The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
15 Points

Modern Autos Lack Efficacy/Efficiency

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/27/2011 Category: Science
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,047 times Debate No: 19017
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (28)
Votes (4)




Modern autos, on the whole, are one of the low-points of American society. Sure, we need them for transportation (because of unbridled urban sprawl from profit-driven urban-planning as opposed to planning based on scientific tenets and environmental stewardship), but really... how many of us are thinking transportation when we buy an automobile? We are thinking about the color, the horsepower, the sleekness, the stereo, the rims... Some of us are more shallow than others, but it's safe to say the median in this regard is quite low.

So if you define "efficacy" in terms of what we, the materialistically obsessed populace wants, then I suppose we are just getting what we asked for. We want a car that will get us to work and not need to be fixed often, but after those concerns are taken care of we are focusing on things like impressing our boyfriends with them. Otherwise, what is the point of putting over-sized engines in cars? Luxury autos are very powerful but there is almost no actual use for this expenditure. I saw my neighbor bringing a new Jeep Cherokee home today and I thought to myself "I don't know of any mountains to climb with that thing in Green Bay..." It's safe to say that that vehicle will never even leave the flat and smooth pavement from which it sits.

The enormous size of today's autos is troublesome. Gas may very well make these unworkable for the poorer crowd, but for the time being there are still a startling amount of SUVs and other large model vehicles on the road. Yes, they are more convenient. But if I wanted to drive a Prius or something similar, I know have to compete on the road with these bohemoths. It certainly makes it much less efficable for me to get a small car and try to save money for myself and help the environment for everyone else. You can't see past these trucks when you pull up to them at a stop (e.g., if you are watching for traffic coming from the left and then an SUV pulls up and you have to just wait until they pass to be able to see again) either.

This is a review of a book by Keith Bradsher titled "High and Mighty: SUVs - The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way." ( The first set of quotes is from the book, while the second is from the review:

"[SUV owners]" tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities...One of the most primitive human emotions, according to the automakers' researchers, is the urge to be ensconced within the safety of a monster -- one that makes us feel much more powerful than we actually are."

"One of the saddest of Bradsher's conclusions is that SUVs are inadvertently fueling an arms race on the road. As the drivers of non-excessive vehicles experience being blinded by SUV headlights, or crushed by SUV collisions, they are becoming increasingly compelled to purchase SUVs themselves as a matter of survival...As a result, Bradsher argues SUVs increasingly dominate the roadways and it is only a matter of time before they compel drivers who are not insecure and self-hating to purchase their own obese station wagons in order to increase the odds of survival during a collision."

But aren't cars getting more efficient on gas? 30 Years ago, they seemed a lot more efficient than they are now: This chart shows the top MPG choices for the years '78-'81. As you can see, none of them drops below 40 mpg and there are lots of very affordable choices in models that I was very familiar with when I was young because they were quite prevalent. Looking at today's numbers tells a different story:

2012 Mitsubishi i = 112 mpg
2011 Nissan Leaf = 99 mpg
2012 Chevy Volt = 94/37 mpg
2011 Smart fortwo electric 87 mpg
2012 Prius - 50 mpg
2012 Honda Civic hybrid = 44 mpg
2012 Toyota Prius V = 42 mpg
2012 Lexus CT 200h 42 mpg
2011 Honda Insight = 41 mpg
2012 Ford Fusion hybrid/Lincoln MKZ= 39 mpg

At first it's like WOW! 100s, 90s... we sure have come a long way! But as you really look at the list, it's not that impressive. These cars aren't efficient GAS cars, they are only this efficent because they are electric/hybrid! NYC had an entire fleet of electric cars and the infrastructure to charge them - in the 19th century (! So for us to look at this list of 21st-century autos and feel good that they are finally figuring out how to integrate that technology is pretty ridiculous. The 5th ranked car, the Prius, wouldn't even be at the top of the list in 1981.

The bottom five of the list would be somewhat competitive with the older cars, but they can't do it with gas alone. Most importantly, the older list comprises ECONOMICALLY PRICED cars, while the newer list is almost all expensive electric editions of luxury brands: we are not going to be seeing the streets flooded with these models to help the poor like we did in the late '70's/early '80s with Rabbits and Omnis. None of these cars are affordable in the least, and the tenth-ranked auto (Focus hybrid) wouldn't even have qualified for the older list at <40 mpg.

So if every other car is <40 mpg today, that means that we basically have no ability to purchase efficient autos like we did in the late '70s. This is almost beyond belief.

Comparing something with the technical nature of an automobile to it's predecessor of three decades prior is like comparing how we build wooden houses to the pre-colonial days. There is absolutely no excuse for this pathetic decline in efficiency.

One last point I'd like to bring up is how difficult and costly cars are to maintain nowadays. Last year the blower motor went out in my Buick (I won't drive anything smaller because in Green Bay people love to drive trucks) and I was lucky enough to know a mechanic who rebuilt the motor for me with some spare wiring and electrical tape. The job was quick, easy, and inexpensive. Yet, had I not known him, I would have had to bring the car into a shop where I would have been absolutely gutted by the mechanics there. They would have insisted I buy a brand-new part and have them install it, which would have been in the triple-digits as far as cost.

Have you looked at the dashboard in your new car? Have you tried to figure out where it comes apart? Try it once and then let me know how to do it. Your entire dash is probably one piece that covers the entire section from the driver's door to the passenger's door, and without special knowledge and tools you won't be able to work with it. When I was younger, cars were simpler to work on. I changed the stereo in my '89 Firebird by simple getting a screwdriver and undoing the screws that were in plain site right in front of me. Cars are incredibly difficult and complex to work on nowadays, while delivering even worse efficiency. Parts are so varied and specialized that almost everything you need must be specially ordered for that exact make/model/year, which drives the cost of buying these parts through the roof. We could very easily have much more efficient cars which are easy to work on with universal components that are prevalent and cheap, all while delivering superior gas-mileage. But we don't.


The Resolution

Thanks to Pro for proposing a great topic, He echoes complaints we often hear these days, to the effect that there is something wrong with modern cars.

Cars are now the best they have ever been. "Go back about 20 years and the number of cars delivering 40 mpg or more was greater than what we’re seeing today. Those cars, however, were lighter and did not include weight-adding safety features we take for granted today including front and side airbags, traction control and antilock brakes. Many of today’s cars are delivering the best of both worlds: excellent fuel economy and the safety features consumers appreciate."

The Toyota Prius is a mid-sized five passenger car that consistently gets 50 miles per gallon under both stop-and-go city driving and long trips. It does so by using hybrid technology that reuses the energy of braking, having a continuously variable transmission for efficiency, and having the lowest aerodynamic drag coefficient of any mass-produced car. It can be bought new for well under $30,000. It is extremely reliable. So what's the complaint?

Cars do have bad periods. Cars of the early 1970s were less reliable and had less power than the cars of the 1960s. That was a consequence of pollution standards. So is something like that the nature of my opponent's current complaint? Not as far as I can tell. Cars are consistently better now than they were in past years.

The complaint, as far as I can determine, is not that modern automobiles are no good, but rather that people do not always buy them according to the values that my opponent would like. Pro cites cars being bought to impress others, cars bought with more power than Pro thinks people need, and especially there are too many Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs). That's a complaint about vehicle owners, not a complaint bout the vehicles. Pro's standards are by no means objective or universal.

The resolutio fails because the present market includes cars that suit every reasonable requirement for efficacy and efficiency.

Why aren't all cars lime yellow?

Things claimed to be objective standards are really value judgements. Nearly everyone would like a car that is safe, economical, comfortable, beautiful, and low polluting, when it gets to tradeoffs among the various attributes, it's reasonable for individuals to make different choices.

Scientific studies have determined the safest color for vehicles. It is a lime yellow, the obnoxious color corresponding to the peak color sensitivity of the eye. It's used for fire trucks and occasionally for cars A further improvement is to use fluorescent lime yellow. Fluorescent colors convert ultraviolet light to visible light, so it produces more light than the incident visible light.

Objectively, fluorescent lime yellow is the safest color. The technology is available to paint every car that color. So why are so few cars lime yellow? It is because few car buyers put so large a premium on safety. Aesthetics has value. A world full of fluorescent cars would only please a very few safety fanatics. The rest of us are willing to take a small incremental safety risk.


People buy cars of all types for frivolous reasons, but many people buy SUVs to meet genuine needs, People need to haul stuff around. That's why station wagons were once so popular. People have large families with children and dogs. They tow boats and trailers. In rural areas, they haul quantities of supplies from distant towns. They live in mountains, in places with bad roads, and in places with heavy winter snow.

I live in California where the land is flat, there are good roads, and it never snows. However, there are mountains about two hours drive to the east with ski areas that get several hundred inches of snow per year. Lots of avid skiers live here in the flat lands and head up to the land of chains-required regularly. An SUV is a reasonable choice for them, usually as a second car.

I have a friend with back problem, something to do with a pinched nerve. After some experimentation, he found that the chair-like posture of SUV seating suited him well, and the pain he endured from conventional car seating disappeared. He lives in Florida, where snow and mountains are notably absent. Tall people need the extra height of an SUV.

Many SUVs have evolved so as to be more like cars. One auto reviewer noted "Many compact SUVs have become so car-like that I was surprised to encounter the seating position of a conventional SUV in the new Sorento. You sit high relative to the instrument panel, and the windshield is upright by current standards."


Pro cites an out-of-date book on SUV safety. Ten years ago, SUVs were more subject to roll-over accidents than regular passenger cars, but that's now been fixed with improved deign.

The Institute for Highway Safety reports that, thanks to electronic stability control in SUVs,
"someone driving a 2009 model year car is almost twice as likely to die in a rollover accident as someone driving a 2009 model year SUV. .. More stable car-based SUV designs have also played a role in decreasing SUV rollover death rates,"

considering all types of accidents, "Adjusted for number of registered vehicles, and only considering those vehicles 1-3 years old, SUVs are now far safer than passenger cars overall. For 2009, there were 39 occupant deaths per million registered SUVs—versus 82 for cars, and 94 for pickups."

A person driving an SUV is safer than a person in a regular car. That means that concern over safety is a valid reason for buying an SUV. SUVs are better than cars in dealing with poor road conditions, like mountain snow or flooding. Weight, wheel base and heavier construction provide better traction and passenger protection.

Fuel Economy

The fuel efficiency of both cars and of light trucks and SUVs has risen slowly since 1965. Cars went from about 14 to 23 mpg, and the SUV/light truck category from about 10 to 17 mpg. The US government sets fuel standards. "The [2002] standard is 27.5 mpg for passenger automobiles and 20.7 mpg for light trucks, a classification that also includes sport utility vehicles (SUVs).." Vehicles last about 20 years, so the fuel economy will continue to rise for another ten years as old vehicles are replaced with new ones.

The average vehicle is driven only about 12,000 miles per year, which makes fuel cost a secondary issue. The average price of gasoline for the past year is about $3. A car getting 25 mpg will use $1440 worth of gasoline. At the Truck/SUV mileage of 17, fuel cost rise to $2118, an extra $677. The total cost of driving a medium sedan 12,000 miles is $7440. Compared to the $7440 basic cost, paying $677 for the low mileage of an SUV, or saving $1059 with a 50 mpg Prius is still marginal compared to he other costs. Buying a more expensive car adds to the depreciation and insurance, but that applies whether the expensive car is an electric vehicle or an SUV.

Today's cars are excellent.

What's important is that there are cars available that provide the combinations off features so that each buyer gets what he wants. People are not foolish for wanting SUVs, nor are they foolish to want small economical cars.

The resolution is negated.

Debate Round No. 1


Con is correct that cars from the past were lighter, and keeping our vehicles light is a big factor in keeping them safe and efficient. Airbags don't weigh very much (5 lb/per) so I'm not sure why they were brought up, but traction-control and anti-lock brakes probably do. Instead of loading our vehicles with more and more safety "devices," it makes a whole lot more sense simply to slow down a few mph and pay more attention to what you're doing. The biggest factor in accidents is speed and attentiveness, not whether or not the vehicle was souped up with traction-control, ABS, etc. Traction-control is a neat concept, but it would make sense to get rid of it if it meant giving the driver a more sober realization of the danger they are in every time they get behind the wheel. Car companies don't want you to drive slowly and safely, they want to convey the feeling that you don't need to because their vehicles can handle the crash (and you're irresponsible for not getting their brand). ABS simply simulates pumping the breaks, which is in reality useless to a good driver. Any driver that doesn't have a basic understanding of this concept should not have their license.

Are the cars of today safer? Sure, if I was about to be rear-ended by an SUV I'd rather be driving a Ford Excursion than a Dodge Omni, but this sense of "safeness" merely reflects the size of the car. By creating cars that are big and heavy, we are creating a slippery-slope where people must continue to buy bigger in order not to get squashed like ants. Provided cars don't have obvious faults, like sending metal fragments into the cab during a crash, the biggest factor in safety are the drivers' actions, not the features in the vehicle. We are downplaying the drivers' actions however, because they are not profitable, while safety systems are.

Prius: $30,000 is about three to ten times as much as one would like to pay for a car of this design. As "green" as I am, I won't be buying a Prius any time soon, because I'd have to take out a huge loan to buy it and I'd be paying it off for a decade or so. We could be offering the people very inexpensive brand-new vehicles that outperform the prius even without the hybrid component for a fraction of the cost. A car like the Omni which doesn't have all the electronic gadgets, touch-screen navigation, foot-massager, and the incredible overhead involved in designing and marketing a brand-new product every 36 months could be created using parts that don't change every few years to keep the cost down. It could be designed to be easy to work on and maintain using normal tools, without needing computer diagnostic equipment and special training for each brand. While Con presents the Prius as a practical alternative for cost-savvy consumers, I see it simply as another needlessly extravagant and expensive piece of junk that allows people to flaunt being green as opposed to flaunting the normal automobile traits (i.e., power, sleekness, options). Surely, someone like RoyLatham can appreciate the haughtiness of the left-wing university professor or EPA regulator that drives the Prius just to turn their nose up at the rest of us. Suffice to say, the Prius is not the sustainable alternative that the people need from the automobile industry. It is just the latest step they have taken to make a profit while not giving us any real alternatives for sustainability (either environmentally or economically).

Lime yellow: an interesting point, but I don't see a car's color being as integral to safety as other factors like weight.

Con's appeal to utility (the "U" in SUV) is called into question by the fact that most people don't live by mountains yet still buy SUVs anyway. Seriously - of all the SUVs you passed on the road today, how many of them actually needed them for their performance? Again, if cars were smaller, the whole safety issue wouldn't be half as bad. An Omni might spin out in the snow easier than an SUV, but if you are driving it at safe speeds then the impact won't be all that harmful to anyone you hit and your crash isn't likely to be a spectacular explosion like if you were in an SUV. A pile-up of Omnis on the highway isn't likely to kill as many people as it would if they were SUVs.

As far as tall people are concerned, cars can be made to have increased leg-room without resorting to the SUV model. Omnis could be made without back seats so that there is a lot more room, for example. Your friend with the bad back represents a large group of people, those with disabilities of one sort or another, which also should be taken into account. I don't believe he should be forced to drive an Omni, but there could be slightly taller models of small vehicles that could accomidate him without the need for gas-guzzlers. Your friend should know that by getting a taller vehicle he is causing society a detriment; it will be harder to see around his larger vehicle, it will be larger and more awkward to control, it will be heavier and cause more damage in a crash, and the lights and grill will probably be higher as well. Logically, he should make an effort to minimize his time on the road, just like I should minimize my time on the road while I'm on these vicotins.

I have no problem with people who haul lots of things using trucks. I do have a problem with every Tom, Dick and Harry owning a truck without actually taking advantage of its utility. Trucks shouldn't be used for every-day transportation.

SUV roll-over may be minimized these days, but the picture of that beast on the top of Con's citation doesn't make me feel any better. I'm more concerned about the safety of those NOT in the SUV than I am about the individuals within the SUV. Could you imagine getting into a crash with that thing? If you weren't also protecting yourself by being within an aircraft-carrier sized truck yourself, then that big shiny grille would be right in your face as it crushed your puny car like a tomato. The driver of the SUV would be safe and sound ABOVE the action in the cock-pit, looking down at you in contempt for not having made the investment in a large-enough vehicle to protect yourself. But I suppose if you can't afford one of them then you aren't technically as productive and important as the SUV driver, so that meshes quite nicely with the right-wing/libertarian philosophy.

Con then cites the death rates of SUVs versus cars - fitting. The obsolete article I cited was complaining about how you need to buy larger to protect yourself, and this only seems to cement that point.

Con's figures regarding gasoline prices don't take into account externalities like pollution/global warming, energy usage/independence, or the continually rising price of gas. Of course this type of thinking is always different for the two of us, while I think collectively and he thinks individualistically.


I claimed: (1) contrary to the resolution, there is nothing wrong with today's cars, Pro's complaints are about choices that people make in buying them; (2) there is no objective criteria for "best" in a car, so Pro's choice of "best" cannot be justified; and (3) people make reasonable choices overall based upon their needs. I pointed out that SUVs are safer by a factor of two than ordinary cars, and it's reasonable for people to make safety a priority concern. It's also reasonable for people to want a vehicle for hauling stuff and to value comfort. I think Pro failed to refute any of these points. He left most of them unaddressed.


Pro claimed that the relative safety of SUVs is a slippery slope that leads to larger and larger vehicles. That's not true because it assumes that safety mostly depends upon the relative size of colliding vehicles. Having all small cars does not help cars colliding with trees, utility poles, animals, road debris, or highway structures. Only a larger vehicle helps, because a larger vehicle has a greater "crush depth" -- more metal to fold up and absorb the shock. Moreover, having small cars des not reduce the number of trucks. In fact, because people cannot carry their own stuff, there would have to be many more delivery trucks. Having all small vehicles also does not help if two vehicles collide head on. The momentum of both is reduced to zero at the same rate as if one hit fixed object.

Larger vehicles are better able to cope with poor road conditions. Higher ground clearance avoids more road debris and snow accumulation. Larger wheelbase provides better stability. Higher weight improves traction.

The point of noting that lime yellow is the safest is that safety is not an absolute preference. It costs nothing extra to paint cars that obnoxious color, but people rarely do it and politicians don't have the nerve to mandate it. Safety is traded off against aesthetics.

SUVs are safer, more comfortable, and can carry more stuff. That doesn't mean they are best for everyone. Small cars are more economical, easier to maneuver in tight spaces, and take less parking space. What is important to an individual all depends on the individuals circumstances. Consequently, the resolution that "Modern Autos Lack Efficacy/Efficiency" is false. The market provides a great variety of designs to well suit a variety of user needs. Pro claimed that user desires for SUVs and the like were frivolous extensions of ego, but I've shown that they provide practical safety, comfort, and utility.

American cars are built in a very strong regulatory environment. including the "Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and Regulations to which manufacturers of motor vehicle and equipment items must conform and certify compliance." Pro argues that safety standards should be substantially reduced, He argues, " Instead of loading our vehicles with more and more safety "devices," it makes a whole lot more sense simply to slow down a few mph and pay more attention to what you're doing. The biggest factor in accidents is speed and attentiveness, not whether or not the vehicle was souped up with traction-control, ABS, etc." His assertion is not supported by evidence. I don't doubt that if all other things ere equal that going a few miles per hour slower would be safer, however the question is whether the safety increase from going slower is as important as that from safety devices.

The US had a period of government mandated 55 mph speed limits. Yes, it was 55 mph even on interstate highways. The law was enacted in 1974, eased in 1987, and ultimately repealed in 1995. It produced a 1% savings in fuel consumption. When the law was imposed, the traffic fatality rate indeed dropped, from 4.1 to 3.5 deaths per hundred million miles driven. However, when the speed limit was raised to 65 in 1987, the fatality rate dropped slightly from 2.4 to 2.3, and when it was abolished in 1995 in dropped slightly again, from 1.73 to 1.69. Currently, the fatality rate is 1.13, the lowest in history. In 192. When cars were quite slow, the fatality rate was 24. The dramatic long term decline in fatalities cannot be due to decreased speed, it must be due to safety improvements in roads and vehicles.

A study by the Highway Safety Institute concluded that from the mid 80s to mid-90s, improved driver awareness and seat belts compensated for vehicles being lighter, but ".. in the late 90′s actual driver fatalities continued to decline, and beginning in 1998 the actually number of fatalities dipped below what would have been expected if cars were built the same way they were in 1985. The authors suggest that the dip below expected levels signifies that vehicles are safer now than they were in the 1980′s and 90′s. They cite the fact that average vehicle weight has increased from 2,838 pounds in 1993 to 3,383 pounds in 2003. The authors also cited increased safety standards for SUVs and minivans, both still popular with American drivers but now less likely to roll over under certain crash conditions."

Pro's argument is akin to, "We should spend less money on fire protection, because if people were more safety conscious it wouldn't be needed." Well, people are not more safety conscious.


Pro asks, "Seriously - of all the SUVs you passed on the road today, how many of them actually needed them for their performance?" I think most people buy SUVs with some legitimate need in mind, but I don't doubt that some buyers could meet their needs more cheaply with a minivan. A 2005 comparison found an SUV cost about $7000 per year, versus $6000 for a minivan. That's a relatively small difference in return for a buyer getting what he wants. Moreover, the minivan is just as good for carrying people or cargo, but it's not as good for bad roads or towing trailers.

Why do people buy expensive electric cars? A basic Tesla roadster costs $109,000, despite heavy government subsides. There is no economic or safety reason. It does nothing functionally that an ordinary car does not do more cheaply. Electric cars are fueled primarily by coal, since that's what generates half the electricity. It make no objective sense, but people do it for the prestige they associate with it.

I don't blame Tesla buyers or SUV buyers for buying what they want. Even more remote is the idea that there is something wrong with the vehicles themselves, the subject of our resolution.


Pro argues that present vehicles are too large and expensive. This implies that the government standards responsible for the cost should be revoked. I think there is a good argument that if people want to increase their risk of death or injury in return for having a cheaper car they ought to be allowed to do so. There is good counter argument in terms of the public costs for emergency services and for very long traffic delays in investigating fatal accidents. However, that argument is resolved, it doesn't mean that today's cars are ineffective or inefficient. They function perfectly well give the design constraints for safety that are imposed. Removing those constraints is a separate debate. In that debate, the safety requirements must be acknowledged as being effective.

New cars are always more expensive than we'd like. An eight year old Prius in excellent condition cost $7215 according the Kelly Blue Book.

Pro makes many unsubstantiated assertions, all of which I deny. My contentions stand.
Debate Round No. 2


(1) "Pro's complaints are about choices that people make in buying [cars]"

The cheapest car you can buy as of a few months ago is a full five orders of magnitude in terms of dollars. We should be at four for what our technology is apparently capable of. You can't blame the consumers when they never have the option for the really cheap car. Whether you blame the public or private sector for this is irrelevent - someone is screwing us badly. It doesn't take ten thousand dollars to make a box with wheels with a motor; Con is no doubt going to complain that we need to keep investing in r&d to keep safety and efficiency high but this is horse manure because that research should be complete by now. R&d at this point is just to keep the looks sleeker and the onboard electronics fancier and we should have had the option all along to buy super-inexpensive vehicles using proven pre-existing designs.

(2) No objective criteria for "best." All the criteria discussed so far are objective enough, not the least of which price.

(3) The biggest reason for needing a big car for safety is to protect against other big cars. Without big cars, everyone would be safe enough in little ones. If everyone drove bicycles nobody would feel the need for safety of owning an SUV, but if other people started driving SUVs down the bike paths then all of a sudden that need would become apparent. Sure, bikes don't go as fast as cars, but light-weight vehicle going 35 mph would be relatively safe with little more than a metal frame around the driver to protect them.


Large truck traffic is relatively minimal and these vehicles are not difficult to maneuver away from, unlike SUV traffic which is numerous and just as versatile on the road as you are. Con proves my slippery-slope argument by citing the saftey from trees/poles etc: we want to be safer from these collisions, so we get bigger vehicles to do it! The logical course of action to reduce risk in these instances is to slow down, not get bigger vehicles. Also, smaller vehicles do in fact help in head-on collisions.

There is no safety factor a larger vehicle provides that also isn't achievable by just slowing down. If laws concerning traffic were changed to put people with heavier vehicles at higher risk of fault in collisions, we could balance off the risk so that there would be no incentive for buying big to be safe. Small enough cars should be able to bounce around and hit each other quite a bit with no damage at all even under bad conditions, if you think about it, because there isn't enough weight to do any damage.

"I've shown that they provide practical safety, comfort, and utility."

If cars were smaller then safety would be easier to achieve because vehicles wouldn't cause as much damage upon impact. Safety is only truly achieved by reducing speed. Comfort and utility are secondary concerns.

The only main factors from a physics standpoint in a collision are speed and mass. All the other factors like crumple-zones, side-impact airbags, crash-detection sensors, and all that jazz are just to help make auto companies more money to make you feel safer while delivering you a big dangerous auto to go kill someone with. If we sold small, inexpensive vehicles and sacrificed speed in every instance where safety was a concern, there would be no need for these expensive pseudo-safety measures. In a sense he is right in this instance that it is the choice people make, but it's hard to just blame the consumers in an economy like this because everything is so waxed over in advertising, manipulative culture, regulations, and ultimately the lack of a viable alternative to set a new standard. We are all suffering with unsafe highways because of these vehicles and the remedy is so simple and so easy, yet we are not allowed, for one reason or another, to not make the change we need to small, safe, efficient vehicles that will save our wallets as well as our heads in crashes.


We don't have "needs." If we can't afford these vehicles, which we can't from both an economic and environmental standpoint, and they aren't safe, then all our other needs are secondary and we should re-evalute them.


Having a cheaper car does not give you a more dangerous car. It theoretically gives you a safer car because it is smaller and lighter. We can achieve a harmony of efficiency and safety at a cost-threshold somewhere in the range of a few thousand-dollars without paying 10-20 grand for a fancy automobile with onboard electronics, aggressive marketing and sales, and all the bells and whistles that come with it.


Thanks to Pro for an interesting debate. We discussed issues that are not the usual subjects of debate on this site.


Pro argues that a new car ought to cost about a thousand dollars. He references the lowest cost new car at $9985 and says they ought to be an order of magnitude, i.e., a factor of ten, cheaper. Pro gives no evidence to support his conjecture of how much a car "ought" to cost. He cites no expert opinion and no examples of cars from anywhere in the world -- cars manufactured free of American regulations-- that come close to meeting his claim. He offers "an argument from incredulity" saying his claim follows from "what our technology is apparently capable of." The raw materials to build a car cost more than $1000, and there is a lot of work to making an engine, transmission, a frame, wheels, seats, and the rest of a vehicle. Lacking expert opinion or examples, Pro might have suggested how his claim could be met, but he did not.

Pro argues that it shouldn't cost much to put a box on wheels. True, but that would not be a car. We expect US cars to be able to travel on modern highways, keep up with traffic, and carry at least a couple of people and some goods. There are mass produced scooters that are motorized and come close to the thousand dollar mark, although most are not that cheap. A Vespa scooter than gets 70-75 mpg and has a top speed of 59 mph is priced at $4499. They are not cars.

It's remarkable that a fully functional car meeting US safety standards is available for $9985. Many people cannot afford a new car, but many also cannot afford a new house or any of many other expensive things. That's not an an argument that there must be some magical way to make any particular thing cheaper. It was not until my third used car that I could finally afford one that cost more than $200. It never occurred to me that new cars were supposed to be dirt cheap.

Pro claims, "R&d at this point is just to keep the looks sleeker and the on board electronics fancier." There are more than twenty independent car manufacturers spread around the globe competing in international markets, To compete, manufacturers are doing everything they can to reduce costs. There is an emerging market for very low end vehicles that have no electronics or air conditioning, and are not suitable for US roads or winter driving conditions. "Car manufacturers, of course, have always sought to cut costs and pack more value into each new-model generation to stay competitive. But now, emerging markets like India offer cheap engineering, inexpensive parts-sourcing, and low-cost manufacturing. For its new car, for example, Tata should be able to slash the cost of the engine to about $700, or 50% lower than a Western-developed equivalent, says one consultant close to the company."

What is best?

Pro argues that we have been arguing objective criteria, and cites price as objective criteria. No, that's just one attribute that a buyer weighs along with utility, performance, reliability, safety, appearance, and whatever else the buyer values. Most of the capabilities have objective measures like cargo capacity, horse power, and crash test results. If price were even the dominant factor, then the cheapest cars would be the best selling, and they are not. Pro bemoans the large numbers of SUVs that are sold. That admits that price is not the most important factor for those buyers, who could have chosen anything cheaper and did not.

I am sympathetic to the argument that people ought to be allowed to buy very cheap vehicles, even if they are not safe or comfortable. However, it's clear from the sales figures that few people in the US have that preference. Modern cars are doing an excellent job of meeting buyer demands, and that's shown by the lack of demand for cheap Spartan vehicles. Emerging markets in Asia are likely to be closer to matching what Pro thinks everyone ought to want.


Pro claims, "The biggest reason for needing a big car for safety is to protect against other big cars." I have proved that to be false, and Pro has offered no evidence to support the claim. If two vehicles collide head-on, then the small car will be better off if the other car is also small. However, head-on collision are rare, only about 2% of the total. Most collisions are from people hitting fixed objects (trees and utility poles), hitting animals, colliding at angles, or hitting road debris or the like, In all those cases, a larger vehicle is safer. Moreover, larger vehicles are better able to cope with snow, flooding, and other poor road conditions. In the cases of hitting other vehicles, trucks will sill be on the road, and there would have to be more of them.

The statistics I cited show that SUVs are about twice as safe as regular cars. So independent of all arguments, the bottom line is that SUVs are in fact safer.

Pro made the new argument, without support, that trucks are easier to avoid than passenger vehicles. Actually, fatal collisions with trucks are nearly twice as common as fatal collisions with other cars. The National Highway Safety Administration says, "... the car driver's behavior was more than three times as likely to contribute to the fatal crash than was the truck driver's behavior. In addition, the car driver was solely responsible for 70 percent of the fatal crashes, compared to 16 percent for the truck driver."

Pro argues that if everyone rode bicycles there would be no safety problem. Sure and if everyone walked there would be no safety problem. If bicycles could carry the passengers and cargo of a car, went 65 miles per hour on highways, and operated under all road conditions, there would be serious safety problems. They would skid off roads and hit trees just as cars do. Hitting a tree on a bicycle at 65 would not be a safe encounter.


Markets in India and China are likely to lead to the sale of vehicles that are essentially a scooter with four wheels and an enclosure to keep the rain off. They'll be cheaper than presently available cars. If so, does that mean that "Modern autos lack efficacy and efficiency"? No, efficiency is measured relative to accomplishing a specified task. Modern cars in the US do what buyers want, and they do it efficiently. Pro offered no evidence that the cars that US buyers want could be provided better or more cheaply. Pro's argument is that people should not want what they want. I think people overall correctly value safety, comfort, and utility.

The resolution is negated.
Debate Round No. 3
28 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
If people are concerned about the environment then quit making things only to be thrown away. Physics dictates that x amount of energy is required to move x amount of weight. Cars that would get 50 mpg must be sh!t box tin cans weighing under 2000 pounds to be able to even get out of it's own way. They will only serve the needs of a limited few. I get your point. I am tired of being dictated to by govt and what in it's complete and total ignorance thinks is best for no one. Build quality and people will buy it build garbage and people will buy it. The quality stuff is better for the environment the garbage isn't.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
The reason that cars are "too complicated" is mainly that they offer features that people want: radios, CD players, GPS, adjustable seats, air conditioning, power steering, power brakes, automatic transmissions, and so forth. Some people want safety features, some do not. I think there should be required pollution controls in urban areas because without them everyone's air is ruined.

I agree that there are government mandates that unnecessarily impact cost. The big ones have to do with safety. If people want to take risks they should be allowed to.

Products are designed with poor people in mind. The usual complaint is that there is too much low quality cheap stuff. Walmart and thousands of others do nothing but worry about how to make products that are both cheap and good enough to suit customer needs. If you think you need a beautiful stainless steel bcket that will last you a lifetime, it's available on the internet. Walmart sells cheap plastic buckets because that's what people want. Making low cost high volume products takes a great deal of engineering. It may not be apparent, but the engineering is going into the manufacturing process.

There are many complex products that befit poor people. Cell phones are a good example. The Third World is awash with cell phones, something that could not happen if it depended upona wired infrastructure. Radios and televisions are good examples as well. Drugs and vitamin supplements are cheap products of technology that benefit poor people.

Modern televisions have only a few chips, not separate functions on plugin cards. The whole card could theoretically be replaced, but it's probably not practical. It's akin to repairing a cell phone.

To make your case, you'd have to point to some specifics not make general claims that magic could happen. Look at those rope start vehicles in India. Would they sell here is allowed?
Posted by Lasagna 6 years ago

American auto companies, over the long span of their existence, have never done what this man is in the process of doing now:

This is inexcusable. This guy hasn't gotten around to developing the vehicle component yet, but really that research could have been done 75 years ago. Why wasn't it? How is it that well over a century after the automobile was invented it has yet to be perfected? How many decades of crash-testing does it take to make a safe design? How many decades of progress do we need to lower the cost of an engine to where everybody can afford them and fix them? If the American auto industry had been pooling its efforts to develop affordable, universal machinery, then nobody would be paying hundreds of dollars a month on car payments. The money someone normally puts as the down payment would be enough for the entire vehicle and even if it did break down more often the parts and service wouldn't be crippling like it is now. There would be so much recycled parts that people would have a hard time charging anything for them (service would be similarly simple).

Your analogy to television tells me that I still haven't gotten my point across to you. Transportation is one of humanity's most basic needs. Food, shelter, clothing, tools... transportation is not top 5 but certainly top 10 or 20. The need for viewscreens and the technology surrounding them (even taking into account computers and the periphery) isn't a basic human need and thus there is little moral reason to keep them basic enough for affordability. Televisions are also non-comparable in terms of safety and environmental effects.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
My point is mostly this. They are under engineering cars in important areas that shouldn't be and cars are getting way to complicated for no apparent reason. Like I said gas mileage isn't everything. The more complicated something is the more expensive it is to buy and to fix. I am not against technology, I am against using technology that makes what should be simple to fix and operate impossible to use and buy. The more advanced cars get the less people will be privileged enough to own one. I believe that is the ultimate goal of govt. To place so many regulations and requirements on autos that fewer people will be able to buy them in the future. And force them to ride smelly gross public transportation. Then if you want a truck or some larger vehicle you will have to pay a huge tax just to own it. That is the future of the auto. Televisions are vastly less complicated and could be fixed in the same way tube TVs used to be. They essentially replace the tubes with "Cards" Video card, sound card, etc. Most fixes on a tv are as simple as pulling the card out and replacing it with a new one. Unfortunately we are to stupid to do this because we might electrocute ourselves so no company will ever be started like the old vacuum tube tester like we used to have. Law suites and litigation, All part of the grand scheme. Make the poor suffer.
Posted by RoyLatham 6 years ago
sadolite, I don't know what kind of cars your working on, but replacing bushings in 3 or 4 years is extremely unusual. I've never had that happen. Things like water pumps and A/C compressors go after about 100K miles, but that's no worse than they used to be. Engines last a lot longer than they used to, mainly because of the improved lubricants. I kept my last American car for 210K miles, and the engine was still not burning oil.

Tires are so much better than they used to be, there's no comparison. Getting 10K miles from tires used to be standard, now its 60K. The large rim-sized tires are expensive because they are low profile, not because of the diameter.

A saw a piece on TV describing a low cost car in India. It was rope start, with the rope pull next to the driver's seat. The throttle was a hand unit like a motorcycle. It was cheap and it did keep the rain off.

When I was in high school I could repair televisions. Most of the time you could just see which tube didn't light up. Now I can't repair a TV because they are too complicated. Anyone want to got back to easy-to-repair vacuum tube electronics? I don't.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
And now an auto related conspiracy theory that I can give no evidence to substantiate. I think auto makers are in bed with the tire makers. The price difference from a 14" or 15" is negligible. But the price difference from a 15" to a 16" is quite sizeable $25 to $50. I think the auto makers put 16" and bigger tires on so the tire companies can charge more for tires.

I do acknowledge that taller rims are "in" But some cars don't require a 16" rim or bigger to achieve the same effect such as vans and more antiseptic looking cars.
Posted by Lasagna 6 years ago
The biggest losers are ALWAYS low income... It sounds like you agree with me for the most part, at any rate. I find it hard to believe that anyone who has struggled through owning/repairing automobiles wouldn't agree that there is something SERIOUSLY wrong here.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
Simple build them to last and build them so you don't have to have a degree in mechanical engineering just to fix the simplest problems. Also no proprietary diagnostic tools that only a dealer can get. That is my biggest beef with new cars. The average back yard mechanic is SOL if he wants to save a few bucks and fix his own car. You have to take it to the dealer and pay outrageous highway robbery rates that a lower income person couldn't possibly afford. The biggest losers in the future car market will be the lower income demographic. They will be SOL. I guess they will have to make their own cars from old cars that may or may not be legal to drive in the future.
Posted by Lasagna 6 years ago
Yes Roy I figured that computers would be an obvious rebuttal for you about complexity -> resources but I would say that's the exception, not the rule. When it comes to autos, we can save lots of resources by making them more simple and we'd be able to get more people areound with less expenditure. Something as simple as making the infrastructure only able to handle very small cars might do the trick.

sadolite I feel your pain, the auto industry is a joke in so many ways. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts as to how and change it, though.
Posted by sadolite 6 years ago
I think in about ten years the lower income people will look like Cuba. It will be cheaper to fabricate parts by hand for older cars than to fix a new car. That is if the gov't doesn't order them destroyed, which they have done once already. Cash for clunkers. rather than give them to the poor they crushed them.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by Mirza 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Countering votebomb.
Vote Placed by bozotheclown 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: That was a delicious round!!!
Vote Placed by Ore_Ele 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Starting in R2, Pro began making a TON of claims with little to no back up, many of them value judgements which I don't share. As seeing as no link was provided to back up the claim, there was no reason for me to believe them. The lack of sources from Pro really did harm his arguments on just about all points. It made it all too easy for Con to simply refute with simple sources.
Vote Placed by imabench 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: At first I thought it was about car companies but after reading the arguments the Con made some very good points about why cars have gotton heavier/safer and all that and at the end he provided more convincing arguments then the pro did. Pretty good (but unnecessarily long) debate :)