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What I Think About When I Look at the Wastepaper Basket in My Office

Why do I think a 7 gallon wastepaper basket is a pretty neat thing?

I like my little Mazda3. It’s “zippy” and pretty comfortable to drive for a compact car. And it cost us somewhere in the range of \$16,500 for the car (we actually lease it). And while it is nowhere near the best in its class for fuel-economy, it still is a very fuel efficient car as far as my standards are concerned. I’ve been averaging around 29-30 mpg for our everyday driving, but when we are on the highway and I don’t need to run the AC and can travel at a constant speed, I have been able to get well beyond the sticker mileage – my last trip got up near 40. The reason I like my waste paper basket is that filling it up with fuel is sufficient to take me and our two children from here to their grandparents’ house 255 miles away.

Think about that. It took the three of us 6.8 gallons of gas to make that recent trip. This represents a mileage of roughly 37.5 miles per gallon. But there were three of us in that car. So our mileage was not 37.5 but more like 112.5 person miles per gallon. With that kind of mileage, it would take very expensive gas and a much more expensive car in order for it to make economic or environmental sense to get into something like, say, a Chevy Volt. For example, the cheapest new Prius I was able to find when shopping was nearly 50% more expensive than the Mazda I ended up getting (about \$24,000).

There are no particular lessons here and I am not here to provide you with a calculator for how to make car shopping comparisons. But I would like to point out that there is still a good deal of room for standard internal combustion engines to become more efficient, so it’s not at all entirely clear to me that we are going to see a highway full of hybrids and electrics anytime soon. There are other reasons why we won’t see that, for example, just do a back of the envelope calculation of what kind of battery capacity and materials we are going to need to replace, say, 50% of the automobile fleet with electric cars. And while the ability of “green” car producers to scale up and recognize scale economies surely will improve (and we’ve seen this with the Prius) the economics of building an ICE car are going to remain very favorable for a long time — especially if some developing countries are able to design, produce and sell cars in the future.

Oh, in other automobile related news, a student shared this storywith me from last week. Funny, I just saw this commercial.