Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One of these things is not like the other

Can you guess the European vehicle and the American vehicle? Dumb question? So if you haven't been to Europe, then you may not know the answer. During my recent trip to Germany for a study abroad, I found it amazing, comparatively speaking, the difference between motor vehicles in the two continents. Small, compact vehicles are the norm in much all European countries. Hummers, suburbans, large pickups, and large SUVs are quite common in the USA. (Fortunately, the Hummer product was sold, so Americans may see fewer of these of the city streets...thankfully.) These larger American vehicles are sucking the gas out of the pumps for the V8 or Hemi or whatever term these manufacturers are using to indicate unnecessary power. So why are these vehicles needed in the USA? Families? No, I don't think a family needs a suburban or Hummer (they aren't going to war). They could get by just fine with a small SUV and mini van. Prestige/power/masculinity? Frankly, I don't recognize this prestige when you are standing at the pump for the 2nd time in a week. In fact, I find that gas stations smell terrible. Safety? Car manufacturers are making mid-size and compact vehicles just as safe, if not safer than larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles.
In a 2007 MSNBC article entitled "US 'stuck in reverse' on fuel economy," a national poll indicated that US consumers would welcome more fuel-efficient vehicles in the US market. 9 out of 10 said they US consumers should have access to higher mpg vehicles. Therefore, the demand is there. Additionally, in the article, it compares vehicle mpg. In 2007, 113 European vehicles were getting a combined 40mpg. The same year, in the USA, 2 vehicles (the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic hybrid) were getting this combined 40mpg. In fact, for the last two decades, fuel-efficiency standards have remained stagnant at 27.5mpg. This all concerns me. According to the poll, the US demand is there, yet more fuel-efficient vehicles are not being released to the public. Are the oil companies having an influence as to what vehicles are released to the public?
I write this because it concerns me. While in Germany, I would ride up to a stop light and be surrounded by at least 4 other cyclists. Usually to my left would be a smaller, compact vehicle that is likely achieving the 40mpg. Additionally, a public transit train/tram would be traveling along the street to take the masses to their destinations. Timely, efficient buses were also common in the city. This is all very progressive and very environmentally friendly. It made me smile. I would like to encourage others to consider their mode of transportation. How are you getting to work? How are you running errands? And, are there other environmentally-friendly and healthier options? Always consider the bike.
By the way, as of the writing of this blog post, I am still on track with my wife's wager. I still have not driven myself to any destination within Pittsburgh city proper. In Germany, I used bus, carpool, train, tram, and bicycle. In Pittsburgh, I have used primarily bicycle, but some carpool and bus. Only 3 months to go for my win!

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