130 MPG?

Apparently Obama is claiming:

“[Energy] Secretary [Steven] Chu has assured me that within five years, we can have a battery developed that will make a car with the equivalent of 130 miles per gallon.’”

The irony is that if you grade the equivalent mpg of electric cars by the methodology outlined by Chu's own energy department, the number would be about a third of that.  Only by the EPA's flawed methodology do we get equivalent MPG's for electric cars anywhere near 130.

I wrote about this whole sordid mess of inflated MPG numbers for electric cars here.


  1. sean2829:

    I think you are missing the real purpose of the inflated mpg numbers for electrics. They are a "get out of jail free" card that't been given to the automotive industry by the governement. A few months ago when they set new fuel standards for vehicles, the manufactures negotiated very hard to get average fuel economy standard for 2025 reduced to 54.5 mpg. Some cars will achieve this goal (in fact a turbo deisel Ford Focus was just introduced in Germany which get 55 mpg) but the bulk of them won't. I think the real target is in the low forties and the electric vehicles will have a lot to do with bringing up this average. If 5% of your fleet gets 130 MPG and the other 95% averages 44 mpg, the fleet average goes up to over 48 mpg. The high electric rating coupled with offsets for using louvres in the grill to reduce wind resistance, shutting off the engine at stoplights, using environmentally friendlier refrigerants will also be added to the corporate average value.
    So even though I completely agree that the mileage number is not an accurate reflection of energy use, there is really a numbers game going on where the government gets a figleaf for its efforts while everyone else wanting to drive bigger vehicles gets a little break.

  2. Ted Rado:

    Let's face it. Most of the pols in DC, including Obama, are technically illiterate. They believe what their enviroloony advisors tell them without question.

    One definition of an intelligent person is that they shut up when a subject about which they know nothing is being discussed. Obviously there are not very many intelligent people in Washington.

    I am still waiting to see proper engineering reports on all the "alternative energy" schemes. Obvious questions re electric cars: If you start at the fossil-fuel-fired boiler, generate electricity, distribute the electricity, charge and discharge the auto battery, what is the overall efficiency compared to burning the fuel (NG) directly in an internal combustion engine? Is the improvement, if any, worth the cost? If the boiler is coal fired, does it emit more CO2 that the gasoline engine it replaces. Etc. etc. In the absence of such studies, the decision to go to electric cars is nonsense. Similar analysis is needed for ALL alternative energy schemes. Where are they?

  3. a leap at the wheel:

    Can anyone play at this game?

    I have a television that gets the equivalent of 3600 rpm.

    I have a water softener that has the storage capacity of a million large orders of fries.

    I saw a hot air balloon with a capacity equal to .075 senators (or .000531 members of the house of common, if you prefer British units).

  4. Jim Collins:

    In other news, today President Obama repealed the Laws of Thermodynamics and Gravity by executive order. His reason was that they were interfering with his Environmental agenda.

  5. GoneWithTheWind:

    Additionally the energy costs to produce an electric car and batteries exceeds the presumed savings of an electric car. What a scam!

  6. Dan:

    I take these comments to mean that none of you would welcome a car that actually achieves 130 MPG.

    I don't think Obama is right that they'll have one in 5 years with a battery, but I have no problem with the concept. You're poking fun at the environmentalists who dream of this, but I'm sure in 1950 people would have poked fun at anyone who suggested a practical family car could one day achieve 50 MPG, which the Prius does.

    There really is no reason the majority of cars couldn't get 50 MPG right now with the hybrid technology we have. If gas gets much more expensive, that's where the country will go. Right now, with gas relatively cheap, there's still a market for gas guzzlers (I should know - I bought a Mustang last year).

    We may never achieve 130 MPG, but if some entrepreneur wants to try it, I have no problem with the concept. And I'm not against government funding for scientific research in this area. It's certainly a national security issue, considering how many wars and other scrapes we've gotten involved in in the Middle East related to oil the last few decades.

    I agree, by the way, that electric cars need to be judged by how they source their power. If the electricity all comes from coal, that should be factored in.

  7. astonerii:


    You are right. I would not welcome a car with today's technology that gets 130MPG.

    A car requires energy to accelerate mass to speed. It requires energy to overcome friction in the drive train as well as the tires and the pavement. It requires energy to get through the air, particularly at speed higher than 60 MPH.

    The places to save energy are:
    making the car lighter, lighter vehicles do very poorly when hitting heavier objects and heavier vehicles. Basically, they are death traps where the G forces placed on the human body on impact are dramatically increased, and the opportunity for vehicle materials to try to occupy the space your body is occupying are dramatically increased.

    Making the car also smaller. Less useful to the person. As well as all the problems with lighter but increased due to the reduced envelope you are starting with, allowing less crumple zone and fewer other places for car materials to go other than where your body is.

    Making the car into a shape that might cut air well enough, but decreases useful space in the car for what you are moving around.

    My 50CC moped way back when got about 40 MPG with almost no weight, no air drag going at 30MPH and extremely small.
    My 750CC motorcycle got about 35 MPG with more weight, low air drag and extremely small.

    Now, I am sure the efficiency was not too great in the engine and the drive train of those two vehicles, but it was probably better than 50% of the best today's technology could produce. In order to get a real true 130MPG vehicle, it will be a useless deathtrap with limited speed.

  8. astonerii:

    So very very true.

  9. ScottE:

    Battery tech doesn't have much to do with equivalent MPG, other than the weight of the batteries themselves (ignoring the old lead sleds where the weight was huge), but it has everything to do with range. That Chu doesn't know that is disturbing but unsurprising.

  10. Ted Rado:

    Choosing a car should be left to the consumer. If high-mileage cars (electric, hybrid, etc.) are a good idea, the public will buy them. If the high cost and poor performance are not thought to be worth it, they will not sell. It is not up to the USG to tell people what cars to manufacture.

    What is very disturbing is that Big Brother tells us what car to buy, what light bulbs to use, etc. Where will it end? Let's leave it to the marketplace to pick the winners. So far, I haven't seen where the USG gets anything right, never mind the selection of cars.

  11. epobirs:


    It isn't that we wouldn't welcome it. Speaking for myself, I'm a tech junkie. I love watching these things advance. But because I've been watching closely for decades I know bullshit when I hear it. Imagine if Intel promised that the CPUs shipping in 3 years would be not just a few times faster than the best we have now but several orders of magnitude faster. Unless these chips implemented some completely new technology that was going to dramatically raise the bar in its very first shipping product, everybody would be inclined to suggest there was an element of dishonesty to the claims.

    In real life, technological progress is very incremental. Incredible claims about great leaps in performance or efficiency are almost always that: not credible. People act like electric cars are where the cutting edge of battery research is happening. It isn't. Not even close. The market for laptops, cellphones and other battery using devices is worth many $Billions annually and a big piece of that is batteries. This is a real business with real payoffs for those who deliver advances. There is absolutely no shortage of funding for anybody with a good idea for better batteries. No government funding needed. That is best reserved for areas where a civilian market does not yet or cannot exist. (There could eventually be a market for a lot of thing first produced for the military but we generally prefer to keep nuclear explosives under tight controls. Although there was a lot of discussion about civilian apps back in the 50s.)

    And yes, there are very good reasons why the majority of cars don't get 50 MPG or better. It's called fear of flaming death. A friend of mine had a Geo Metro (three cylinder engine vehicle made by Suzuki IIRC and sold here by Chevrolet) back in the 80s. It got mileage in the 50s if you were careful how you accelerated. But the thing was a roller skate with very low survivability in the event of a crash. And the Prius is a 50 MPG family car? For who? A family of anorexic dwarves? Insane hyper-milers who everybody else on the freeway wants to kill aside, nobody I know with a Prius is getting much better than the low 40s with just themselves and no heavy cargo. Just adding another adult to the load has a very noticeable effect.

    The fact is, there hasn't been a genuinely new battery chemistry in over a century. All of the improvement has been in how those chemicals are arranged. An advance that gets an additional 5% from one of those mixtures is a really big deal in the industry. You can just write a check and wish better batteries into existence.

    And have I mentioned that if such a battery should come into existence it could be far more dangerous in a crash than a tank full of gasoline, especially in the highly weight constrained electric car chassis? A car comparable to my 2000 Saturn SW2 that got 45 MPG would be an excellent advance. If ten years later they got that up to a reliable 50 MPG it would be a real accomplishment. It takes time and a hell of a lot of work behind the scenes, and sometimes no amount of work will overcome the laws of physics.

  12. bob sykes:

    Consumer Reports repeated the fraud two issues ago, and has refused to publish a correction.

    It would appear that Consumer Reports is no longer a reliable publication.

  13. Jim Collins:

    You could get an increase of between 10-20 mpg on almost every car being sold now. Just remove the emissions equipment.

  14. rxc:

    My Peugeot station wagon here in France averages 43 MPG. It is a 2008 model, with a turbo-diesel engine, is quite peppy, carries a LOT of stuff from my house to my boat, and is pretty fun to drive. Similar vehicles are made and sold here by Ford, GM, Chrysler, VW, Toyota, Honda(!)and Fiat.

    It is also illegal in the US. It meets all EU and French emissions laws, but if I brought it back to the US with me, I will be faced with a fortune in regulatory costs to get it certified. I believe that it would actually be _impossible_ to get it licensed in California, because of the CARB policy on diesel cars.

  15. Mark:

    @Dan, for a car to get 100mpg it would need to run reasonably on a 30hp motor. Even if we doubled the efficiency from about 30% to 60% your car would still have only 60hp to work with.

  16. a_random_guy:

    "I take these comments to mean that none of you would welcome a car that actually achieves 130 MPG."

    No, not at all. We would welcome it - if it is real. The problem is that the numbers are fudged, and we want to see real numbers that let you truly compare the efficiency of different technologies.

    - You can burn a gallon of fuel in a car, and the car will be able to travel a certain distance, you know your mileage.

    - You can burn the same gallon of fuel in a power plant to generate electricity, transmit the electricity hundreds of miles, transform it down, turn it into DC, and charge a battery. The car will be able to travel a certain distance, you know your mileage.

    The problem is that the second calculation is never done. To make electric cars look good, the greens calculate the energy present in a gallon of fuel. They then generally assume that this amount of energy magically appears in the battery. In fact, combined inefficiencies in generation, transmission and charging will cost you more than half of your total energy.

    In other words, the mileage of electric cars is typically overstated by at least a factor of two.

    Worse, none of this can be easily improved. The biggest losses are due to the transmission/transformation of electricity (overall, nearly half of the generated energy is lost), and the aerodynamics of the car. Electrical transmission/transformation uses very mature technologies that are not going to change very fast. Aerodynamics are limited by usability: unless people are willing to sit single-file, instead of side-by-side, you are not going to improve much on current designs.

  17. Jake:

    Coyote, just wanted to share that I passed on your original post on this topic to my daughter so that she could talk about it in her "Environmental Science" class in high school. Though the teacher did, in fact, acknowledge that the principle of including the energy cost to create the electricity stored in the battery should be accounted for, the reception by classmates was less than enthusiastic. Basically the upshot was that her attempt at education disappeared into a pond of ignorance and politically-correct thinking, leaving no trace, not even a ripple, of it's passage.

    Kind of makes me wish we could afford private school...

  18. Ian Random:

    The Chu comment is typical of a start-up, promising the world in 3-5 years and adored by the tech media. Then you quietly hear they went out of business a few years later unlike that solar company. Just because it worked well coddled in a lab by Ph.d's, doesn't mean it will work when Joe Six Pack needs it on a cold February morning. I imagine there are other roads like this, but there is one outside of Portland that say no gas stations for 100 miles with nicely subsidized windmills in the background. Would you be willing to drive with a hypothetical vehicle powered by such a hypothetical battery on that road?

  19. Ted Rado:


    Your comments re your daughter illustrates the problem perfectly. Most of the public, and apparently all those in DC, are technically illiterate. They think that the USG, in its infinite wisdom, can roll out jillions of dollars and create all sorts of new things by magic. All this without preliminary engineering studies, which would determine that, if the idea worked, it was technically and economically feasible to implement. Such studies are routine in industry.

    I have been studying all the alternative energy schemes for years. They are all flawed when it comes to doing them on a large scale. Meanwhile, we bankrupt the country and waste our resources. Someone ahould go to prison over this fraud.

  20. RandomReal[]:


    Re: thermodynamics

    Best quote I've heard was from Robert Bryce, "I was a liberal who was mugged by the laws of thermodynamics."

  21. Dan:

    Anorexic dwarves? Have you ever actually been in a Prius? It's quite roomy and the ceiling height is higher than the ceiling of my Mustang or my wife's Subaru. A normal family of four can fit very neatly. Mileage of 50 MPG isn't always possible in the Prius, I'll admit, but mid-40s is quite doable without trying too hard, and I regularly achieve high-40s. (I have to admit, my other car besides the Mustang is a 2005 Prius that I've had for six years).

    As for high-mileage cars being dangerous in crashes, the Prius has a pretty decent crash rating. And if other people didn't insist on buying 5,000-pound SUVs, small cars would be far safer. I realize people aren't going to suddenly stop driving these behemoth SUVs, but you can't blame the small cars for other people's choice of vehicles. Thirty years ago, when average car weights were much lower than they are now, a car the size of a Prius (which weighs 3,000 pounds by the way), would have actually been on the large side. It's not today's equivalent of a Subaru Justy or a Ford Pinto, as some of you seem to think.

    To those who said the technology isn't possible for 130 MPG, I'll yield the floor. I'm no scientist, and the laws of physics obviously can't be defied. If we can build higher-mileage cars, however, we should, because there's no better way to become independent of foreign oil.

  22. a leap at the wheel:

    there’s no better way to become independent of foreign oil.
    Funny you should mention that, but oil is a fungible good anyway. It doesn't matter where it comes from. As long as we can make nice with or bully 1 country, we can get it. The dependence on foreign meme is only important in terms of wartime, when the demand for oil spikes and we might not have any friends or bullyable countries to import from. It's why we have the strategic oil reserves, in theory anyway.

    You can justify the Prius all you want, but just like you can't defy the laws of physics, you can't defy the laws of economics, either. If it's a product that improves people's lives, they'll buy it. If it doesn't make their lives better, they won't.

    However, if you really believe that higher-mileage cars are a desirable, and 'we' should advance technology in that area, by all means, don't worry about us. Do something about yourself, with your own money. Just don't try appropriating mine and telling me it's for my own good.

  23. Punkster:


    You can get about the same mileage with a normal engine in a new Ford Focus. Considering that mid 40's from a hybrid, with the extra complexity and the eco-damaging battery technology is nothing to scream about.

  24. astonerii:

    I am a rabbid free market kind of guy. You, seem to be a rabbid government mandate kind of guy.

    Today's technology could deliver a sports car capable of top of the line performance usable in many auto races. It could even be large enough to fit a family of 6 or maybe 8 and a little luggage. It could also get tremendous MPG and be highly safe to drive.

    Cost per car, upwards of $10,000,000 if not $100,000,000 per vehicle in semi mass production, I say semi, because the technology requires extremely rare materials, which are then extremely heavily converted, requiring massive human physical effort and oversight of the processes, and comes with about 99% scrapping of deficient parts. Now, if you have 5 years to wait for someone to build you your $10M to $100M family car, I say, go for it.

    What would this car kind of maybe be like? Carbon fiber frame/body single molded. It would have a turbine engine at it's core, made from light, strong and high/low temperature super materials more advanced than any known jet airplane currently uses. That would run a super efficient micro power plant, which would drive the superconducting wheel driving motors. The vehicle would need to have access to large amounts of super cold refrigerants to keep the power lines from the power plant to the rest of the vehicle in superconducting temperatures. While in the end, you would be getting your 130MPG per unit energy of a gallon of gasoline, each unit of energy would cost you multiples or orders of magnitude more. Well, you would be until you turn on the stereo, the A/C, and any other accessories you put in the car.

    The question I would have about this would be, why? If we really have problems getting oil, we have coal and nuclear, and both of these combined can create gasoline and diesel fuels far cheaper than the alternative energy will ever cost. So, why?

  25. Dan:

    I'm not a mandate type of person. I never said the government should force people to buy high-mileage cars. I specificlly said (and you can read my comment) that if prices for gas go up, people will gravitate toward higher-mileage cars, and we have the technology to build them.

  26. Dan:

    Also, I understand oil is fungible and world prices will affect U.S. prices to some degree no matter what we do. But look at the history: Before 1973, the U.S. was able to supply pretty much all of its oil demand with domestic oil, and prices were stable for many years. Once U.S. production started to decline and we became dependent on imports is when we started having problems.

  27. Ted Rado:


    As you have a six-year-old Prius, I have a couple of questions for you: I understand the expected battery life is about seven years. What is the battery replacement cost? What could you sell it for with a six-year-old battery?

    The police won't use a hybrid because of poor performance. I gather that the performance is adequate for family use.

    I have been wondering that if a small, lightweight, low powered car is acceptable, cannot a plain gasoline powered car be designed to do the job? You don't have to haul around the battery and electrical gear. This should give better mileage than the hybrids when running on the gas engine. The Japanese have a small car that fits the description.

    How many years are required to pay out the high price of the Prius? Does that include battery replacement every seven years?

    There are a host of such questions that anyone other than a zealous environmentalist would ask.

  28. Dan:


    I welcome the questions, and I take them in a positive spirit, assuming your last line isn't meant sarcastically.

    I'm not aware yet of any battery issues. However, the technician at the Toyota shop where I have the car serviced said I should be able to get 100,000 miles on it (I only have 61,000 on it now). So the fact that I don't put too many miles on it means it could end up working more years for me than for someone who drives 20,000 miles a year. I'll keep you posted on that.

    Performance isn't exciting, but I have no trouble speeding up to get on a highway or pass slower traffic, and it actually feels peppy and fun to drive. It's no Mustang, of course, but it goes 0-60 in about 10 seconds, which, while below average, isn't horrible either. We're not talking about 1979 Oldsmobile diesel performance here (I remember the Car and Driver piece on that one. It got 0-60 in about 22 seconds and the reviewer said he tried to find long highway entrance ramps so he could bring the car up to speed).

    How many years are required to pay for the gas you save with a Prius compared with the higher list price vs., say, a Corolla? I might be there now, but I've never done the calculation. To me, it was worth the extra money upfront to think of the fewer dollars I'd be sending to Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for gas. It may not be the perfect economic decision for everyone. However, I paid $24,000 for mine in 2005, and now I think the price is down to around $21,000. Like any new technology, prices eventually come down to a place where more people can afford it.

  29. Dan:

    There's a good piece in yesterday's WSJ about a hybrid Toyota Camry. The writer drove it 600 miles on a roadtrip over the weekend. He liked it, and it got 37 MPG on the trip, but as he points out, he'd have to take 127 similar weekend trips to save enough on gas that the car would be worth the price premium it carries over a regular Camry.

    127 trips of 600 miles means about 76,000 miles. I've had my car for six years and I'm not there yet, though the average driver going 12,000 miles a year would be close. And my car does get better mileage than the Camry hybrid.

    Right now, hybrids compose only about 3% of car sales in the U.S., despite the higher gas prices, according to the WSJ. That's because they're not economically viable yet. Prices will have to come down further. Or maybe once there's a plug-in hybrid (the Prius will have that option next year), the cost of powering them will be low enough to make up for the higher purchase price.

    I'm not trying to dis my own car here. It's a great car and I've enjoyed owning it (and getting 45-50 MPG). Hopefully this technology will one day be available at a cost point that's attractive for people who, unlike me, don't have an extra %4,000 to spend at purchase time.

  30. Ted Rado:


    Another point re hybrid cars. I read a piece which said that if the totsl energy consumed over the life of the car, including energy used in its manufacture, were ataken into account, the old style cars would be much more efficient. Apparently, the production of the fancy batteries, etc. is energy intensive. I have not checked on this, but it is an interesting question.
    In any case, the marketplace will, over time, determine the viability of hybrid and electric cars.

    A lot of the data out their re various alternative energy schemes is twisted to back up the proponent's (or disbeliever's) point of view. An example is ethanol. The DOE says it uses less energy than it produces. A Cornell prof says this is because the DOD credits the byproduct animal feed incorrectly. It should only be credited at the value of the least expensive alternative. If that is done, it uses more energy than it produces. One has to do one's own calcs to avoid the BS. Wind and solar are excellent examples of the problem. If you have free standby and government subsidies, it pays to build wind and solar plants. Without both, they are a farce.

  31. Lyn:

    Dr. Chu should go into politics. He's good at making promises and spending tax $. I think he lacks ambition though. Why stop at a 130 mpg equivalent battery? Make it go farther. And make it really fast too.
    When it comes to market will it be our only choice? Also will they have to be all white to reflect heat and sunlight to reduce global warming?