‘Sexing up’ gas mileage for America’s good

Large engines, big wheels and women in tiny outfits have long been hallmarks of auto shows. But an admittedly unsexy, yet important, feature of cars remains neglected: gas mileage.

At this year’s Detroit Auto Show this trend continued. The New York Times reported how General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz put on a show Tuesday involving a look-alike stunt double to hype his company’s new 500-horsepower Corvette Z06 and 440-horsepower supercharged Cadillac STS-V during a press conference without mentioning how inefficient most of his company’s cars are.

Naturally, the type of person in the market for the luxury cars Lutz unveiled probably does not care much about such trivialities as gas mileage. If they can afford such cars, they can likely also afford to pay for as much gas as they need.

But the underlying problem, that of the ever-increasing pace of resources being wasted on fuel-inefficient vehicles, will come to the attention of drivers rather fast as oil continues to become scarcer.

To make matters worse, it is not only cars that depend on oil products to run. Plastics and other artificially created products also depend on petroleum as a resource. Without oil, such industries will likely suffer, affecting the overall health of the U.S. economy.

The U.S. government is only making a bad situation worse by giving tax credits to owners of so-called sport utility vehicles. The reason why such vehicles are called SUVs is to make them exempt from gas mileage guidelines by denoting them as vehicles that are not intended for everyday use. But most SUVs are not even capable of venturing off the tarred paths their owners take them on during their daily commutes. SUVs have proven unsafe, as many tip over and perform horrendously in crash tests. Yet, instead of urging consumers not to buy such vehicles, the government is giving owners a tax credit for buying such vehicles, hardly an act that exhibits vision.

There are an increasing number of vehicles with increased fuel efficiency on the market, some produced by American companies such as Ford and General Motors. While hybrids are reaching gas mileages of 70 miles per gallon, SUVs often get around eight miles per gallon. Yet the public is largely unaware of the advantage such cars have while delivering essentially the same driving experience.

The American automobile industry will have to do a better job of educating the public about such benefits. If it does not adapt, it risks losing its market to European and Japanese car companies — which have long been producing economical vehicles — or causing a global oil crisis. Neither scenario would be of benefit to U.S. citizens.