100 Years of Improvement?

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.


  1. you should also note that european car vendors have been selling cars that are by FAR better with fuel economy than american cars. my audi with a 1.9 liter 110hp engine takes 5-5.5l/100km at highway speeds that translates to 47mpg.

    the technology advanced in the last 100 years, the american people did not.

  2. “the technology advanced in the last 100 years, the american people did not.”
    You’re right, PEOPLE are not fuel eficient here!
    There are a lot of fuel efficient cars in US too, like the Civic, that get >40 mpg which is not bad at all, but I don’t see average (redneck) Joe buying this…F150 or Silverado will be his choice…same with soccer moms and their SUVs

  3. Most people in America haven’t tried hard enough to find ways to increase their fuel economy by 50% or more. Solutions can be found if you’re willing to look for them, and it doesn’t involve selling the half ton pickup truck for a hybrid sedan.

  4. Mahonri says

    I drive an early 80’s VW pickup, diesel powered. Winter with #1 diesel is 40+ mpg. Summer with #2 is 45-48 mpg.
    Europe has VW models that get 70-90 mpg. What is wrong with bringing them to the USA? 70% of all cars sold in Euprope are Diesels. ALL get better fuel mileage than their gas counterparts… much better mileage.

    What is wrong with the US that we can’t get these vehicles here?

    I would think a small VW pickup that gets 60 mpg, will haul stuff and drives well would do very good here.

  5. they are FINALLY starting to open their eyes and sell more fuel efficient cars including diesel, hybrid, and other option vehicles –
    of course that’s going to take another year or two 🙁

    another thing slowing us down is people either un-educated on options or people who just DON”T care… they would rather save $7,500 on a Big Truck than at the gas pump.

    Just because gas has lowered they think that it wont go right back up to where it was… sad, so sad.

  6. the f150 has 21 for gas mileage D/A

  7. and if you didnt notice it gave the car better horse power even though it was using less gas

  8. There is another large reason that can account for this trend in low mileage, technology suppression, it is unfortunate but quite true. I urge anyone reading this to do a little research on the subject the results of my own research was very powerful to me I feel like I have found a cause worthy of persuing.

  9. Mikefromdtw says

    Hey Morons…the 17 mpg model-T had no muffler and ran on pure regular gas…get rid of the all the polution controls and cars would see a 30 percent increase in fuel milage…however clouding the air…a little thing called friction and gravity limit power to energy ratio…

  10. Brian Carr misses a number of key points:
    hp/mpg ratio is much improved, by a factor of 10 or more, in many cases. The model t was a best seller because it was cheap and had no competition, not because of quality or utility – key reasons for popularity now. Also, there are many autos available now that get much better mpg than the model t and these sell well. Add elect. start, hydraulic brakes, safety glass, spaciousness for passengers, storage for belongings, heating, comfort etc.
    He is correct in stating, however, this is not an apples to apples comparison…

  11. Gas Mileage . . Gas Mileage . . .Bah, Humbug!!!!

    We are a free society. It is nobody’s damn business what the other guy drives. If most American’s drive big gas-guzzling rigs . . so WHAT!!! If that creates a demand for more oil, then drill, drill drill and meet the supply.

    Comparing European driver to American driver is every bit the apple to oranges to comparing the tin lizzie to an SUV. In spite of the EU, America still has a broader and more uniform market that allows for the economies of scale. Also this is a HUGE country with wide open spaces. Americans have always had a real need for larger more capable and capacious autos to conquers the wide open spaces.

  12. Another thought. Comparing tin lizies to SUVs is also apple to oranges. the tin lizzie is an economy car. An SUV is a TRUCK!!! The most maligned SUV, the explorer is based on the Ford Ranger which is a TRUCK!!! If you want to compare apples to apples, compare the tin lizzie to the most efficient economy car on the market!!! My little Ford Focus gets nearly 30 mpg. I know that there are others that do far better. That FOCUS blow the model T away in ALL respects, including mileage.

  13. This is ridiculous. You can buy and drive a European style car that is a third the size of an American sedan. It gets great fuel mileage. You won’t survive any accident on an American highway and it will take you twice as long to drive wherever you’re going. You won’t have thick protective doors, enough power to safely accelerate onto ramps, a comfortable suspension, cockpit amenities, etc. etc. etc. The cars that are sold here cater to whatever people want to buy, and most people think convenience and safety is highly important. It’s a wonder with the speed, power, safety features and other things on a modern American vehicle that they don’t get three miles per gallon, that’s where the advances in fuel injection and other innovations come in. If all you care about is fuel mileage then you can stand on your soapbox and complain but at least know that consumers choose their vehicles for lots of reasons, not just because it saves gas.

  14. ur a idiot says

    ur a idiot mate i didnt want this crap


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