Monday, August 13, 2012

The True Cost of High Gas Prices - A Rant By The Janitor

"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"- Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters, 1984.

Normally on this blog we produce well researched pieces which explore both sides of an issue and we include nice little links to our sources and all of that jazz.  This is not one of those posts.  Nope. Today I want to talk to you about an intolerable miscarriage of justice, indeed a cancer if you will, that is eating away at the very fabric of our American way of life and threatening to take that which is sacred and turn it on its head in a most blasphemous and cowardly fashion.  I'm talking about the push for more fuel efficient cars.

I love cars.  

I love that you can customize your own car to make it uniquely reflect your personality.  I love cruising down the highway and taking road trips.  I love the feeling that you invariably get when some minivan driving soccer dad who is clearly suffering from a midlife crisis attempts to drag race you at the stop light only to become a speck in your rear view mirror.  Rookie. 

I love to drive.  It calms me.  Gives me my "moment of zen" as Jon Stewart would say.  

The Ford Festiva.  Wipe the drool from your mouth.

Before I jump head first into my rant, let me provide the proper context about my appreciation for driving. My first car in high school was my mom's Ford Festiva.  Now that was a classic automobile if I do say so myself.  I don't even think it had so much as a single cylinder under the hood.  Just wind it up and let it go.  Hey, it was high school so if you had so much as a dust bucket with 4 wheels and a motor you were a god among insects.  

The Mazda MX6.  With the spoiler on the back, Jack.  Watch out.

During college I upgraded to a Mazda MX6.  Despite the official-sounding title and the spoiler on the back to signify its obvious speed dominance to other lesser vehicles, the car was only packing 4 cylinders.  0 to 60 took like a half an hour or something.   And don't even try to pass somebody on the highway.  Forgetaboutit.
BMW 3 Series.  Giving sports driving to the masses.

When I became a man (read: after college) I put away childish things and stepped into my first adult vehicle: the BMW 3 Series.  Now, the thing about the 3 series that you need to know for the purposes of this rant is that it is what is known in Car & Driver parlance as a "starter" BMW, in that it is (or at least it was until the 1 series came along) the cheapest BMW you can get.  Despite being a "starter" BMW and physically no bigger than my old Mazda, the 3 Series is packing an in-line 6 cylinder engine which puts out anywhere from 180hp to just under 300hp depending upon the model you get.  For a car as lightweight as that, it actually is capable of moving for ya when you put the pedal down.  And it didn't do half bad on gas mileage either (approx. 20mpg city, 30mpg highway).  It served me well for many years and contributed to my need for speed.
BMW M5 - the fastest car BMW has to offer.

These days I drive a BMW M5, which I'll just cut to the chase and tell you has a naturally aspirated V10 5.0 liter engine which puts out 500hp and goes from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds.  In short, it is a monster.  Gas mileage?  Please.  It's something ridiculous like 2 miles per gallon (ok I'm exagerating) but you don't get this kind of car to earn some panzy fuel efficiency tax credit.  No, sir.  You get this car to go from 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. You get this car to destroy minivan drag racers who have seen one too many installments of the Fast & Furious franchise. You get this car because it will perform.  Period.  Which brings me back to my rant.

This weekend the NY Times put out an article about the latest BMW 5 Series (the BMW 528 to be exact) which has stepped back from being an in-line 6 cylinder engine to a...wait for it...4 cylinder engine.  4 cylinders???  In a 5 Series???  Blasphemy!!!  We're talking about a $60,000 BMW here, folks. Are you gonna sit there with a straight face and tell me that people should pay 60 grand for a 4 cylinder?  Are you out of your mind?  That just doesn't even sound right.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, they turbocharged the damn thing!  

A brief word on turbocharging for those of you who don't speak car.  Turbocharging takes the exhaust that is normally put out by an engine and recycles it back into the engine.  Why would you want to put exhaust fumes back into your engine?  Because it is a cheap way to squeeze more horsepower out of fewer cylinders which allows you to put a smaller engine in a car.  Why do you want a smaller engine with fewer cylinders?  Because it will use less gas.    So the upside is that turbocharging uses less gas and produces more power with fewer cylinders.  The downside is that turbocharged engines tend to break down more often than normal engines due to the extra parts needed to perform the turbocharge function and from the overheating involved in pumping exhaust back into the engine.  In addition, since the turbocharge literally can't kick in until the exhaust gets going, turbocharged engines suffer from what is known as a "turbo lag" which is where you step on the pedal and nothing happens for about a second or two.  

I could go on but the point of my sub-rant on turbocharging is that BMW has always prided itself on never ever ever ever ever resorting to turbocharging its engines.  It has always designed top notch "naturally aspirated" engines which have sent their competitors like Mercedes and Audi back to the drawing board year after year.  Ever since gas prices have dominated the conversation, however, all of that has stopped.  Now it's all about reducing cylinders and turbocharging everything in sight.  This is weak kung fu.

And I want to be clear, it's not just BMW doing this.  They're ALL doing this.  Mercedes, Jaguar, Landrover...they're all cutting back on cylinders and turbocharging their new cars.  It's all a part of this big push to make more fuel efficient cars.   Ford, GM and Chrysler have BEEN turbocharging their cars, so this is nothing new for them.  Same with Honda, Nissan and Toyota.  But those companies have never been known to produce high performance James Bond kick-ass ninja mobiles anyway.  BMW, Mercedes and Audi, on the other hand, have been known for just that.  Every year they come out with something bigger and faster than the last model which forces the competitors to go back to the drawing board - but not anymore.  The latest 2012 BMW M5, for example, lost 2 cylinders, going from a V10 to a V8.  And, as much as it pains me to type these words onto this screen right now, BMW did the unthinkable and turbocharged the M5.  Franz Joseph Popp is rolling over in his German grave right now.

OK this is getting kind of long so I suppose I need to make a point here.  I suppose my bottom line is that I recognize that times are changing and that we, as a nation, need to be more energy independent which means using less foreign oil.  I get that.  And I agree that we want our cars to be cleaner for the environment.  I get that too.  So if that means incentivizing drivers with tax credits if they choose to buy a Prius, then great.  I'm all for it.  I'm even OK with making most of the cars on the road environmentally friendly fuel efficient panzy mobiles.  But don't take away my choice to go out and get the biggest gas guzzling beast of a car known to man if I so choose.  For the sake of all that is sacred in this world, do not deprive us of that joy.  It's all we have left, man. 

OK I'm done.

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