engines that were offered in the 1995 model year only put out around 100 HP. Since you had a "cheapest" rental Dart I'm assuming it had the base engine which is rated at 160 HP of power, around 60% more powerful. Comparing the curb weights, the 2015 Dart is also around 70% heavier than the 1995 106 which is expected since the Dart is a segment larger than the 106 and it would have all the safety and "infotainment" technologies developed in those 20 years. The increased power of the Dart makes up for the increased weight, and at US fuel prices it still probably costs less to fill up for the average US driver than your 106 would in Europe even though it's more efficient.

For comparison, I own a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic (known as the Aveo overseas) with the 1.4 L turbo engine (rated 138 HP). I have a mostly-highway commute and my lifetime average MPG(-US) is 38.0. On a long road trip I take once per year I have gotten over 50 MPG (measured by dividing the fuel I consumed on the trip by the distance I traveled) despite the vehicle only being rated at 38 MPG highway by the EPA. You can easily exceed the EPA highway rating on most cars if you accelerate gently and don't drive too much faster than 70 MPH.

Well you can't compare the two unless you mention the fuel type.

> American cars are so inefficient.

They don't have to be -- the Chevy Volt (Vauxhall Ampere) is one of the most efficient cars on the planet, and is designed and manufactured in America (including the battery).

Many Americans just prefer inefficient cars, and vote with their wallets. For some, it's a badge of honour to have a car that's really huge (SUV moms) or loud and spitting out smoke (Muscle Cars / Pickup Trucks), as a cultural identity statement.

US made such a phenomenal win with cheap gas that Europeans still mis. Exposure to cheap energy EMPOWERED people across vast country. Robust chevy v8 powers everything for decades and still going strong: from cars, trucks, boats, generators - you name it.

This came exact opposite in the old continent. The fact we drive efficient lawn mowers is just a sad testament for this failed energy policy.

The US got the "win", but everyone will pay the consequences... I'm not sure that was a very good policy

I drive a Scion xA in America, it's only 100mpg. I think small cars like this (Honda Fit, etc) are catching on, at least in cities. But even still I only get 32-38mpg; maybe from worse aerodynamics?


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