Efficiency unchanged

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Last updated on May 20th, 2017 at 07:09 am

The SMH presents an expert:

Cars are no more fuel-efficient today than they were in the 1960s, a transport expert says.

At which point our transport expert should put his transport expertise badge back in the cereal box. You’ll never guess what this wizard is working on:

In research for the Garnaut climate change review, Paul Mees, of Melbourne University, has used Bureau of Statistics figures to show fuel efficiency has remained practically unchanged since 1963.

The average Australian car then used 11.4 litres of petrol to travel 100 kilometres. In 2006, the bureau’s Survey of Motor Vehicle Use shows, it was unchanged.

Modern cars also use petrol to run airconditioning, power steering, various hydraulic and electrical systems and to haul around safety equipment unknown in 1963. They’re efficient that way. Mees must know this (and, in fact, the article briefly points it out). Also, market forces are in play; manufacturers could boost economy by building cars without power steering and aircon and stripped down to the bare legal minimum of safety gear – they might call ‘em “Mees models” – but nobody would buy them. For fun, let’s compare the 1963 EH Holden with a 2008 Toyota Corolla Ascent sedan:


The Holden used a 2.45 litre six-cylinder engine that produced 71kW, eventually lugging it to 100kmh in around 16 seconds. The Toyota’s 1.8 litre four produces 100kW and whips it to 100kmh in under 10 seconds. Given time and enough study, Mees may be able to tell us which vehicle gets better fuel economy, too.

Some might feel this comparison unfair, since the Holden is a large sedan and the Toyota a compact. But check the stats:

Holden: 4511mm
Toyota: 4540mm

Holden: 1725mm
Toyota: 1760mm

Holden: 1130kg
Toyota: 1270kg

Something there to think about the next time you read an article claiming that Australians are turning to smaller cars. Not so; small cars have turned into big cars. Back to Mees:

Dr Mees said boasts from the motor industry of emission reductions painted an erroneous picture. “The improvements in emissions you hear cited are from the promotional material released by car companies, which put the best possible spin on things. But the Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn’t put the spin on it; the current rate of progress in making cars more fuel efficient is no progress at all.”

Does he seriously doubt that modern cars are much cleaner than previously? This guy’s a riot.

Freeways had also reduced fuel efficiency, Dr Mees said. “If you drive at 110kmh you use more fuel than if you drive at 70kmh.”

Mees assumes constant 70kmh speeds on non-freeway roads. I wonder how our expert earns a living:

Paul teaches in the areas of transport, strategic urban planning and planning law.

But of course.

Posted by Tim B. on 04/28/2008 at 10:52 AM
    1. Well, I was driving one of these back in the early ‘70’s, and I know I get better gas mileage today, even driving an old Chevy Suburban.

      Posted by paco on 2008 04 28 at 11:06 AM • permalink


    1. The Festiva I drove for 14 years had no power nuttin’; the A/C failed after 5 and never recovered (Ford wouldn’t even look at it); the tape deck ate my Zevon and gave up the ghost. In terms of fuel efficiency it kicked the Prius’s ASS. How many Prius drivers would be willing to trade with me to improve mileage and save the Earth?

      I didn’t think so.

      Posted by SoberHT on 2008 04 28 at 11:08 AM • permalink


    1. Another thing he doesn’t take into his equations are that an engine in a 60’s car would have been pretty much clapped-out by the time it rolled over 50,000 miles or so.

      As of today I have an 11 year old BMW with 170,000 miles which averages 24 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway and produces 190HP.

      Contrast that to my 1969 Karhmann Ghia which got about 22 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway

      Posted by joe bagadonuts on 2008 04 28 at 11:11 AM • permalink


    1. #3: Great points, Joe. I’m still driving a ‘93 Honda Accord – with close to 200,000 miles on it – and it runs like a dream. That Superbird I drove in the ‘70’s went through one waterpump per year, and after just a few years, the transmission was completely shot (she was mighty fast while she ran, though).

      Posted by paco on 2008 04 28 at 11:19 AM • permalink


    1. Point 1: Cars are no more efficient than 45 years ago.

      Point 2: Car emissions are unchanged since 45 years ago.

      It sounds like the guy is advocating that we strip our cars of their cats and other emission controls which make today’s cars less efficient.

      Posted by kbiel on 2008 04 28 at 11:24 AM • permalink


    1. #5: It sounds like the guy is advocating that we strip our cars of their cats and other emission controls which make today’s cars less efficient.

      Second the motion; all in favor, say “aye”.

      Posted by paco on 2008 04 28 at 11:30 AM • permalink


    1. “Somebody’s always for sale, kid.”
      — The Old Man, noted cynic

      Posted by mojo on 2008 04 28 at 11:48 AM • permalink


    1. Tim correctly points out the flaw in Mees’ analysis:  He’s comparing apples and oranges.  Different eras have different levels of technologies, and different consumer expectations.

      Ergo, a car built in 1963 is not equal to a car built in 2008.  They are similar, which any analysis must take into account, and not simply compare fuel mileage.  As Tim has done very nicely.

      If these environmentalists were serious about this, they would take a modern vehicle and strip out all of the add ons (as kbiel points out #5), and THEN do mileage tests.  You know—do an experiment or demonstration and take measurements.

      (Yeah, I know, why run tests when one can whip out numbers on a calculator?  Silly me, still believing in the scientific method and all.)

      But this article by Dr Mees is like comparing this mode of transportation to a “slightly” different model.

      Posted by The_Real_JeffS on 2008 04 28 at 12:09 PM • permalink


    1. I hate to defend Mees, but overall fleet milage maybe the same now as then, so a well thought out argument might be able to be made, but he did not make it.

      I would say each individual car is more “efficient” if you measure more than mpg, or whatever strange thing you measure in Australia.


      Posted by BCNemmers on 2008 04 28 at 12:10 PM • permalink


    1. I would also like to point out to Mr. Mees that cars in the ‘60s were running on gasoline that was liberally laced with lead.  So he dares to say that emissions are unchanged?

      Posted by RebeccaH on 2008 04 28 at 12:23 PM • permalink


    1. Could an EH Holden seat four adults in airconditioned comfort at freeway speeds for four hours straight? No? The Corolla (and pretty much any other new car around) can.

      Seems like if you add personnel movement factors into efficiency equations, along with accident/injury rates due safety design features, you would find a distinctly different outcome to Mees.

      Posted by CB on 2008 04 28 at 12:40 PM • permalink


    1. Recall 10 years ago the last locally produced Corolla (also rebadged as the GM/Holden Nova) being compared to the first Australian car, the then mid-size 1948 Holden 48/215; similar to above, the comparison of the interior space was similar, although the exterior of the ‘48 Holden was larger for a similar internal volume.

      The advances in the Corolla in 10 years would be that it has much greater interior space than its predecessor for a moderate increase in external dimensions – and this ratio would be far superior to the two Holdens cited.

      Toyota’s ‘small car’ has continually grown in dimensions in time, thus supplanted by the Yaris, which is undergoing same.

      Posted by egg_ on 2008 04 28 at 12:43 PM • permalink


    1. More efficient at what? is the question nobody seems to be asking.
      Now, while I like some new cars (the new Mustangs are pretty darn nice) but…
      There is very little (not female) that is more efficient at getting my heart racing than a big block V-8 with a six-pack nestled in 2+ tons of 2-door, rear-wheel-drive Detroit steel.
      Which would you rather have? Said Toyota Corolla or a 69 Camaro convertible, or that most decadent and efficient of vehicles, the 1969 Cadillac El Dorado convertible (where the doors weigh more than a Prius and contain 3 times the steel).

      Posted by Veeshir on 2008 04 28 at 02:42 PM • permalink


    1. Hmm. Modern cars are in fact considerably more fuel efficient than the 1963 fleet, even with the change to unleaded petrol, but at least some of that efficiency is balanced out by air conditioning and higher speeds. Especially higher speeds. Back in the 60s, the roads and the cars weren’t usually good enough for the speeds we take for granted these days. Since air resistance goes as the speed squared, travelling 10% faster adds 21% to your fuel consumption (at open-road speeds—at less than 60km/hr or so, air resistance is negligible).

      So I’m wondering why Mees and/or Garnaut chose 1963. I’d expect that the fuel consumption rose dramatically from 1963 to sometime in the 1970s, and has declined steadily since then. (I remember the amazing difference between my parents’ Kingswood station wagon and their next vehicle, a Datsun 180B sedan. Driving the Kingswood was a boring chore, driving the Datto was fun, and we did tend to travel a lot faster.)

      Posted by Chris Chittleborough on 2008 04 28 at 03:38 PM • permalink


    1. Modern cars also use petrol to run airconditioning, power steering, various hydraulic and electrical systems and to haul around safety equipment unknown in 1963.

      My ‘56 Cadillac has power steering, air-conditioning all from the factory.

      It is also equipped with power windows, brakes and seats.

      All factory standard.

      So is the 8mpg city economy but gosh I feel good driving it and that’s the point right?

      Posted by Jay Santos on 2008 04 28 at 04:17 PM • permalink


    1. Maybe modern cars get lower mileage around the city because they spend all their time sitting in traffic as opposed to moving in a forward direction?  And why is that?

      Because twits like the good professor are opposed to building more freeways, which would unclog the arteries.

      As for emmissions, I am a human smog detector on my bike.  I can ride down a long street of stalled cars at peak hour and the air is crisp and clean and pure….. until I get stuck behind something like a car built in 1980.  You don’t see them coming, you smell them coming.  You can taste the damned things on your tongue.  The gunk that older cars pump out makes Bhopal look like Californian lentil farming commune.

      My diesel 4WD, which weighs double the two cars listed by Tim, averaged 11km/100l over a period of 3 years and 75,000km – and I have the paperwork to prove it.  You get an awful lot more car for your money these days.

      Posted by mr creosote on 2008 04 28 at 04:35 PM • permalink


    1. This clown ought to move into climate “science”….big future for him in al’Gore Enterprises.

      Posted by Rod C on 2008 04 28 at 04:52 PM • permalink


    1. “In research for the Garnaut climate change review, Paul Mees, of Melbourne University…”
      With the likes of Mees involved, it’s easy to see where that review is heading.

      Posted by chrisgo on 2008 04 28 at 05:25 PM • permalink


    1. And I would swap the Toyota for an EH any day.  I used to have an EH Special Station Wagon.  Matress is in the back.  Poor man’s Shaggin’ Wagon but a great car.

      Posted by brian_smaller on 2008 04 28 at 05:42 PM • permalink


    1. He he
      My new car* goes like a rocket.
      I’m getting 6.6L/100km highway cycle on the commute to/from work.
      I’m amazed that it’s bigger than the old holden, I know it’s bigger than my old 1998 Corolla, which I traded in @ 300,000 kilometres, burning oil.
      Mine’s a manual, but I test drove an automagic hatch. I was surprised at how responsive it was, it went like a little rocket.
      I still have the publicity brochure for the 1998 Corolla at home. You get so much more “standard” in a car now compared to 10 years ago.#16
      Mr Creosote, I know what you mean about stinky cars.

      Like smelling the air in a carpark at 10,500ft (Haleakala Crater, Maui, Hawii), that’s stinky, too. Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii.

      * Toyota 2007 Corolla Ascent Sedan.

      Posted by kae on 2008 04 28 at 05:47 PM • permalink


    1. I can’t remember who it was, but some economist a long time ago observed that increasing the efficiency of the use of a staple product tended NOT to reduce the consumption of that product. When the effective cost declined, people tended to use more, sometimes unexpectedly.

      Hence, cars that are intrinsically more efficient somehow manage to use just as much petrol as in past generations. Same with houses: a person living in a 5-star energy rated house today will use more power than a person in a typical house in the 1970s.

      This is a fundamental problem when it comes to claimed solutions to greenhouse emissions. In a democracy, we will not be able to reduce overall emissions through efficiency improvements.

      Ultimately, either massive taxes or rationing will have to be applied. It could happen: water rationing is already a fact of life in most Australian cities, and voters just lie back and take it. The man most responsible for Brisbane’s water crisis is now our Prime Minister, with a 73% approval rating.

      Posted by zscore on 2008 04 28 at 06:11 PM • permalink


    1. Hey – this is Paul Mees. What did anyone expect?  If you live in Melbourne you become used to ignoring this well-known public transport shill’s blatherings. He’s a spokesman for the Public Transport Users’ Association and a typical North Fitzroy latte sipper (I made the last bit up but if the cap fits…)

      Posted by walterplinge on 2008 04 28 at 06:29 PM • permalink


    1. #21 – Good points zscore.  Similar arguments apply to compact fluorescent lamps. Sure, they’re more efficient than incandescent.  This means we use more powerful ones and leave them running.

      Posted by walterplinge on 2008 04 28 at 06:33 PM • permalink


    1. Time to confess one of my deepest, darkest secrets.
      I know Paul Mees. Rather, knew him. We went to school together.
      Rather too quick to take the “Sorry you’re wrong” approach to dealings with his fellow men. A sense of humour might have taken the edge off this, but he was more or less devoid of humour as I recall.

      Posted by SwinishCapitalist on 2008 04 28 at 08:47 PM • permalink


    1. #24 “devoid of humour” are not those people?
      They are all so serious.

      Posted by stackja1945 on 2008 04 28 at 08:54 PM • permalink


    1. To be fair, I heard Paul discussing Perth’s northern railway line with Terry Lane once. He made fairly good sense on that subject – but we all get lucky now and then.

      Posted by SwinishCapitalist on 2008 04 28 at 09:35 PM • permalink


    1. #26 ‘most anybody saying anything in a conversation with Terry Lane’s gonna sound half-sensible

      Posted by arbee on 2008 04 28 at 10:23 PM • permalink


    1. #21
      Agree re consumer goods’ efficiency vs usage.Has public transport undergone the same efficiency improvement as cited by the Corolla at #12 and #20 in the same decade?

      Wasn’t Mees on Aunty’s No Difference of Opinion last year?

      Posted by egg_ on 2008 04 28 at 11:36 PM • permalink


    1. I just sold my HQ and got a Magna that’s a couple of years old. Over 30 years between them but almost identical in terms of how much petrol I use.

      ..jus sayin’ that’s all.

      Posted by Pig Head Sucker on 2008 04 29 at 01:16 AM • permalink


    1. #29 -“just sold my HQ”….I didn’t know you were a UN General…Congratulations!!

      Posted by Rod C on 2008 04 29 at 06:07 AM • permalink


    1. #3
      Joe, which e number?

      Posted by lotocoti on 2008 04 29 at 06:14 AM • permalink


    1. Guys, unless I’m mistaken, tetraethyl lead was added to gasoline to raise the octane level, not the efficiency. Evolving refinery techniques made lead obsolete, about the time that element’s unpleasant effects on urban air were being realized.

      In any event, the professor misses the most important point. Today, you can choose a more efficient automobile, even a 45 mpg fuel-sipper, which you could not do in 1960. The modern version can even pull air conditioning and a relatively comfortable cabin along.

      But that’s no surprise. Public choice is the state of nature in economics, and rarely part of the mindset of people attracted to fields such as “strategic urban planning and planning law,” in my experience.

      Posted by Rittenhouse on 2008 04 29 at 07:26 AM • permalink


    1. Oddly, lefties want us all to jam into urban areas, which already creates huge traffic problems, which in turn is a fuel-efficiency killer.

      Posted by the wolf on 2008 04 29 at 09:06 AM • permalink


    1. Rittenhouse : Higher octane => higher compression ratios possible => higher efficiency.

      I believe almost all the efficiency gains Diesel enjoys (aside from the greater energy density of the fuel, but that isn’t massive), is because of the much higher compression rations diesel engines have.

      IIRC leaded fuel had octanes in the 110-120 range. Unleaded struggles to get as high as 100 and you pay a lot more for it.

      Posted by Nicholas on 2008 04 29 at 09:28 AM • permalink


    1. Of course, tetraethyl lead was by far the most toxic compound in the exhaust of motor vehicles at the time, and still contaminates the soil along older highways. In fact, it is almost certainly responsible for the adverse environmental effects that most “experts”, then and now, blame on DDT.

      BTW, I remember leaded gasoline quite well, and I never remember seeing pump gas higher than 95 octane, except at the race track (typically 105 octane).

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 2008 04 29 at 11:41 PM • permalink


  1. #4
    Water pump replacement was a SOB job for a DIY-er on a 70’s 360 Hemi V8 fully optioned with air*/steer ‘n all … uno massive support bracket for the various pumps and pulleys mounted on the water pump bolts @#$%^ (no leaks once replaced, phew! :)*Massive twin-cylinder compressor, rivalling some motorcycles for displacement …

    Posted by egg_ on 2008 04 30 at 12:33 AM • permalink