#culture, #happiness, #Jetta, #marketing, #Passat, #sustainability
Originally posted January 6th 2012
Relevant to what Ranger M posted today: http://rangerm.wordpress.com/2014/07/14/slow-and-steady/
Consider the speedometers in my two VWs. In my Passat, a good highway cruising speed put the needle just shy of the 12 o’clock position on the dial, less than halfway around. I noticed in my Jetta that 72mph now falls significantly further along the dial’s face, closer to 2 o’clock position. I wonder if it is a deliberate design. They added in every 10 mph increment up to 80 and then reverted back to every 20 after that, so it’s not even a consistent design – something that traditionally, stereotypically, would have driven a German engineer a little batty – and so it smacks of marketing’s dark influence.
Have studies shown that drivers are happier when they feel they are getting more out of their car? Does having the needle sweep past the halfway mark on the speedo impact drivers subconsciously in some way? It took me a solid week to figure out why I felt I was driving faster on the highway, I didn’t notice until I drove the Passat recently. It’s such a subtle change. I’d be tempted to write it off as nothing more than a new speedo design if it weren’t for everything we know about how products are designed and marketed these days.
And that makes me wonder about the sustainability of our current car culture. When I bought my Passat in 2000 it was classified as a mid-sized car. It has a 1.8L 4-cylinder turbo charged engine that was officially rated at 150hp, though there were a lot of rumors that VW had quietly upped the horsepower to closer to180, slightly stepping on the toes of their stable mate’s Audi A4. In typical German fashion, VW’s engineers described the horsepower as “adequate”.
I can assure you the car has more than enough horsepower to rapidly put me over the speed limit even on the highway and still returned 32 mpg over its lifetime. It put those figures up as I averaged 72mph on the highway winter or summer. I suspect it would have been much closer to 40mpg had I been able to average 55mph without creating a risk to myself and others.
The 2012 Jetta Sportswagon I just purchased is considered a small car. I compared its measurements against the Passat when I was shopping, not being sure if I was comfortable with a small car. It turns out that they are nearly identical in size, with the Passat having a 5 in longer wheelbase and total overall length. In nearly all other interior and exterior measurements the Jetta is larger. So my 2012 “small” car is equivalent to its midsize cousin from 2000.
This suggests that the 2012 Passat must be larger and a quick review of the specs shows that it is. The wheelbase grew 4 inches and total length grew 6.5 inches from 2000. Most other interior or exterior dimensions either remained the same or grew. Horsepower is up, of course, being a key marketing factor even as many people now search for higher miles per gallon.
Today’s Passat has a 2.5L 5-cylinder engine rated at 170hp and is predicted to get exactly the same MPG as my 2000 Passat. What if they had just kept the same base engine and found ways to make it more efficient? Couldn’t that extra 20hp (again, assuming it’s underreported to spare Audi from cannibalized sales) have been sacrificed for better MPG? Our current model of building and selling cars is unsustainable. The models grow in all respects year to year, eating away at what could be significant leaps forward in MPG improvements, in order to sell the consumer on the new, improved, and bigger aspects.
Most of the family sedans today are packing more horsepower than the legitimate sports cars of my youth. Yet, there are no roadways where that horsepower can be safely applied. For example, my colleague’s G37 Infiniti sedan has 328hp. That car would probably be overpowered for most drivers at around 228hp, so those 100 extra horse just eat up extra gas. It’s good to see some companies pushing 40+MPG as their chief marketing aim, but we could have been there a decade ago.
As an aside, a special thanks to Jon for pointing out to me years and years ago that I was riding the clutch in my car. That 162,000 miles you see on the odometer are all on the original clutch.
Craig H said:
Horsepower and efficiency aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, properly done, the two should comfortably coexist wherever they’re found. My tiny old PT Cruiser (don’t judge) didn’t have a whole lot of horsepower, (150), and that thing always got dirt for gas mileage no matter how carefully I drove it–you had to be coasting downhill to do better than 25MPG. In contrast, my much larger Passat with the turbo and a bunch more horsepower (170) can do 30+ MPG on the highway doing 70MPH without breaking a sweat. (That speed is legal in parts of VA, so no laws needed to be broken to bring you that fact). Best of all, my 240+ horsepower S2000 gets the best mileage of them all, and I can do 35MPG and better while enjoying the heck out of the fact that I did not make 70,000 miles on the original clutch. The issues are weight, wind resistance and efficiency, not horsepower.
Honda’s variable valve timing system is very nice for producing both efficiency and horsepower and VW can produce a very nice turbo engine. Lots of manufacturers play around with shutting down cylinders on their engines to boost highway mileage. All of it still leaves us pretty much where we were a decade ago – hovering around the mid twenties for many of the makes while everything else increases.
So, I still think that horsepower could have stayed flat in the Passat over the last decade, except that as competing makes shifted to a 2.5L engine, VW felt compelled to do the same. As competing makes stretched their sedans and increased interior room, VW felt compelled to do the same. As competing makes kept the all important zero-to-sixty times low or lower, VW felt compelled to do the same. As a result, a larger, heavier car, with a larger engine uses the efficiency gains on performance instead of MPG.
I think that many customers are switching their preferences and high MPG cars and hybrids have certainly started to sell very well, but imagine how much better the national MPG average could be without the marketing-inspired race to be bigger and better.
Craig H said:
There’s a point where fewer horsepower, given a larger (more wind resistance) and heavier car, yields fewer miles per gallon, and I’m not convinced that all that extra horsepower is going to waste given everything it has to push around.
I would suggest the essence of current trends isn’t based on people preferring faster cars, but, rather, people preferring larger cars. The lion’s share of un-attained mileage can actually be put to SUV’s and “crossovers”–especially the under-powered ones–as well as the bizarre popularity of behemoth pickups most of those drivers don’t need or use, as well as the people-carriers based on those truck platforms (Again, significantly greater weight and wind resistance).
The fact that Civics and Golfs can go faster than ever before is a tribute to engineering, not waste per se. You’re right that buyers do not put a premium on efficiency, but I would observe relatively few drivers are obsessing about power and speed, compared to the legion of folks wanting more room and a larger car that still, to this day in America, is inferred to mean “better”, “more expensive” and, for both of those silly reasons, more prestigious.
I like a small car that goes fast, so I bought one. It’s pretty efficient. I also maintain a large car that also goes somewhat fast, because I needed something to ferry around the kids and all my stuff when I take my road trips. It’s not so bad on gas. But when you say Prius, or any other highly economical ride, I balk because of their size first ahead of every other reason.
If I could afford a Tesla, I’d be driving one.