Americans Drive More Miles, Use Less Gas. Turbos Responsible?

2013 Ford Fusion SE EcoBoost

Is the turbo worth the extra cost?

There are some odd stats out of the fossil-fuel world these last couple of days:

  • Fuel prices are up across the country, which is disturbing but not particularly odd.
  • Families paid an average of nearly $3,000 for fuel in 2012, or about 4% of the average household annual income. That’s the highest percentage in about 30 years. Again, sad, but not surprising or odd.
  • The amount of miles traveled by each household has increased significantly over the last 30 years, which seems to be in line with all these other trends.

So what’s the odd part about this latest news?

Last year, U.S. gas consumption *fell* to its lowest level since 2001. So, we’re using less gas, but paying more than ever and driving farther than ever. That, my friends, is odd.

I’d say we could credit the new turbo-assisted small-displacement engines as part of the reason for using less fuel, but that might not be the case. The Consumer Reports people have found that most of those engines don’t live up to their promises and that larger non-turbo engines might be just as efficient and more powerful. Here’s a quote:

By now, we’ve tested many cars with these engines, and lots of competitors with traditional, naturally-aspirated powerplants, big and small. Generally, the turbocharged cars have slower acceleration and no better fuel economy than the models with bigger, conventional engines.

Well that’s a turbo-powered downer. Since hybrids still have a tiny fraction of the market, we have to assume that the vast majority of passenger vehicles are so efficient with gas engines that we can drive more miles and use less fuel than ever. Unfortunately, it still costs a small fortune to keep our cars full. Maybe if we could figure out how to decrease the number of miles we drive, we would finally begin to reduce our collective gas bill.

The simple answer to saving money, it seems, is to purchase a conventional gas engine and just drive less. No big surprise!

Is it time to forget about about turbo tech, move on from hybrids and just accept that oil will be a part of our foreseeable future?


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