December 4, 2012

The Foxification of the US

"Get me to a bathroom, quick, or I'll pee in my pants laughing!" This was my less-than-dignified reaction when I first read the news that the Ford Fusion has been named the "Green Car of the Year 2013". Never say I never tell you the way it is.

The Fusion is nearly as long, and nearly as heavy, as a typical minivan. Its 1.6L EcoBoost version "achieves" "up to" 37 mpg - on the highway, that is. Its average fuel efficiency is 28-29 mpg. I wouldn't call that an achievement.

A bit of perspective: the 2012 Ford Mondeo, the European version of the Fusion, gets 41 mpg average from it's 1.6L Duratorq engine, as reported by British drivers who on the whole have rather more vigorous driving habits than Americans. Ford.co.uk quoted its fuel efficiency as 55mpg, but everybody knows that European fuel economy numbers overstate the actual efficiency. Ford has pulled that engine and now offers the Mondeo with the 1.6L ECOnetic engine, also quoted at 55 mpg(US) or 66 mpg(imperial).

The "basic" US Fusion with the 2.5L Duratec engine that gets 26 mpg average? Not even for sale in Europe. In the UK, the largest engine you can buy with a Fusion is the 2.0L Duratec gasoline engine (quoted at 30mpg).

The Fusion Hybrid does get 47mpg, respectable mileage for a car this size. It's also $6,000 more expensive than the base model. But the award explicitly covers all Fusions, not only the hybrid.


Eventually, I stopped laughing and started to read around. There's the recall news on Ford's Fusion and Escape models as the EcoBoost engine tends to overheat and is a fire hazard. Embarrassing.

But my mood turned grimmer as I started finding, all over all the car-related news outlets and blogs: "Ford Fusion gets Green Car of the Year Award". That's it. An endless repeat of the mileage figures, maybe a few other details, and invariably accompanied by a photo, taken from a low angle to emphasize its "aggressive" front, since that seems to be so attractive.

The popular photo angle brings to mind the perspective of a three-year old, about to be run over by this beast. Ummm: this is attractive?

So, the Green Car of the Year award goes to a car that does less than 30 mpg, well on the guzzly side of the 40mpg average of cars sold in Europe this year, and US news outlets report that without further questioning. Even the New York Times, usually open-eyed, has no comment.

Kind of reminds me of the episode now known as "Karl Rove's melt-down" on Fox News on the evening of the 2012 presidential elections when, in front of an audience of millions, Karl Rove questioned the election results in the face of Fox News' own team of election analysts' calling Ohio for Obama.

A number of democrat-leaning news outlets and wonks had field day reflecting on how much Fox News is out of touch with reality in general, and with the reality of the 2012 elections in particular.

Given the election results you can be smug about Fox News' disconnect. But let's be clear: On the subject of cars, the entire US press has been Foxified.

There is a near-complete disconnect with the view from the rest of the planet: that Americans drive over-sized and over-powered gas guzzling automobiles - what comedian Sean Lock calls "bungalows with windshields". If you can report, with a straight face, that a car getting 29mpg gets the Green Car of the Year Award, you're out of touch with the planetary reality.

No wonder US negotiators are having such a hard time at Doha this week, or anywhere the need for curbing carbon dioxide emissions is discussed. When it comes to real and significant action on climate change, the US as a whole is still in deep denial.

Either the US press honestly don't see the elephant in the room and have selective myopia like their audience - after all, US journalists are Americans - or they don't have the guts to break the news.

It is not bold to only be saying things like, "Climate change is happening now", and leave it at that. We need a better effort.

We need the popular press to say it explicitly, loud and clear, and keep at it until we all hear it: That American households urgently need to make deep cuts in our carbon emissions, and that our cars contribute significantly to those emissions. That one possible way to go is to install a carbon tax that will make everything we buy twice as expensive as it is now.

Among other things.

Earth to the fourth estate: Are you there?


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