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Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 7:41 p.m.

Has anyone else noticed how ridiculously big and heavy cars are getting? While improvements in technology have fueled the broad trend towards technological miniaturization, with everything from media players and cell phones to laptops getting smaller and lighter, our cars have actually been getting larger and heavier. If you include SUVs in the calculation, the weight of the average new automobile sold in the United States has increased by almost half a ton since 1987. I know many would prefer to attribute this huge rush toward hugeness to America’s curious taste for the sport utility vehicle, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.

Consider any particular car, and follow its development (growth?) over the history of the model. At its release, in 1964, the Ford Mustang weighed 2445 lbs. Today, it weighs a much more Clydesdale-like 3401 lbs. The original 1973 Honda Civic weighed 1508 lbs. Today, the lightest Civic sold in the US weighs 2630 lbs, or substantially more, even, than the first Honda Accord. The original VW Rabbit weighed 1860 lbs. The 2010 version of the Rabbit/Golf tips the scales at 3200 lbs. Want more? How about this? The current version of the not-so-mini Mini Cooper weighs more than a 1965 Jaguar XKE coupe, and twice as much as the original Mini Cooper. Yes, it’s true, check for yourself.

When high performance cars are considered, the growth in weight is even more dramatic. In the mid-sixties, the Lotus Elan, the Shelby Cobra, the Porsche 911, and the Jaguar XKE were among the most coveted sports cars available. All of them weighed under 2500 lbs, and one, the Elan, weighed less than 1400 lbs. Today, the only truly high performance production sports cars that I can think of available for sale in the US that weigh under 2500 lbs come from Lotus. The lightest of those is the Elise, at 1984 lbs. The Porsche 911, which weighed 2,249 lbs in 1965, now weighs 3075 lbs. Meanwhile Jaguar’s modern spiritual heir to the XKE weighs 1300 lbs more than the 1965 XKE coupe.

As far as fuel economy goes, the automobile industry hasn’t even scratched the surface of what’s possible with currently available technology. How do we know? Consider the Honda Civic CRX HF and the Chevrolet Geo Metro XFi from the late 1980s. Both cars achieved 57 mpg on the highway. Today, almost thirty years of technological improvements later, there is not a single non-hybrid automobile offered for sale in the US that can deliver within 12 mpg of what those cars were able to deliver with the technology that was available 27 years ago.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a car guy, not a tree hugger. I want light cars for the same reason Collin Chapman did, because light cars are faster and more fun to drive. It is merely a convenient coincidence that light cars are also more efficient. So my point here is that I’m wondering out loud how to get the auto industry back on track. What kind of public or government action might encourage the production of the next generation of lightweight sports cars? My first thought is some sort of exemption from all federal regulations (except emissions) for all cars that weigh under a certain amount and get above a certain fuel mileage. My other thought is some kind of broad tort reform with regards to product liability. Anyway, that’s my two cents. What do you think?

Raze
Raze Dork
9/6/10 8:00 p.m.

government regulations + safety structures = weight, so all the fancy VVT, cylinder deactivation, etc 'fuel saving' technologies simply make up for government regulations to keep people safe, err keep money in the oil companies pockets, err pollute the environment, err save the environment, err, berkeley it.

racer_ace
racer_ace Reader
9/6/10 8:02 p.m.

Right on!

As far as federal regulation exemptions go I would vote for exemptions to the pedestrian safety regs driving up hood height and frontal area. This must significantly be increasing mass and drag (at highway speeds)...both hurting fuel economy.

My other belief (and this may not be a popular one) is that an additional sales tax should be levied on large SUVs unless you have proof that you either need one for business reasons or have a registered race-vehicle trailer, water-craft, motorcycle, or camper. This may reduce the number of these behemouths on the road, which then may provide automakers with the rational to reduce front and rear bumper heights (i.e. Honda's ACE body structure) which must again must be increasing vehicle mass across model line-ups.

Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 8:12 p.m.

In reply to Raze:

Absolutely to both Raze and Racer-Ace, safety is the excuse that everyone makes to justify the production of absurdly overweight and inefficient cars. A few of my vehicles happen to be motorcycles. How come I can ride a bike with no side impact protection, passive restraints, or ABS, but when I step into a car, the government gets to design it for me, add 1000 lbs, and then give me a ticket for an unfastened seat belt???

Raze
Raze Dork
9/6/10 8:23 p.m.
Dpvog wrote: In reply to Raze: Absolutely to both Raze and Racer-Ace, safety is the excuse that everyone makes to justify the production of absurdly overweight and inefficient cars. A few of my vehicles happen to be motorcycles. How come I can ride a bike with no side impact protection, passive restraints, or ABS, but when I step into a car, the government gets to design it for me, add 1000 lbs, and then give me a ticket for an unfastened seat belt???

Because when you hit someone in your bloat mobile, including killing the motorcyclist you didn't see, your insurance company has to pay so they want more safety features to prevent you from doing it in the future to lower their costs so they lobby govt who adds regs, so car companies add radars, side detection warning blind spot steering correction which adds weight which continues the self fulfilling prophecy of bloat...

the logic can be more in depth than this but i figure it's good enough, just remember, your odds of killing someone with a motorcycle, slim, when compared to a 6000lb leviathan

NGTD
NGTD HalfDork
9/6/10 8:25 p.m.

Because only a minute fraction of people ride motorcycles. Governments regulate cars because that is what most people drive.

VW TDi's can easily get within striking distance of 57 mpg and that is real-world mileage. (You only excluded hybrids!) I bet that the 2 cars mentioned would struggle to achieve the EPA ratings quoted in real life.

I do agree that the weight of modern cars is out-of-whack but it does seem like there is little that can be done to reduce this except exotic materials that cost mucho bucks.

Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 8:29 p.m.

In reply to NGTD: Good point with the TDi, missed that one!

Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 8:42 p.m.

In reply to NGTD:

With regard to the rest, neither the Geo Metro XFi or the CRX hf used exotic materials, and both weighed less than 2000 lbs. They were both built with 27 year old technology! My point is (and the fact is) that we can build cars that are very fast, weigh much less, and get exceptional fuel mileage without breaking the bank if the government can simply be persuaded to stay out of the design process.

Imagine all of the small manufacturers that would spring up in this country, all of the industrial activity and jobs that would be created, if the government simply said:

"Any automobile that weighs less than 1500 lbs and has under 130 hp that gets above 50 mpg is exempt from all federal regulations except emissions."

CLH
CLH GRM+ Memberand New Reader
9/6/10 8:53 p.m.

+eleventybillion

I get endlessly annoyed by people who equate big and heavy with 'safe'. I've had more than one unproductive conversation trying to convince otherwise rational people that they don't need 2.5 tons of SUV for their 99% of driving within a five mile radius from their home. It's a horribly vicious cycle...SUVs got popular (lord knows why) and suddenly you had to have an SUV to 'be equal' in the proverbial 70mph head-on collision everyone is petrified of. And forget trying to convince most folks that a Smart (or a MINI) actually does quite well in an accident...it's small, so it must be a deathtrap.

Appleseed
Appleseed SuperDork
9/6/10 8:58 p.m.

I drive a 95 caprice. It weighs 4,000 lbs. I always thought it was bloated. Most "performance" cars made in America are close to that. My car is as light as a Camaro. Ungh.

Knurled
Knurled GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
9/6/10 9:10 p.m.

What I like is that this:

weighs less than this:

It has how much power? Great, because it needs it just to heft its lard-ass around.

Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 9:27 p.m.

My point exactly! A modern VW golf derivative weighs more than a early 70's Olds Cutlass 442! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? As Knurled points out, VW and Audi are actually probably the worst offenders in the cataloge of fantastically obese automobiles.

patgizz
patgizz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
9/6/10 9:50 p.m.

ever pulled the harness from a new car versus an old car?

an old wiring harness has lights, ignition, some other little crap, and weighs a couple pounds.

new cars have computer, electronic this, automatic that, sensors for everything including if you fart into the drivers seat. i remember one newer car i scrapped had over 50 pounds of wiring harness in it.

i've pulled power buckets that weigh as much as an old bench seat, ABS pumps are heavy, power window guts do not add lightness.

advertised curb weight on a 1954 belair is 3250-3500lbs depending on options. add some lightness in the form of 200lbs less engine and an aluminum cased trans instead of the all cast iron powerglide and nobody believes my car is under 3200lbs, because "my 200x econobox weighs 3400lbs that big old all steel car cant weigh less"

carguy123
carguy123 SuperDork
9/6/10 10:11 p.m.

As others have said, the bottom line is that the govt got into our toys. When have you known the govt to get anything right?

With that said I can appreciate many of our govt. mandated "improvements" made over the years, but I'm betting we'd have seen them even without the govt. getting involved and we'd have kept at least some of the light weightedness and kept the costs down.

The Miata is one of the lightest cars built so we all ought to go out and buy one of those. Miatae always seem to the be the answers.

But if we think that way we all probably ought to go out and buy a Yaris, Fiesta, Versa or some other econoboxes too. But most of those aren't really all that light either.

Mikey52_1
Mikey52_1 Reader
9/6/10 10:12 p.m.

Insulation, wiring, power this'n'that (ever try to find a car WITHOUT power windows and seats? Getting tougher!) automatics that are the only game in town for some rigs, dummy-proof bumpers...all these things add: 1)weight, 2)complexity, 3)cost and finally, 4)ways for Murphy and his uglier brothers to rear their heads. And you've noted that weight alone has almost doubled for some cars. The Golf/Rabbit was the one that really surprised me. I knew about the MINI from its reintroduction after BMW took it over. But it's still disheartening.

Dpvog
Dpvog New Reader
9/6/10 10:41 p.m.

In reply to carguy123:

Listen, there are an awful lot of us car guys out there. Maybe we can collectively ask the government to keep their bureaucratic hands the off our G.D. toys? The aviation community did it sucessfully, and the result was the creation by the FAA of the LSA (light sport aircraft) certification, in which the government agreed to ease regulations and dramatically simplify certification of aircraft weighing less than 1320 lbs with a maximum operating speed of less than 120 knots. To say that the LSA legislation has revitalized the recreational portion of the United States general aviation community would be a massive understatement. Collectively, we have a lot more political muscle than recreational pilots do. If they can do it, why can't we?

Knurled
Knurled GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
9/6/10 10:41 p.m.

I cheated a little bit - that's a '68 Cutlass, which was the lightest of the A-bodies at about 3400lb for a base model.

My point still stands, though. And I hasten to add, that 3400lb got you an all iron V8, a solid axle, recirc-ball steering, body-on-frame construction, thick steel bumpers, and body panels that you could lean on without having to call a body shop afterwards. With modern construction techniques, one could shave a LOT of weight from it.

I WOULD have to disagree on one point, pat - modern power windows are actually pretty light. They just have a couple tracks (aluminum or plastic) and a motor and (plastic) reel that moves a piece of 1/8" cable. There's no giant motor and quarter gear/scissors thing like old power windows (and almost all manual windows) have.

I was a little shocked when I heard that the Viper had power windows because it was lighter, but on inspecting the realities, it does make sense.

Knurled
Knurled GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
9/6/10 11:06 p.m.
Dpvog wrote: The aviation community did it sucessfully, and the result was the creation by the FAA of the LSA (light sport aircraft) certification, in which the government agreed to ease regulations and dramatically simplify certification of aircraft weighing less than 1320 lbs with a maximum operating speed of less than 120 knots. (...) If they can do it, why can't we?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kei_car

alfadriver
alfadriver GRM+ Memberand Dork
9/7/10 7:41 a.m.

Blaming the government is a convienent excuse. And it's just that, an excuse.

First of all, the mandated govenment crash requirments are one air bag for the driver, one for the passenger, plus some basic structure. The rest of the safety is to get the 5 star crash ratings from the insurance institude- not to satisfy any govenment requirements.

The core problem is that few people buy small cars, especially for fuel economy. If they did, the HF and it's offspring would still be on the street, but the public will buy image, which is why there are Priusus and other hybrids.

There are new noise "requirements" from customers, too. People want quiet cars- so there's a lot of weight in sound deadening in there.

What you don't understand is that you are the gross minority in the car public, ESPECIALLY for new cars. If you are not buying new cars, then the reality is that your opinion is ignored.

BTW, there are loopholes in the rules. Plenty of them. you just need to know where to look. Since the loopholes are there, and nobody is really taking advantage of them, that should give you a clue of where the market really is.

zomby woof
zomby woof Dork
9/7/10 7:46 a.m.

You are 100% correct.

It's not the government, it's the consumer. NVH, and luxury are the problems. People want quiet, soft, luxurious cars, even in their econoboxes.

gamby
gamby SuperDork
9/7/10 7:57 a.m.
CLH wrote: +eleventybillion I get endlessly annoyed by people who equate big and heavy with 'safe'. I've had more than one unproductive conversation trying to convince otherwise rational people that they don't need 2.5 tons of SUV for their 99% of driving within a five mile radius from their home. It's a horribly vicious cycle...SUVs got popular (lord knows why) and suddenly you had to have an SUV to 'be equal' in the proverbial 70mph head-on collision everyone is petrified of. And forget trying to convince most folks that a Smart (or a MINI) actually does quite well in an accident...it's small, so it must be a deathtrap.

There's a radio commercial for the Chevy Equinox that does that. It panders to the moms out there with this "mom" carrying on about how she's done with compact cars because her Hyundai was "all over the road" in a snowstorm. Now she feels relief because her kids are safe in the Equinox.

Meanwhile, my wife's Fit has a 5-star crash rating and will be shod w/ snow tires this winter. I'm content w/ her safety there.

Drewsifer
Drewsifer HalfDork
9/7/10 8:10 a.m.
alfadriver wrote: Blaming the government is a convienent excuse. And it's just that, an excuse. First of all, the mandated govenment crash requirments are one air bag for the driver, one for the passenger, plus some basic structure. The rest of the safety is to get the 5 star crash ratings from the insurance institude- not to satisfy any govenment requirements. The core problem is that few people buy small cars, especially for fuel economy. If they did, the HF and it's offspring would still be on the street, but the public will buy image, which is why there are Priusus and other hybrids. There are new noise "requirements" from customers, too. People want quiet cars- so there's a lot of weight in sound deadening in there. What you don't understand is that you are the gross minority in the car public, ESPECIALLY for new cars. If you are not buying new cars, then the reality is that your opinion is ignored. BTW, there are loopholes in the rules. Plenty of them. you just need to know where to look. Since the loopholes are there, and nobody is really taking advantage of them, that should give you a clue of where the market really is.

I can't + you enough for this post. Car makers sell what car buyers want.

Giant Purple Snorklewacker
Giant Purple Snorklewacker SuperDork
9/7/10 8:27 a.m.

The car companies in this country have long catered to the people - and the people think they want a bigger car. They buy a Suburban because... why not? It's nice inside. It seats a family of five, two dogs a grandma or two... It sits nice and high so you can see where you are going. It has decent four wheel drive and lots of power. It gets the same highway mileage as all the smaller SUVs. It can tow stuff if dad finds that camper or boat he has been looking for or. This same scenario plays out at the car & minivan levels. I've only got 2 kids but 7 seats is better than 5... You buy more than you need because... well, you might need more and its not that much money or impact to do so. There is no visible downside to the consumer that impacts their life in a significant way.

Countries that love hot hatches would love a Suburban but they can't have one. There are ungodly costs to operate such behemoth in Europe and it a lot of places the roads can't accommodate it anyway. So they make a better car within the limits of the rules. That is why they will pay $40k+ for a Focus with a hot rod motor and AWD.

The freedom to choose is how we got the Suburban. Available choices follow market trends. When an expensive, small, simple, lightweight car made out of exotic materials is attractive to the masses - we will get them.

I try to convince everyone that smaller is better because I fit most of what I need in an old 911... to try to encourage a market where Lotus can thrive. You knw though... when it doesn't fit - I have a giant 2500HD duramax to handle the overflow. Because sometimes... you know... you need a little more of everything.

ReverendDexter
ReverendDexter Dork
9/7/10 8:56 a.m.

+1 to consumer, not government.

The problem here is that the vocal crowd that wants cheap, light, simple cars, is the crowd that looks at the cheapest new car on a dealer lot and says "Why would I pay that much for a car?!?" and goes and buys used.

You want light cars, you have to buy NEW ones when they come out. Show the manufacturers that yes there is a market for these things, and if you make them, you WILL make money. Not buying the bloated ones isn't enough, there's enough normals going out and proving the profitability of bloat.

wcelliot
wcelliot Reader
9/7/10 9:10 a.m.

Don't discount complex Government regs... those are prime motivators in prompting carmakers how to build cars that the public wants. Absent them, the public's tastes could be satisfied with lighter, smaller engined cars.

First, mass does help to pass the incredibly detailed modern safety specifications... which aren't any better than those in the EU, but they are different... meaning that if you don't design to meet them, you won't... without huge mass. That's why a Euro G-wagen can meet US crash tests and a Euro Porsche can't. But add 250kg to that Porsche and suddenly it comes closer... without any other mods.

So carmakers selling in the US know that adding mass makes meeting the safety regs easier. Look at the Smart... the US version weighs considerably more than the Euro version... but really isn't any safer.

Now to counteract that additional weight, you need more engine. More engine, more weight, less economy... that's where the formula differs from the 1980's until now... the weight driven by ever increasingly complicated Government regs and the power driven by consumers wanting heavy feeling, powerful cars. (The power is significant... in 1987 my Taurus MT5 had 88hp... what's the smallest, cheapest economy car have today?)

Want to immediately change the mix of cars we have out there? Simply sign onto the EU agreement where all EU countires acknowledge a single set of safety and emission specs... absolutely free for the US to implement. Then overnight the US car market would be flooded with small, lightweight, inexpensive cars...

Which is really why the DOT regs exist as they do... it's more market protection than anything else... (by comparison, EPA regs are easy to meet)

But I certainly would like to know why my current tow vehicle (a 2002 Avalanche with a 5.3) gets 4mpg LESS on the highway than my 1999 Suburban 5.7. Same basic gearing and the weight is almost identical...

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