NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Our Cars' Weight Problem

January 22, 2013

Just as Americans all over the country commit to their January weight loss routines, so too has the automobile industry. Under the directive of the federal government, auto manufacturers must now comply with a new mandate stipulating that all vehicles manufactured by 2025 achieve an average fuel economy of 52 miles per gallon, says Robert E. Norton, vice president for external affairs at the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and former assistant general counsel at Chrysler.

  • The new mandate doubles the previous requirement of 26 miles per gallon.
  • Increases in gas mileage must be found through a combination of improved engine and transmission technology and reduced weights.
  • It takes less energy to propel a lighter object at a particular speed than a heavier object.

While higher gas mileage will certainly appeal to our pocketbooks, Norton warns that this advance may occur at the expense of safety. While cars have consistently become lighter and lighter allowing for greater gas mileage, the reduction in vehicle weight that is necessary to meet this new goal of 52 miles per gallon will make cars weaker structurally during collisions. 

  • Crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety indicate that smaller cars are virtually obliterated in 40 mile per hour crashes when compared with their heavier counterparts.
  • Despite advances in safety technology, lighter cars that meet the 52 mph standard will be more dangerous.

If the government did not continually push for smaller cars through its environmental agenda, perhaps the technological advances in stability control, antilock brakes and air bags would reduce overall motor fatalities. If alternative methods of achieving fuel efficiency are not employed, decisions will have to be made on whether heavier, safer cars are more important than lighter, more environmentally-friendly vehicles. 

Source: Robert Norton, "Our Cars' Weight Problem," National Review, January 8, 2013.


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