April 1, 2013

Automotive Progress?

In 1965 after salting away some savings from my first summer job as a university student, I bought my first car. It was a 1958 Jaguar sports coupe, with huge looking 16” wheels. Under the hood, it had a 3.4 litre, 6 cylinder engine rated at 210 h.p. and driving thru a 4-speed, manual transmission. I recall that it would get about 24-25 miles per (imperial) gallon, on high-octane ('premium') gasoline.

In 2012, I purchased a 2009 Toyota Venza equipped with 'all-wheel-drive,' and a 3.5 litre, 6 cylinder engine. The motor is rated at 268 h.p. and drives thru a 6-speed automatic transmission. So far, this vehicle gets about 29-30 mpg, running on regular grade gasoline.

When I look at the data, and think that the two cars were built 50 years apart, I have to wonder about how much progress was really achieved in half a century. True, the Toyota is a better vehicle in virtually every way, and comes outfitted with all manner of comfort and safety accoutrements. Also, it has the added weight of AWD, and that automatic gearbox, both of which can incur efficiency penalties. Since the Jaguar required premium fuel, to make a fair comparison, one would have to handicap its economy figures by, let's say, about 9% (the typical price differential), which would reduce the performance to about 22 mpg.

Altho the modern vehicle is the clear winner, one has to notice that the margin of victory is surprisingly small given the passing of half a century of technological 'progress.' Oh, another thing I almost forgot: the Jaguar engine was a bit of an oil glutton, needing about a quart every 250 miles or so. With the Toyota, the engine never needs added oil between its two changes per year. So, it's a clear, but not overwhelming victory for the modern car. Definitely evolution rather than revolution!
 
 
 
 

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