Back in summer of 2008, the price of gas had skyrocketed to over $4 per gallon. I was short on cash and working a job that required me to drive a lot of miles. I remember standing outside my apartment building and talking hydrogen electrolyzers with a neighbor who’d made plans to have the engine of his pickup truck outfitted with the MPG-enhancing technology. He explained that all it took was a couple jars of water and a coil. I asked him what would happen if he got into an accident. A small bang, he said. Like a firework. That didn’t sound very safe to me, and I was concerned that if I wired my car for hydrogen, it would fail state inspection. Massachusetts is notoriously thorough when it comes to emissions, safety and the like. So I took the boring way out. I dragged my gas guzzler to a dealership, took a hit on the negative equity and financed a Toyota Yaris.
Larger Trend Toward Fuel Efficiency
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was part of larger trend. Across the country, drivers were substituting for lower fuel consumption. You see it everywhere today. Car commercials lead with claims of great MPG. Hybrids abound. The visibility of Tesla and their all-electric sportscar has been enhanced by their skirmishes with local car dealerships and the state legislatures that protect them.
The Obama administration, which didn’t yet exist in 2008 when I was on the verge of going hydrogen, has helped the cause of fuel efficiency by mandating that by 2025, automakers who sell to customers in the United States average over 54 miles per gallon in their cars and light trucks. This is known as the CAFE, or corporate average fuel economy, standard.
A New Pickup
The percentage of total sales belonging to pickup trucks, that iconic American body type, has shrunk considerably. To remain relevant in the new MPG-first universe, Ford has shed some pounds from its F-150’s body by switching from tried and true steel to an aluminum shell, which according the automaker’s website, is “military grade.” The carefully branded substitution will save the Ford’s customers, and their wallets, about 700 pounds of automobile to fuel.
It’s not clear whether consumers will stick with Ford now that it’s gone aluminum. What is predictable are gas prices, which are sure to remain high as the demand for fuel increases around the world. I know I’m staying with lean and mean.