Letters - 2/21/08

Feb. 21, 2008
One of several issues so astounding about the mpg follies editorial (Nov. 21) is that it never mentioned the technological challenge the increased CAFE standards place at the feet of the automobile industry.


Is Machine Design no longer an engineering trade journal? The other flaw is its rational for trashing the new standards. Your logic would have us return to the 4,000 lb, 12-mpg behemoths of the 1960s as a way to save fuel and reduce pollution.

The majority of one’s driving is between home and routine points such as work, school, sports fields, and shopping — locations which aren’t likely to change with an increase in the CAFE standard. The Cato Institute study rationalized that cheaper operating costs for a vehicle translates to an increase in driving. If the locations of our primary points of travel do not change, a more likely outcome might be that savings incurred by the new standards will be spent on such things groceries, rent, or tuition. As with any study, if you start with an irrational assumption, you get an irrational result. The auto industry has always balked at mandated standards.

The list includes seat belts, air bags, padded dashboards, crash ratings, emission controls, the elimination of lead in gasoline, CAFE standards, and posting EPA mileage estimates on door windows. Most people will agree that seat belts and air bags work, thousands of asthmatics and potential asthmatics now breathe easier, and if not for the previously mandated fuel efficiency requirements, the Detroit Big Three would have been left in the dust by foreign imports long ago during the fuel shortages of the 70s. Washington actually did them a favor.

True the auto industry will always make more money on its biggest vehicles loaded with all the bells and whistles, but is that a reason for bashing the new CAFE standard? Toyota should not be cited as a reason for echoing the Big Three’s cries. Instead, Toyota should instead be reprimanded for sinking to Detroit’s level of perpetual whining.

— Richard Petters

Since 1970 U.S. cars have become almost 50% more efficient. In that same period of time, the average number of miles driven by every American over the age of 16 has risen by something between 60 and 100%. Those facts are not in dispute. Your assertion that, “The majority of one’s driving is between home and routine points (that) … aren’t likely to change with an increase in the CAFE standard” could have as easily been made 30 years ago. History shows that line of thinking has not been borne out by the actions of the driving public.

The “bells and whistles” you refer to on cars include such items as power windows, ABS, automatic transmissions, and other features that are either mandated by safety regulations or which buyers have shown a preference for. In other words, they are there for a reason.

As I pointed out in the editorial, there is no shortage of highmpg vehicles. If high-mpg ratings are what it takes to sell vehicles, the market will produce highmpg vehicles without any help from CAFE mandates. — Leland Teschler

Your Nov. 21 issue contained an irate letter decrying wind power, solar power, and global warming, with many accompanying authoritative-sounding numbers. However, the letter writer neglected some critical bits of information when trying to discredit a NASA scientist.

NASA’s James Hansen did revise the U.S. temperature data history in 2007, and it does indeed now show other warmer years in the 1920s and 1930s. However, the revised data still shows a dramatic and consistent rise, with the hottest years in the late 1990s and in this decade. To discredit climate-change science on the basis of revised data from one country is not good scientific decision making.

Viewing global temperatures on the basis of data from one country is a bit like viewing an elephant through a straw — a larger view provides much-more-relevant information. I expect an engineering magazine to more thoroughly evaluate the claims of letter writers with an axe to grind. Passing on misleading or incomplete information is not suited for a serious technical magazine. In this case, doing the necessary research took me about 2 minutes, so it is not a matter of time, it is a matter of being willing to verify or disprove an allegation that is contrary to most of the established science. The relevant information can be found at:http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/.

Yes, wind and solar power cannot replace all the fossil-fuel sources we now use. This is not new or even seriously disputed. Our future will require many sources as the fossil fuels we rely upon grow scarcer, more difficult to extract, and more expensive. Our way of life will change, we just refuse to accept it.

Scott Thomason

Normally, we let letter writers have their say. But GISS data actually shows the globe’s hottest years were, in descending order: 1934, 1998, 1921, 2006, 1931, 1999, 1953, 1990, 1938, and 1939. — Editor

Visible V8 flashback
Reading the “Toys that Teach” article (Dec. 13, 2007) brought back a few memories for me. When my youngest brother was in grade school, he brought home a classmate’s basket-case Visible V8. It hadn’t been glued together very well and it sort of just fell apart. Being sons of a mechanic, we decided we didn’t need the missing instructions to resurrect this pile of plastic into a reasonable representation of the real thing. We applied liberal amounts of glue to the correct surfaces to “button ’er up” and, with a bit of rare foresight, added some petroleum jelly to the moving surfaces. When the glue dried, we fired it up. But the supplied motor barely turned it over. So we decided the end of the crankshaft would be a good place to attach dad’s -in. electric drill which had a spindle speed around 300 rpm. That gave a satisfying performance with the crank spinning and the pistons nearly a blur. Figuring that if a little is good, then a lot is better, we replaced the -in. drill with dad’s old …-in. drill which had a spindle speed closer to 1,200 rpm. Everything was just a blur and petroleum jelly was being slung all over the inside of the crankcase, reducing visibility. We shut her down before she threw a rod or spun a main

— Jim Miller

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