What happened to the 70mpg car I was promised as a child?
May 30, 2010 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone else remember the textbook I am thinking of from the late 1980's?

This is going to sound crazy, but I have been wondering about it for years. Here goes: Around 20-25 years ago when I was in some grade in school - can't remember which, but seventh seems to stand out - I remember having a textbook, math, I think, in which there was a picture of a car with a caption that read something like "cars of the future like this one will get 70mpg."

The caption, in my memory at least, seemed to imply that the vehicle depicted was capable of this mileage. I have always wondered what ever happened to that technology, for if we were able to build even an experimental vehicle way back then with that kind of capability, why haven't we seen anything that can get that kind of mileage by now?

This all came back to me when a friend sent me this link:
http://jalopnik.com/5549518/how-the-us-government-killed-the-safest-car-ever-built, because that car actually looks quite a bit like the 20-something year old memory I have in my head of the car that was supposed to get the great mileage. However, the car in the link above only got about half that mileage.

I tried doing some searching online for the book, but with the scant amount of information I remember, I have had no success. Did anyone else out there have this textbook and/or remember this caption? This is nothing more than idle curiosity, really, I guess, but it's been bugging me for years.


posted by Yellowbeard to Education (6 answers total)
It's rather unlikely that your 25-year-old textbook was illustrated with an image of an actual production-capable car that got 70 mpg. And no one certainly promised you anything.

Technological capability aside, extremely high mileage cars are, in themselves, not what people want. They want cars like they drive today to get 70 mpg. That's not going to happen. To get that kind of mileage, people are going to have to give up large, fast cars. No SUV's, no pickups, no minivans, probably no Civics or Corollas.
posted by justcorbly at 8:54 AM on May 30, 2010

I fully understand the technological problems with getting that kind of mileage - especially given the inefficiency of piston driven internal combustion engines. Then again, I don't remember anything in the caption claiming that the car was using that technology (though I would assume it was). I suppose it's fully possible that the car didn't actually exist, except that I remember it being a photograph, not an illustration, so something existed, even if that something didn't actually get the claimed mileage. It's at least equally probable that my memory is simply at fault.

Like I said, I am just trying to trace down where I saw the information. It's a memory that, for whatever reason, has stuck with me all these years and I would like to see if the memory is even accurate.
posted by Yellowbeard at 9:40 AM on May 30, 2010

They want cars like they drive today to get 70 mpg. That's not going to happen.

What are you talking about? The Prius was getting around 60MPG before they changed the way MPG was calculated. It's unlikely that 70 MPG is somehow out of reach for a 'normal' car. The problem is battery technology, among other things.
posted by delmoi at 9:44 AM on May 30, 2010

Ladies and gentlemen, the Peel P50. Produced in 1962, gets 83mpg.

Sure, it only just barely qualifies as a car, but it is street legal in Britain!
posted by Vorteks at 3:09 PM on May 30, 2010

235 mpg VW.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:40 PM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be surprised if could get an early 1980s subcompact going at 70 mpg with today's engine technology, if anyone really wanted to do that.

What happened since you saw that article was that oil prices got really, really low. For example, this article from The Economist in 1999.

The value of having a car that gets 70 mpg subsequently diminished, because you'd only be saving a few tens of dollars every couple weeks, depending on how often you drove. In terms of anything being manufactured in mass, there wasn't much of a market there.

The other thing that happened with cheap fuel prices and advancing engine technology is that we used these advances to make the engines more powerful and reliable, rather than making them more fuel efficient for a given level of power/reliability. Glancing at this Wikipedia page, it looks like a mid-80s Honda Accord had an engine with around 100 hp. Honda Accords in 2010 sport 190 hp engines, which is in the ballpark for circa 1985 muscle cars like the Ford Mustang. We're using these ridiculously powerful engines to move bigger cars, because, given cheap fuel, the market went for big and power.

Cars these days are also considerably safer, what with multiple air bags, better framing, etc. This safety comes at the price of weight, which will reduce fuel economy. Note that we can build a 1000 mpg car, but, in a collision between that car and, say, a Little Tykes Cozy Coup, I wouldn't bet against the Cozy Coup. Said Cozy Coup can probably go faster than the 1000 mpg car, for that matter.
posted by chengjih at 5:30 PM on May 31, 2010

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