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MAX Update No. 3: Thank You for Small Favors

7/25/2008 9:01:49 AM

Tags: MAX, Auto X Prize, 100 mpg, gas mileage

Small cars get better mileage than big cars. 

I know that's a gross generalization. I know a Bugatti Veyron is smaller than a Toyota Prius, but ...

A what? Yes, the Bugatti marque, reminiscent of racers in leather helmets wrestling with steering wheels the size of the ship's wheel on the Pequod, has been revived by Volkswagen, which is positioning itself as a performance car company. Hence the Veyron, their flagship sports car, with a price tag about $1.25 million higher than their Karman Ghia of yesteryear. But the Veyron goes three times as fast: a blistering 250 mph.

The Veyron looks cool, too. The seats are real leather and it has attractive cup holders and everything, but it doesn't get particularly good mileage, despite its smallness. And there's no reason it should — its target market is people who may be deeply concerned about fuel economy in general, but are totally unconcerned about their own gas mileage.

I don't hang out with a lot of gajillionaires, but I do acknowledge their argument about how they personally use fossil fuel: there just aren't that many gajillionaires, and their personal energy consumption is a drop in the bucket compared to the energy consumption of the billions of less fortunate folks.

I think the greatest damage done by the gajillionaire lifestyle is they set a bad example for millionaires, who then set a bad example for the rest of us. Our culture has been telling us our whole lives that we should live rich, that the trappings of wealth bring happiness, and that the image of success equals success. And a powerful car makes some powerful image statements, such as, “I am wealthy enough to get what I want, and this is what I want. And those dollar signs at the gas pump don't matter to me, what matters is having a car that will skedaddle when I romp on it.”

Lucky for the MAX project, the ultimate street skedaddlers are sports cars. The sports car is so well-established in our culture as a symbol of success — an impractical frivolity, a flaunting of one's disposable income — that any two-seat car looks like a luxury, and anyone driving one seems to be living the good life. I think that will be people's first impression when they see MAX, even people who turn up their noses at economy cars.

So thank you, Veyron. Thank you, Ferrari and Lamborghini, for flying the small-means-money flag. Folks won't know I'm a bunnyhugger, pennypincher, eco-cheapo-creepo until they read the fine print.

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Jack McCornack
7/30/2008 12:39:21 PM
There's a lot of gain to be made for small pickup trucks, it might be a good next project. I'll bet one could break 50mpg with a pickup with an aerodynamic bed cover, some front end and belly improvements, and a small diesel--and 60mpg is not impossible if one were making an uncompromising high mileage pickup.

John Edward Mercier
7/30/2008 10:13:52 AM
I was sort of hopeful of a small pick-up truck... but the lessen to be learned from MAX will be exciting.

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