Back in 1908, Ford introduced its groundbreaking Model T – the world’s first affordable motorized vehicle and, for all intents and purposes, the basis of America’s love affair with its cars. It also averaged 17 miles per gallon.
Fast forward 99 years to 2007: America’s best selling vehicle is still a Ford (the F-150), is still relatively affordable and is still perpetuating America’s love affair with its cars. However, it averages only 16 miles per gallon. Even the best selling sedan, the Toyota Camry, averages only 22 miles per gallon.
Nearly 100 years of automotive innovation and we’re still not much further along in terms of overall fuel economy.
I understand comparing a Model T to a Ford F-150 or a Toyota Camry isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison – today’s vehicles are much heavier, better performing and burn fuel much more cleanly than the Model T. That being said, the comparison can’t be completely discounted. Despite all of the changes and improvements over time, one would assume that significantly better gas mileage would be realized as well. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been.
Many of the reasons for a lack of significant improvement regarding gas mileage can be chalked up to the “amenities” that accompany modern vehicles. Here are the primary culprits:
- Improved Safety. Modern cars are much heavier than their predecessors, due in large part to increased safety. In addition to just generally being larger, modern cars are also made out of heavier/sturdier materials. While these materials have helped modern cars withstand tremendous force, the added weight has lead to decreased gas mileage.
- More Power. The Model T had a 20 horsepower engine that topped out at about 45 miles per hour. Compare that to modern cars, most of which have engines with at least ten times the horsepower and have the capability to top out at speeds three times faster than the Model T. Unfortunately, the increased power needs to get its energy from somewhere – and that’s where increased fuel consumption comes in.
- Air Conditioning. As you’re probably well aware, running your car’s air conditioner can be a significant drain on a car’s gas mileage, decreasing MPG by ten percent or more. Considering the fact air conditioning has become a standard feature for most cars, it’s easy to see how it has contributed to diminished fuel economy.
Despite the aforementioned reasons why it’s understandable that most modern cars don’t get gas mileage that blows away the Model T, there are plenty of reasons why it’s pretty disappointing that the best selling modern cars aren’t getting at least double the Model T’s MPGs:
- Aerodynamics. Today’s cars and trucks are much more aerodynamic than the Model T, which was essentially a horse carriage without the horse. The more aerodynamic a vehicle is, the less drag is placed upon it as it travels (especially at higher speeds) and the less amount of fuel it needs to get to and maintain speed.
- Fuel Systems. Modern cars have been equipped with much more sophisticated fuel systems, the main component of which is the fuel injector. These electronic and automated systems are much more efficient than the carburetor used by the Model T.
- 100 Years of Technological Advancement. The internal combustion engine is not the same as it was back in 1908, namely, it has improved and become much more efficient along the way.
So, long story short, it seems to me that while car manufacturers have made plenty of advancements over the last 100 years, it seems as if they’ve been focused on factors like size and speed and have paid far less attention to improving gas mileage.