MAX Update No. 1: Half a Glass

Reader Contribution by Staff

Naming our high-mileage project MAX was half in jest. The serious half is it’s a condensed acronym for the Mother Earth News Automotive X Prize entry. The jest half is the implication that the car is big, a MAXimum car. The truth is it’s really more of a MIN.

In my designs, I’m always thinking small. The pessimist says the glass is half empty, the optimist says the glass is half full. I say we’re using twice as much glass as we need. It takes less energy to move small things than big things, and human transportation is one area where it pays to use the right amount of glass.

Need to move lots of people long distances? You can’t beat railroads, though for person-miles per gallon, there are some busses that are pretty good. Need to move one person a short distance? You can’t beat a bicycle, though there are some interesting electric vehicles that are close behind.

But our culture and our infrastructure — our millions of miles of roads, our cities and suburbs, our feed stores and tack shops that you can’t get to by horse — are designed for cars, and that’s not going to change overnight. We can, however, change our cars.

MAX is sized to perform the majority of automotive tasks, which is to move one or two people a moderate distance. For most driving in America, a four (or more) seat sedan is twice as much glass as we need.

A two-seater is not the solution to all automotive needs, we all know that. A 40-mpg minivan is more efficient than a 75-mpg two-seater, but only when the van actually carries four or more people. There are no points for potential efficiency because Car A could carry a bigger load than that of Car B. Actual usage is what determines efficiency.

If you have a crew cab truck that carries six passengers and a half ton of river rock while towing a 28-foot fifth wheel travel trailer and gets 11 miles to the gallon, that’s pretty dang efficient when you’re actually doing that stuff. But it’s way too much vehicle for a trip to the grocery store. Unless you’re picking up an awful lot of groceries.

Look for much more on the infant days of MAX in Here Comes the 100-mpg Car, from the August/September 2008 issue. And follow our progress through this blog, the Green Energy & Great Homes e-newsletter and my Kinetic Vehicles Web site.