Planet Gore

Europe’s lesson for the Senate’s mpg mandate

Just back from a week in France carting a family of four around in the Senate Democrats’dream car. With gas at $7 a gallon, French cars average 42 mpg – in the ballpark of the 36 mpg that Senate leaders just mandated for U.S cars by 2020 (up from the current 24.5 mpg).


But my car was not powered by some whiz-bang alternative fuel that Democrats claim the industry has been holding back from us (“You can do it, we can help,” said Sen. Tom Carper, D-De., last week in promising millions in “advanced technology” research dollars).


My tiny, 4-door, 1.5 liter Renault Clio was powered by “gasol,” the French term meaning “gas oil,” or diesel. About half of French cars now run on diesel. That’s right, even at 42 mpg, France is still heavily dependent on good old foreign oil. Over 95 percent dependent.


And even at $7 a gallon gas (diesel is about $5.50 thanks to generous tax breaks), SUVs and minivans are France’s fastest growing car sales segments. As a result, even the Europeans are missing their mpg targets (obsessed with global warming, Europeans publish their CO2 emissions numbers as readily as mpg numbers).  Manufacturers will miss the EU’s CO2 target of 140 g/km (about 48 mpg) by 2008 by a wide margin.


My little Clio emits 160 g/km – about average for European fleets. But in two days of driving around Provence, I didn’t get anywhere close to the advertised 42 mpg. That’s because, paradoxically, French speed limits are 90 mph, requiring me to row the little 1.5-liter diesel-sipper mercilessly to keep up. That, combined with the Old World’s cramped inner city streets left me at a mere 35 mpg.


If gas remains at an inflation-adjusted $3 a gallon by 2020, will American soccer moms give up their Toyota Sierra minivans for the U.S. equivalent of a cramped, half-as-powerful  Renault Clio?


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