IN THE NEWS: MIT study suggests gas tax hike to improve car fuel efficiencyThursday, February 9, 2012
NY Daily News   (Browse all news)
By Josh Max
It’s official – we don’t want cars that get 200 or more miles to the gallon, and it’s consumers’ fault, not automakers’.
A new report issued by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Christopher Knittel says major innovations in miles-to-the-gallon have been stymied by cars that are larger and more powerful than they were 30 years ago.
Between 1980 and 2006, the average gas mileage of vehicles sold in the United States increased by slightly more than 15 percent — a relatively modest improvement, says Knittel. “But during that time, the average weight of those vehicles increased 26 percent, while their horsepower rose 107 percent. All factors being equal, fuel economy actually increased by 60 percent between 1980 and 2006.” If cars had stayed the same weight and size since 1980, says Knittel, we’d all be getting an average of 73 MPG instead of our current average of 27.
“Most of that technological progress has gone into [compensating for] weight and horsepower,” he says, adding that we ought to make drivers cough up for their own pollution.
“When it comes to climate change, leaving the market alone isn’t going to lead to the efficient outcome,” Knittel says. “The right starting point is a gas tax.”
Knittel conducted his study by using data from auto trade journals, manufacturers and data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which revealed that Americans have chosen to buy larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles over the last 30 years despite far more public awareness of pollution, global warming and other serious environmental issues. In 1980, for example, light trucks accounted for about 20 percent of passenger vehicles sold in America. By 2004, light trucks, including SUVs, accounted for 51 percent of sales.
And despite current national gas prices being higher than they’ve ever been in the history of the internal combustion vehicle - $3.48 per regular gallon - gas prices dropped by 30 percent when adjusted for inflation between 1980 and 2004, Knittel says. The blame, he says, lies with the consumer, not the seller.
“I find little fault with the auto manufacturers, because there has been no incentive to put technologies into overall fuel economy,” Knittel says. “Firms are going to give consumers what they want, and if gas prices are low, consumers are going to want big, fast cars. I think 98 percent of economists would say that we need higher gas taxes.”