Thursday, June 10, 2010

The March Towards Fuel Efficiency: Trading Econoboxes for Hybrids

1986 Chevy Sprint and 2010 Toyota Prius

The 2010 Toyota Prius beats the 1986 Chevy Sprint on fuel efficiency by 2 MPG. Which would you rather drive?

The Environmental Protection Agency�"s newly published list of fuel economy greatest hits, 1984 to 2010, divides the top 10 fuel-sippers into two broad categories. The first group includes small stripped-down econoboxes from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Cars like the Chevrolet Sprint (1985 � 1987), Geo Metro (1989 � 1994), and Honda CRX (1985 � 1989) boasted combined city/highway fuel efficiency ratings in the high 40s.

The second group is hybrids from the past decade, the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid. These high-tech hybrids are rated from the high 40s to the low 50s. (The EPA�"s list allows you to mouse over a �Ssimilar models that qualify⬝ link to see that all the generations of these three hybrid vehicles, from 2000 to 2010, qualify as fuel efficiency greatest hits.)

It�"s easy to look nostalgically at the Sprint, Metro, CRX and Suzuki Swift, and view that generation as some sort of heyday of fuel efficiency. But using a rose-colored rear view mirror has a blind spot: Those cars lacked most of the comfort, convenience and safety features�from power steering to automatic transmissions�that today�"s car buyers see as absolutely essential.

Cheap & Small vs. High-Tech

�SYou used to get fuel economy by cheap and small. And now, you get it through technology,⬝ said John DeCicco, faculty fellow at the University of Michigan Energy Institute, in an interview with �SFor example, you used to get a car without a radio. Now an entry-level car has a great sound system and you can plug in your MP3. What kind of system did a Chevy Sprint give you?⬝ DeCicco said. He believes the vast expansion of features represents a shift in priorities in society.

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