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The other day, I talked about the new gas mileage law, which will require car manufacturers to increase the fuel economy their fleets obtain by 2016.  For the environment, this is a step forward, leading to decreased overall carbon emissions and better mpg’s in cars.  Naturally, this will also increase new car costs as car makers dump resources in R and D to create more efficient vehicles.  But this bill might provide an unexpected injury to another part of the auto market: the luxury car industry.

James Bond Aston Martin

Will James Bond have to give up his trademark Aston Martin?

Remember that car manufacturers must have a fleet average of about 35.5 miles per gallon.  For large companies like GM and Ford, this is pretty feasible, considering the high number of models these firms produce.  Even lower-end luxury brands like BMW should be all right meeting these standards, especially considering the high mileage makes already coming out.  But what about the really high-end performance cars like Porsches and Aston Martins?

If the makers of the fast cars are large manufacturers, these regulations should be pretty easy to overcome.  Consider Ferrari, which just released the fastest road car in the company’s history, the 599 GTO.  Ferrari is owned by Fiat SpA, which luckily is already selling fuel efficient vehicles in the US.  But brands that don’t sell cars besides luxury autos in the US are scrambling for ways to meet this regulation, like developing smaller, more fuel efficient cars (both Aston Martin and Jaguar are trying that route).  Tiny (fewer than 5,000 vehicles sold per year) manufacturers are hoping that the EPA makes special allowances for them since the government agency has said these companies will get their own rules.  Larger car makers (50-400k cars) are allowed to have 25,000 cars per year exceed mileage targets without being penalized.

Ferrari 599 GTO

The fastest Ferrari road car ever made...

And let’s not forget that fuel efficiency and carbon emissions regulations are not unique to America.  Most developed countries in the world have to adhere to standards which get more strict all the time.  In fact, the US is lagging behind in the regulations game.

So what exactly does this mean?  Will our favorite high performance car makers be able to punch out a few efficient models to keep the sportiest vehicles on the road?  I’ve said this before – I love fast cars, even if I may never own one.  But can they remain on our highways indefinitely?  Or will there come a time when they’re chained to closed tracks?

Maybe others agonized over a similar decision decades ago when horses were replaced by horsepower.  Maybe carriage drivers were sad to put their high-stepping ponies in the barn and resigned themselves to riding and driving them for sport instead of transportation.  Will luxury cars as we know it be kept merely for hobby instead of a way of getting around?  I know that most Aston Martin drivers aren’t slogging through their daily commutes like James Bond, but these new regulations may dramatically change the fast cars we all love.  The divide between transportation and sport might keep growing.

Last week I saw some big (and possibly surprising) news from President Obama: plans to open the Atlantic coastline, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Northern Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling.

“The answer is not drilling everywhere all the time,” Obama said.  “But the answer is not, also, for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security.”

The move appears to be an attempt to placate Republicans, who have historically pushed for an increase in American oil exploration and drilling (drill, baby, drill anyone?).  However, it is unclear whether this goodwill gesture will be enough to satisfy Conservatives.

Not surprisingly, the expansion plan has angered many who are concerned about the effects of drilling on the environment.  Obama tried to address this in his speech.

Bird

Let's hope offshore drilling doesn't result in more of these poor critters...

“There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision,” Obama said, “including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling. But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.”

The guy has a point.  Like I talked about a few weeks ago, Americans are less concerned about the environment than ever in the presence of high unemployment rates and an unstable economy.  And this theory behind the decision makes sense: the less money we use to import oil, the more money we have for other things, like investing in renewable energy or creating green jobs.  However, it doesn’t seem very likely that offshore drilling will affect oil prices anytime soon.

It’s been rough going against climate skeptics and legislators who seem determined to fight anything with Obama’s stamp on it.  This action might make the road ahead a little easier.

To soften the blow, President Obama also announced strict fuel economy regulations that will take effect in coming years.  By 2016, the average miles per gallon achieved by carmaker’s fleets must be 34.1, although some expect that to increase to 35.  This means that small trucks will likely average about 29 mpg while cars will get about 38 mpg.  The new regulations will cost new car buyers an average of $926 in six years, although they can expect to save over $3,000 in gas money during their vehicle’s lives.

President Obama appears to be trying to please everyone.  Maybe we can get some measure of his success during the upcoming climate talks in the Senate.

Maybe we can have it all.  That’s what Ford is telling consumers with the release of its 2011 Mustang, the first car introduced to the public at large that has over 300 horsepower and gets over 30 miles per gallon (19 city, 31 highway).

Ford Mustang

All new for 2011: better gas mileage than the VW Beetle

Considering the struggle Ford and other Detroit auto makers have had recently, I’m betting that Ford is hoping to show up other luxury car makers like Lexus.  The Mustang has some stiff competition from the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger, but Ford is working hard to come out on top.  They’ve made the Mustang body more aerodynamic, slapped on a dual exhaust, and developed a new six-speed transmission, in addition to a new electronic steering system.

The new Mustang is expected to hit showroom floors this summer with a base price of about $23,000.  Is this a new era for the sports car, with manufacturers focusing on fuel economy in addition to performance?  To be honest, I don’t think that people buying these sporty cars have gas mileage on the brain when they’re picking out new rides.  But one thing is clear: in the sports car market, the competition is getting stiffer, and fuel efficiency is now a part of the game.  Let’s hope other automakers rise to the challenge.

When I was a freshman in college, I took a chemistry class with Dr. Majestic (awesome name, I know).  He was shy, soft-spoken, but definitely knew what he was talking about.  One of the things he taught us was information about the energy that fuels cars: hydrocarbons, ethanol, biofuels, and so forth.  In that class, I first learned that ethanol may not be the cure-all for our oil dependency.  I also learned that Dr. Majestic tended to piss off other drivers with his fuel-efficient driving techniques.  He might have taken it to the extreme (as in hardly ever braking), but his driving tips have stuck with me through the years.

  1. Brake as little as possible. When you brake, you’re taking away forward energy that you’ve already made (ie. gas you’ve already burned).  So don’t be a nervous soccer mom; try to avoid that lurchy, stop-start method of driving and make sure you’re not following so close that you’ll need to stand on the brake to avoid an accident.
  2. Accelerate smoothly with low RPMs.  Generally, the lower the RPMs, the better the mileage.  So try to avoid the street racer mindset. Yes, other cars will “beat” you.  But guess what?  You’ll catch up to that hotshot at the next red light, and you’ll have more money left in your pocket because you didn’t waste a bunch of gas getting there.
  3. Lighten up.  One reason microcars are so efficient is because they’re light, often weighing under a thousand pounds.  The more extra weight you haul around, the more fuel your car will guzzle.  So don’t be a pack rat; if you don’t need those power tools, leave ’em in the garage.  It’s just you driving around this week?  Ditch the extra seats.
  4. Plan ahead.  It sounds a little Type A, but it’s a simple idea: if you drive fewer miles, you will use less gas.  So don’t run around like a chicken with your head cut off driving all over town.  Besides, you’ll get everything done more quickly if you choose the shortest route!
  5. Take care of your car.  Like Andy told us, ensuring your tires are properly inflated can increase fuel efficiency up to three percent.  So don’t be a slacker mom/dad to your car.  Changing spark plugs, replacing gunky air filters, and changing your oil can help your car run its best, which will help out your mileage.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Majestic is cruising around in some SMV prototype or a car that runs off switchgrass.  While we aren’t all as ultra-attentive to our gas mileage, following a few simple guidelines can help us be a little better.

Want more advice?  Here, here, and here are some more thorough gas-saving tips.

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