Friday Eco Question

Here's a question I've been wondering about:

If I upgrade my car to a brand new one that's more efficient, I save energy and emissions based on the miles I drive with the new vehicle. However, a lot of energy went into making and delivering the new vehicle, and, in theory, that energy wouldn't have been spent if I didn't buy a new car.

So how big of a MPG increase do I need to get before it's at least environmentally break even?

Comments:

I am not sure I agree with the premise that the energy to make the car would not have been required had you not bought it. I would argue that the car company is likely making that car anyway, whether you buy it or someone else buys it. This was less true a couple of years ago. When I bought my Prius I had to order it from the dealer and Toyota claimed to be making and selling them based on orders. Now I see them sitting on the lots waiting for buyers. The business model for the industry is that car companies keep cranking out new cars that people want - and since cars with better emissions tend to be smaller (unless you are doing the SUV hybrids), one might imagine they take less energy to make than less efficient cars. So as long as there are going to be new cars, they may as well be smaller, more efficient ones. But, to your point, what happens to your old vehicle once you get rid of it? It's not like it comes off the road altogether - so presumably someone else will be driving it and now you have your new (good) car PLUS your old (not so good) car/SUV. Or, if the car is at the end of its life, what happens to it? Are the parts reused, recycled or just trashed? I am deliberately avoiding mathematical calculations.

Posted by marcy lynn on April 06, 2007 at 11:29 AM EDT #

The big impact was and is your decision of what new car to buy. After you replace it, it will continue life as a used car, going from person to person until it's not worth maintaining, then some of it lives on as spare parts. What matters is whether you picked a car that lasts 100K, 200K, or 300K miles. (You can make things worse with bad maintenance or bad driving.)

Best choice in a new car is one that is a few years into the model design cycle, with a history of excellent reliability, and good popularity. This will keep it on the road the longest. It does argue against substantial hybrids, since long life batteries is known to be a hard problem and it will take many years to get the experience to give them long life. For now, go for a high efficiency mild hybrid (to avoid the big battery issue) or diesel (at least in Europe). They can give good mileage and last a long time.

Posted by rjh on April 06, 2007 at 02:55 PM EDT #

The previous two comments hit the nail on the head. It's not about the energy to produce a new car, it's about the lifecycle of the car. The only thing I might add is to drive less. Rather than limit discourse to examples of how this might be possible I leave it to the reader to ponder. I am afraid however you are leading us to a forgone conclusion. ie. the same can be said about any new piece of equipment, even servers! The most significant way to make an impact is when replacement is needed buy the best (pick your metric) available option at the time. ... then power it on as little as possible.

Posted by Michael on April 06, 2007 at 04:57 PM EDT #

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