US vehicles at bottom of the list of fuel economy standards of industrialized countries

Cars sure do drive better and look a lot nicer than this 1985 model, but overall, they have the same fuel economy standards. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The US ranks at the bottom of the list for fuel economy standards, according to this News.com story.

U.S. fuel-efficiency requirements for passenger cars have been stuck at 27.5 miles per gallon since 1985, while the standard for pickups, minivans and other light trucks will increase from 20.7 mpg in 2004 to 24 mpg in 2011.

That puts the United States behind Canada, South Korea, Australia, China, members of the European Union and Japan in vehicle fuel economy, according to the report from the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Gasoline demand makes up 45 percent of daily US oil consumption, according to the article.

I am curious about what the article didn’t say.

Does anyone out there have any figures about the actual overall average fuel economy of today’s automotive fleet versus the average economy from 1985? Surely the average has to be higher than back then, even if the economy standards are the same. Am I wrong?

Test Drive: Phoenix Motorcars electric Sport Utility Vehicle

I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to the Dallas, Texas unveiling of the new Phoenix Motorcars Sport Utility Truck tonight, up in Farmer’s Branch, at the Sam Pack Automotive Museum.

Ed Begley Jr., the guy from the Living With Ed TV show, was there to introduce the truck.

I was on the list with my coworker Steve, from Clean Air Gardening. (We were invited because Clean Air Gardening specializes in environmentally friendly lawn and gardening tools and supplies, and the organizers correctly figured that we would be interested in attending.)

We arrived at 6 p.m., and immediately went over to sign up for a test drive. Steve and I were number 16 and 17 on the list, and we each got to drive the electric truck a few blocks after waiting for a half hour or so.

When you sit in the driver’s seat, it seems pretty much like a regular car, until you look down at the shifter. There was a neutral setting in the middle. To put it into reverse, you just pull the shifter backwards to R. To drive forward, you shift it forward into D. Those three settings were all that there was.

I drove at dusk, so I turned on the headlights during my drive.

When you first push down the pedal to give it gas (or juice, I guess I should say), it was a little bit sluggish and weird feeling, and you could tell it wasn’t a regular car. It was much quieter, for one thing. I wouldn’t call it a fast car, by any means. I would probably compare it to driving a Toyota Corolla as far as the acceleration goes. But it was plenty fast for a typical commuter vehicle, which is how you’d probably use it.

The prototype model I drove had no air conditioning, but it was perfect weather, so it didn’t matter. The final version is supposed to have AC. They told me that it will cut your driving range by 20 to 30 percent to run with the AC on. The heat also uses battery life, because gasoline cars use the heat from the engine, and an electric car doesn’t generate heat that way, so it needs a heater.

The weirdest part about the truck was the way they had it set up to regenerate power whenever you let off the gas pedal or hit the brakes. You actually didn’t need to brake very much, because if you let completely off the gas, then the car started to slow down fairly dramatically as it used the slowing down kinetic energy to charge back up the battery. It takes a slightly different driving style to keep you from speeding up and then slowing down all the time like some kind of a crazed taxi driver.

The truck looks kind of like a plainer version of the Honda Ridgeline, but it is sized sort of like the Subaru Baha, but maybe a little bigger and taller.

They said that the price would be $45,000 for the truck. In California, you might pay as little as $35,000, because the state evidently has some kind of program to promote the use of zero emission vehicles and will give you back $10,000, from what I understood from the Phoenix Motorcars guy I talked to. Evidently, the company also gets some kind of subsidy that brings the upfront price down too, or it would be higher than $45,000. Their cost to build it is evidently higher than that, but they didn’t say how much higher.

After test driving it, I can say that I would definitely buy one if I could get the $35,000 California deal, and I would probably buy it at $45,000 if the car was available and there was a place in Dallas to get it fixed.

The company says it is making 500 of them in 2007, and selling those first 500 mostly to fleets, like PG&E in California.

In 2008, they should make several thousand (I don’t remember exactly, but I think they said 5,000), and they hope to ramp up to around 20,000 in 2009.

Here are the details from the sheet they handed out at the event:

Phoenix Motorcars Sports Utility Truck Specs:

Top Speed: 95 mph

0 to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds

Range: Urban or Highway, 100 plus miles per charge

Charging Time: 5 to 6 hours with the 6.6KW on-board vehicle charger, but just 10 minutes to 95 percent SOC (I think that means 95 percent charged) with the 250KW charger that you would stay at your home or charging location.

So how much does it cost to charge it? Approximately $3 to $5 for a full charge that will take you 100 plus miles, according to the engineer I spoke with.

Motor Manufacturer: UQM Technologies

Power Rating: 100KW peak, 55KW continuous

Torque Rating: 500Nm peak, 300Nm continuous

Controller Thermal Management: Liquid cooling

Regenerative Braking: Programmable

On-Vehicle Charging System: UQM Technologies

Battery Type: NanoSafe Lithium Titanate

Battery Management System: Altairnano Technology Integrated BMU

Overall length: 194 inches

Overall Width: 73 inches

Overall Height: 69 inches

Wheelbase: 108 inches

Gross Vehicle Weight: 4,800 lbs

Curb Vehicle Weight: 3,800 lbs

Payload: 1,000 lbs

Battery Life: This type of lithium battery supposedly has no “memory” issues, and has a life span of 12 plus years, or approximately 250,000 miles.

Photos: (Click through to Flickr to see larger versions.)

Phoenix Motorcars truck engine

Phoenix Motorcars truck and crowd

Phoenix Motorcars truck side view