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Saturday, April 17, 2021

The times, they are a-changin’

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Ah, for the days when most people considered cars “gas-guzzlers.” In a lot of ways, it seems like then were the better days.

The median fuel economy in the American car market was 28 miles per gallon, according to an article last year in the American Petroleum Institute’s Media Center publication, Automotive Outlook. The figure seems impossible today — the average fuel economy for the 2015 models of cars sold in the United States was 27.4 mpg.

Though the numbers are much different, in other ways they are not. The average rate of sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrids was 6.3 percent for the last calendar year, the Energy Information Administration reported. That represents all vehicle sales in the United States, so is a fraction of the total market.

Now, however, the days of gas-guzzlers are probably over. It’s a stunning announcement by BMW’s CEO that the brand’s new i3 electric car will accelerate from 0 to 100 kph in just 5.6 seconds, “the fastest electric car of its kind.”

The news was greeted with surprise in some quarters, to be sure, but certainly not in others. The announcement was greeted as a sign that the world had moved far beyond the time when even premium luxury models considered fuel-efficient.

Could anything be further from the truth?

Many industry observers, including this columnist, argue that the days of gasoline-powered cars are officially over, that the driver of a car full of batteries no longer feels like the driving mass of Earth. And there are dramatic results to be had from going green.

Here are some sobering reminders:

• Even if you buy the greener option, your car will still need regular gasoline to fuel the batteries in the first place.

• T he question of electric cars’ range is still open.

• There will always be gas-powered cars that aren’t hybrids, except perhaps in future gas-powered luxury cars that have a plug.

• You need a good safe job for gasoline cars to go an average of 100 m.p.h. The average American who used to feel like a boss gas-guzzler will feel like an underclass member after his electric vehicle hits 100 m.p.h.

• Wind tunnels are now widely available. In today’s high-tech world, we will want to know where the car is being made.

• Today’s gas-guzzling cars are still profitable for automakers; it is just that they aren’t as profitable as they used to be.

• And most of us have terrible luck finding an automotive job with an hourly wage sufficient to cover the monthly gas bill.

I should point out that these are just a few examples of what should worry us the most. Indeed, when they are summed up, the problem remains.

This column is reprinted with permission from The New York Times Syndicate

Paul Stenquist, a journalist, editor and author of seven books, including “Dismantling Drought,” is a columnist for the Hastings Center Press.

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