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Gas mileage: Does big oil interfere?

March 20, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Is there a conspiracy afoot? Has "Big Oil" bought up all the patents that would increase the gas mileage of our cars, thereby protecting their profits? Let's investigate.

In the 1950s and 1960s, gas was 25 to 30 cents per gallon, and nobody seemed to care what mileage our cars got. Cars got bigger, wider, heavier and more powerful with every new model. Then came the oil embargo of the early 70s, and attitudes changed. Gas prices passed 50 cents and went to a dollar. There were riots at filling stations as people tried to feed those bigger, wider, heavier monsters with a heavier chunk of their disposable income. For the first time since World War II rationing, Americans had to worry about using their vehicles in an economical way. We had simply turned a blind eye to the European experience whereby gas prices had been held around five dollars a gallon by using taxation, and that had forced European manufacturers to produce economical cars. They thought the American way was extravagant, and we thought we deserved to be extravagant. After all, we had tons of oil in Oklahoma, Texas and Pennsylvania, so gas should be cheap for us.

Then the wells started going dry. Oops. Oh well, there was plenty of oil in the Mideast and the Arabs were poor, so they would sell it cheap, so we could continue to see how much horsepower we could cram into the family sedan. Then the Arabs got rich, and raised the price. Double oops. Now we began to consider gas mileage. We told Detroit to get us more economy. Detroit didn't have a clue. They had no experience making economical vehicles. They gave us the Pinto and the Vega, and the Horizon and the Pacer. Probably the sorriest pieces of machinery the planet has ever seen. Notice how many of them are left.

An industry emerged offering gadgets to improve the mileage on your gas guzzler. Water injection systems, additives for the gas tank, custom carburetors, and the list was endless and futile. None of that stuff worked. We called it snake oil, and I told more than one salesman to rub that additive on his scalp, because it might cure baldness as well. None of it worked because of a few laws. Not legal laws, I'm talking about laws of physics. Sir Isaac Newton nailed it. An object at rest tends to remain at rest. It takes horsepower to make it move. The more it weighs the more horsepower it takes. The more horsepower it takes, the more fuel is burned. That's only to get it moving. It also takes horsepower to keep it moving. The main reason you can't pedal your bike at 100 miles per hour is wind resistance. That same resistance holds back your car, and it takes horsepower to overcome it. The bigger, wider and blunter the shape of the car, the more horsepower, and therefore fuel is required for each mile it travels.

All car makers have made great strides in improving gas mileage. The most successful innovation is the use of computers to keep the gas-air mixture at a near perfect ratio at all times. This was something the old fashioned mechanical carburetors simply could not do. There were no magic carburetors bought up by "Big Oil", (whoever that might be). If more efficient carburetors were possible, race cars would have developed and used them. They didn't exist because those same laws of physics get in the way. Mechanical controls, like carburetors, simply cannot move quickly enough to control the air-fuel ratio perfectly in all driving situations. Modern electronics can, and are, doing just that. Manufacturers are also making cars lighter and more streamlined and therefore requiring less horsepower and therefore less fuel per mile of travel.

Although American cars have improved greatly, Detroit was slow to accept the changing demographics in the marketplace. In Japan, Korea and Europe, manufacturers blossomed. Detroit died. U. S. car makers still brag about their zero to sixty mph acceleration times, showing stubborn focus on the tiny high performance market, which cares nothing about fuel economy.

I know you conspiracy theorists out there won't believe me about there being no magic carburetors, but you don't believe anyone anyway. I know a guy who believes that jet contrails in the sky are full of chemicals the government is dropping on us to keep us sedated and manageable. Maybe they'll sneak into our homes and take our guns. Remember, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not watching you. Sleep well, all you nutcases.



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