RUNNING ON EMPTY: The Future of the Automobile in an Oil-Short World by Lester; Christopher Flabin & Colin Norman Brown

RUNNING ON EMPTY: The Future of the Automobile in an Oil-Short World

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The surprisingly feeble conclusion of Worldwatch researchers Brown, Flabin, and Norman is that ""a more fuel-efficient car will be essential if the automobile is to. . . play a major role in peoples' lives."" But auto companies, they note, are in a bind: rising gasoline prices are boosting demand for fuel-efficient cars, while depressed earnings make it hard for them to invest in developing them. Mideast oil cutbacks (particularly in Iran) call for fuel substitutes, but short-run solutions are unlikely: ethanol, being produced here and in Brazil from plant matter and agricultural wastes, is much more expensive than gasoline; methanol corrodes engines; synthetic fuels from coal, shale, and tar sands pose health and environmental hazards; hydrogen takes up too much space; and electric cars are inefficient. With such dismal prospects, the authors conclude that Americans must drive less and cars must be smaller and lighter. Eventually, we can expect such innovations as a ""continually variable transmission"" to save gas by matching engine speeds and road loads through a system of additional gears. Meanwhile, we are advised to explore nontechnological options: carpools; bicycles; full buses and trains. For this outfit, a dry run indeed.

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 1979
Publisher: Norton