He found that the average car today consumes just 15 percent less gas than the average car in 1980. That does not mean that the technology advances are just marketing bubbles. However, the weight of the average vehicle has increased in those 26 years by 26 percent and their horsepower by 107 percent. In effect, technology advances are used to sell bigger cars with more horsepower, but with similar fuel economy.
Had the average car today the same weight and horsepower of the average car in 1980, we would be driving cars that get 37 MPG and not just 27 MPG, Knittel said. We, the consumers, are especially at fault, Knittel says, for buying those cars. His idea is to make us rethink our car buying and driving habits by introducing a gasoline tax that would prompt more people to drop that V6 for a 4-cylinder engine. Of course, there is already a downsizing trend in the industry, which now favors smaller turbo-charged engines instead of thirstier, larger engines. An example would be Chevrolet's 138 hp, 1.4 liter turbo engine in the Cruze compact, which replaced a 1.8 liter unit, or BMW's 240 hp, 2.0 liter turbo-four in the 528i sedan, which recently replaced the 3.0 liter six-cylinder unit.
A gasoline tax may make people look for much more gas-efficient vehicles, which could finally help diesel become much more popular on these shores.
"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."
Oh, and for those interested, between 1980 and 2004, gas prices dropped by 30 percent when adjusted for inflation.