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Should Cars be More Efficient?

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The concept of environmental sustainability has been widely discussed for the recent decades, yet it is still far from effective implementation. With the growing number of the world’s population and the inevitable further urbanization, an issue of air pollution in the city is still a hot one to resolve. The increase in the number of cars without an attempt to make them more ecologically friendly and more sustainable can result in further deterioration of the habitat that current and future generations will experience. Thus, the improvement of car efficiency should be the one of the main tasks of authorities, scientists and ecologists today.

On June 15th, 2012, J. D. Heyes made a sensational statement in his article, “U.S. Government blocks sales of fuel-efficient cars”. This claim sounds contradictory to the openly declared ecological roadmap that President Obama announced, yet it is worth giving consideration. The author states that while there is much talk about working at future efficiency of vehicles, there are already car models that are more fuel efficient but that are not allowed to American roads. Among them are Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion and some representatives of Fords as well. The official reason for denial is them having 10 per cent higher emissions than the allowed standards. However, because they help save up to 50 per cent of fuels, the emissions are much lower in the end. Thus, the journalist is enraged about the situation claiming that the true reason for the ban is money, namely federal gasoline tax. Thus, having fuel-efficient cars is just not profitable for the state, “The technology is there… to build 100-percent electric vehicles that are reliable, but they aren't allowed on U.S. streets because the current highway funding measures all depend on taxing each gallon of gas and diesel fuel sold” ( Heyes).

Thus, the above described situation is just one example of how ecological issues are rooted in economy. In fact, two major arguments that opponents of efficient vehicles have are their economic efficiency and security. Consequently, it is worth considering each of these arguments in detail. Speaking about the price as a measure of efficiency, it is impossible to avoid mentioning The Corporate Average Fuel Economy( CAFE), which was first introduced in 1975. These regulations are monitored by two organizations: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which updates the standards from year to year, and the US Environmental Protection Agency, whose task is to measure the actual level of fuel efficiency. Although the MPG (miles per gallon) standards have been made increasingly severe with each coming year, the opponents do not believe CAFE to be effective at all. They claim that the introduced regulations have not resulted in visible environmental results and have not decreased the level of pollution. Besides, some researchers believe that the future CAFE standards are too strict, and they will result in a significant growth of car costs, which is approximately estimated as 3000 dollars per car. Hence, they believe that millions of Americans will not be able to afford buying cars, which might result in a range of economic issues like credit debts that will destabilize economy. Thus, the recent article by James Holmes, dated by April 2012, states that over 7 million of Americans, mostly students and young families, will appear in this situation. Hence, chances are that they are not going to switch to more efficient cars at all and continue using old less efficient vehicles for next year. Thus, the researcher is not completely against the idea of efficiency; he rather believes that CAFE standards are unreasonably aggressive in the first place, and, moreover, they will not improve the situation at all. He provides an opinion from a Ford dealer who says the following, “If my customers can’t buy what I’ve got to sell, there are no savings at the gas pump and there is no environmental benefit” (Holmes, 2012).

Although this position sounds reasonable, it is still possible to argue with it. Instead of speaking just about the immediate gain or loss in terms of economy or ecology, it is worth looking at a broader picture. The authorities claim that economic effects are not immediate, yet they are significant: introducing higher efficiency standards will help people save about 6000 dollars during the car’s lifespan. Besides, as manufacturers will need to invest into new technologies and research and to renovate their current processes, new jobs will apparently appear on the market. In his article for Time Science, Bryan Walsh is ironic about the American crush for large impressive cars, which are clearly much less efficient. He suggests that this is now a part of culture and habit rather than a reasonable choice. In the past, the choice of more massive cars and trucks made sense, because they were relatively safer than smaller cars. Nowadays, however, technologies have ensured equal safety for smaller cars, too. In the same article, Amory Lovins, the chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), expresses an opinion that increasing car efficiency is not a self-standing phenomenon but should be treated on a larger scale of environmental shift to greener and more sustainable world. In this context, the immediate outcome of applying higher efficiency standards to cars is not as significant as its contribution to the ecological paradigm shift. The pattern that Lovins offers is as follows, “with the right policies, we can actually shrink energy use nearly 25% by 2050 while more than doubling the economy, cutting carbon emissions 80% and saving money…coal and oil and other fossil fuels will become increasingly expensive over time, even as wind and solar continue to fall in price, which will speed the transition to renewable energy. But efficiency will be even more important, as we use the savings from reducing energy waste to fund that shift” (Walsh, 2012).This is an example of how increasing car efficiency can indirectly affect other fields related to environment as well as the whole ecosystem.

So far, several approaches have been suggested to make cars more efficient. The first option is to continue using gasoline cars but ensure their improved mileage when fuel is concerned. This usually involves changing a design and materials used for car manufacturing for lighter ones. Other approaches are redesign of the engine and making aerodynamics more effective. Finally, the size of a vehicle is something to sacrifice in favor of higher efficiency. As it has been mentioned before, Americans traditionally feel more comfortable about larger cars. This is why the opponents of making cars smaller for the sake of fuel saving do not approve of this option, because they traditionally believe that smaller cars are less safe. Although many researchers claim that the safety breach between massive and smaller cars is about to be annihilated, it is obvious that additional external measures are needed to persuade the skeptics about choosing smaller and lighter vehicles. The proponents claim that in the age of spaceships, there are plenty of opportunities to achieve impressive results by using innovative materials used for space industry. The manufacturers are reluctant to push this trend though, because they are afraid of higher costs. In fact, one of the key objections to increasing cars efficiency is the amount of investment that is necessary in order to reshape the whole industry. Indeed, the economic concerns make sense, but as it has been mentioned before, short-term investments will result in longer-term bargains. Speaking more about ensuring higher safety of smaller cars, experts claim that social measures should be taken to support this shift, such as making alcohol restrictions more severe, introducing speed limits and making driver education more profound (Chiras, p. 372).

Other options that car manufacturers offer are natural gas cars and the so-called hybrid cars, which combine a small gasoline engine with the electric one, which is regulated electronically through an onboard computer. Opponents of hybrid cars claim that because they are in the first stage of productions, they are not reliable and have a number of technological flaws. This idea is manifested by the fact that hybrid cars do not even have clear-cut standards about their structure and are in the process of development. The proponents of this type of cars partially agree that the current models of hybrid cars are an intermediate link between the past and the future standards of car manufacturing. They accept the fact that some of the current hybrid cars’ details need improvement, but they do not agree that these improvements will cover the whole structure. Instead, they suggest that the major design of engines has been shaped already, whereas they can be made more efficient by improvement of particular details, which will not affect the whole system. Thus, although the standards for hybrid cars are in the process of its further formation and maturing, there are basic structures, which most vehicles of the kind more or less share. Thus, having two engines is the basic principle on which their efficiency is based. While not totally refusing fuel engines, which would result in drastic increase of cost and maintenance, they introduce the principle of flexibility. This means that while moving at a low speed, the car uses its electric engines, while high speeds demand too high energy consumption, so this is why using gasoline is more efficient in this case. So, the potential of hybrid cars can be formulated as optimized controlling strategies, “Because two entirely different engines offer a massive potential for adjusting their operation characteristics to points of best efficiency, optimal controlling devices have to be discussed and their use under different conditions evaluated” (Stellet, p.3).

An important aspect to realize about different types of cars is that one should explore and differentiate between the fields where each of them can be most and least efficient. Thus, a functional approach has a potential of becoming crucial when choosing vehicles depending on the purposes and lifestyle. So, for instance, if a car is meant for city areas and short distances with frequent stops and changing speed, then a series hybrid is more efficient than other types. In contrast, when speaking about longer distances than the conventional car is the best choice as it has combustion engine that allows to significantly reduce energy consumption. The opponents of hybrid car claim that their weakest aspect is control process, because it needs a much more complicated mechanism to monitor the work of the two engines and evaluate their functioning properly. In fact, a hybrid car with a computer installed in the parlor is an important step in entering the era of “smart” cars, which security has yet to be higher than other smart devices because of the higher responsibility that it endures. Hence, although it is possible to agree with the opponents that hybrid cars’ control systems need improvement and standardizing, this does not cancel the necessity to introduce this type of cars because of their higher efficiency.

To conclude, it is worth saying that efficiency of cars should not be treated as a separate issue but in the context of the overall life efficiency. Today’s trend to introduce a functional variety of cars including gasoline, natural gas, hybrid and electric ones gives an opportunity to base efficiency on flexibility. Although these types of cars are not equal at the moment, the shares are expected to even up in future. Opponents claim that making lineage regulations more severe is not economically justified, and that this will negatively affect the prospect of changing ecological situation. However, the proponents and the authorities argue that while fuel efficient cars will need financial and technological investments within the next years, they will prove to be money saving in the long run. Besides, one should not underestimate an idea that investing into car efficiency will eventually save the costs, which could be directed to other environmental issues such as supporting sustainable energy like solar and wind resources. Hence, it would be fair to say that despite some temporary issues that introducing new efficiency standards may pose, they are imperative because of changing environmental situation on a global scale, not only in vehicle-related issues.

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