Get your motor running: Engineer talks fuel economy

Steve Ciatti, a mechanical engineer at Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago, modifies diesel engines. By the time he's finished, emissions are reduced 66 to 95 percent.

By Anthony Raap, Medill Reports Chicago

Steve Ciatti, a mechanical engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, modifies diesel engines. By the time he finishes, emissions are reduced 66 to 95 percent and gas mileage improves. Ciatti, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin, often hears people grumble about fuel economy in U.S. vehicles.

Automakers, under pressure from Washington and consumers, agreed this year to an auto efficiency standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. But frustration lingers over how slow change is coming about. The problem extends beyond efficiency. Carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, linked to global warming, have largely gone unchecked.

Q: Why hasn’t there been more progress in fuel economy for cars sold in the U.S. despite the high price of gas?

A: It’s very simple. There isn’t much demand for fuel efficiency. Most people are not willing to pay extra for fuel-efficient technologies. Some people are, but in general the answer is “no.” So, short of mandating that people buy fuel-efficient vehicles — which traditionally Americans don’t like; they don’t like being told what to buy — don’t hold your breath.

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Posted November 7, 2012