America, Stop Sitting Idle On Technology

European Ford TechEven proponents of sustainability know that the desire for change cannot trump technological capability. Systems like compressed air power storage, algae-based jet fuel or wave power generation have moved passed discovery and would be great additions to society but simply have not reached a level of commercial viability. When interests lie on the bleeding edge this is simply part of the game. However, there are few things more troublesome and disenchanting than a technology that exists to improve the level of function and efficiency of products and is simply not executed. I came across an article on Matter Network that highlighted the fact that a Ford Focus model for Europe is set to achieve 62 MPG, yet the Focus for Americans achieves only 35. This means that the technology for increased fuel economy is here, but not utilized. Things like this are amazingly frustrating.

Technology to Buyers Abroad

Apparently Ford will release its Focus “Econetic” model that will be available to European consumers in four months. The article notes that Ford’s 40 MPG Fiesta model will not even be available to Americans until 2011. The first and logical question is why can Ford not make more efficient cars available in the U.S.? The frustrating part is not that there are not reasons, but that the reasons are actually true.

For starters, European countries have made vehicle efficiency, and its link to emissions, a legislative priority. European citizens have elected officials that are willing to endorse stricter codes on how standards will be set for automobiles. Where here in America, California’s voluntary efforts to raise emissions standards for cars were challenged by the federal government, across the Atlantic such goals are embraced. European politicians may admittedly care less if fewer, better cars are sold each year given that the result may be American job losses rather than local ones.

When comparing the prices of the Ford Econetic and its standard American counterpart, the difference is significant. A standard, 3-Door, Ford Focus can has an MSRP of anywhere from $15,500 to $18,300 here in the states while the anticipated Ford Econetic equivalent will carry an MSRP of £18,055 (around $29,790.) Americans very well may not pay $10,000 more for a similar car even if it gets nearly twice the mileage. So why will Europeans?

The Money is in Gasoline

The price of gas is no small part of the equation. If we use London as an example, the current price of regular unleaded “petrol” is around 113p per liter which equates to $7.05 per gallon—over two and a half times our paltry average of $2.63 here in the U.S. This means that the difference between getting 35 MPG and 62 MPG is much larger for a Londoner than an American. If we use the our E.P.A. estimate of passenger cars traveling 12,000 miles per year and the 13.5 gallon tank in a Ford Focus it is easy to extrapolate the cost spent per year on gas for different gas mileages.

miles per gallon comparison

At current prices, raising the mileage of an American car from 35 to 60 mpg can save the average consumer $376 per year on gas, but the same conversion to a London resident saves an impressive $1,007. With an estimated life of 10 years (which is ambitious for many Americans) the savings could knock over $10,000 from the Econetic’s price tag and that is without a rise in the price of oil.

From all of this we can glean that the tens of billions of dollars we spend subsidizing the oil industry is only hurting our own advancements towards efficiency. Though perhaps not advocated by the conservative lobby, the example also illustrates the effectiveness of using legislation to curb societal norms and while we all may be in favor of letting a growing market awareness make that decision for us, sometimes natural capitalistic forces simply take too long to make the right decision.

Some experts blame similar occurrences of technological lethargy for why countries like Spain and Germany have surpassed America in solar and wind power generation. Our lack of effort to promote and improve these technologies when we had the chance allowed foreign minds to become industry leaders. The makers of the popular documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car” paints a similar picture of electric vehicle technology that was progressively researched years ago by GM until government and oil interests unraveled the project. In the meantime, Japanese car companies have cornered the market on fuel-efficiency in vehicles.

The fact that there is tested technology that is being constructed and sold to consumers outside of America but not available here is a problem. I am open to different solutions on how to fix it (raising gas prices, removing oil subsidies, new emissions or CAFE legislation) but the problem needs to be fixed.

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