Conspiracy theories do not apply

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Let’s confirm the more obvious ideas that there really was a moon landing and that there are no UFOs containing little green men (this does not discount the possibility the US Air Force has some experimental craft we get to see every now and then). Everyone loves a good theory, particularly if it fits in with what we already know. So here’s a fact for you. When Honda first launched the hybrid model called the Insight, it produced an average gas mileage of 52 mpg (that’s 58 mpg on the highways and 48 mpg mooching round town). This sold from 2000 through 2006.

So here’s an opinion for you. Technology has been growing fast. Things that were clunky and expensive yesterday, are sleek and cheap today. Indeed, talk to anyone connected with designing or marketing technology and they will all tell you the same story. We’re advancing fast. Everything we make today is better than yesterday’s models. What we make today will be out-of-date within ten years. Except when it comes to motor manufacturers, of course — here’s how to save gas:

None of the makes and models sold today match the performance of the Insight (unless you compare plug-in models and the models with the latest battery technology). That’s an indictment of the motor manufacturers. Here we are in 2014 and we still have not managed to improve on fourteen-year-old technology! What’s gone wrong? Is it influence from the oil producers and refiners? Their business model depends on selling as much of the black stuff as they can pump out of the ground. They don’t like to see motor manufacturers designing vehicles to use less and less oil and gas. Have they been leaning on the designers to slow down development of more gas efficient engines?

Well it’s possible but unlikely. Here are some of the reasons why it’s not easy to match the Insight.

1. It’s expensive to design and build a new model. If this capital is going to be invested, there must be a good return. But Insight lost money for Honda. Not enough units were sold at a price that would cover costs. Honda continued to sell the Insight because of the prestige, but modern manufacturers would not take the financial hit.

2. The Insight was a two-seater and that’s hard to sell in today’s market. If the model must be a four-seater, this automatically adds to the weight and makes it more difficult to improve fuel efficiency.

3. Improving from an average 50 to 70 mpg is not that big a saving. Suppose you do 12,000 miles a year in your 50 mpg model, you use 240 gallons costing $780 if the price of gas is $3.25. You are thinking about upgrading to 70 mpg which will use 171 gallons at a cost of $557 assuming the same price of gas, i.e. the saving is only $223. That’s not a big incentive for someone to buy a new model potentially with a higher sticker price.

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