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Driving Emotion

Paying a scary amount each week for fuel? You made that choice.

by Julian Edgar

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I think the time has come to nail AutoSpeed’s editorial colours firmly to the mast. It’s a perspective which I believe has always been present but perhaps has become increasingly clearly defined over the last five years. We’ve said it in every road test of a new V8 Commodore or Falcon, and in plenty of other new car tests as well. I’ve written about it specifically in previous opinion columns, and the implication has been clear in our modified hybrid stories.

And what is it? Well, guys, if each week you bemoan the huge dollars you’re spending on fuelling your car, you’ve only yourselves to blame. Why? Because the cost is directly related to the choices you have made. Nope, not the government, not the big oil companies, not world instability or the geographical quirk that has placed so much oil within politically volatile areas.

Your choices.

In Australia we have incredibly cheap fuel. Yes, even now. Like electricity and water, it’s a resource that is clearly and hugely undervalued. If a litre of fuel cost $5 it would perhaps be a bit closer to the true value, defined in scarcity of resources and the fact that it is unarguably finite.

The release of the V8 VE Commodore has crystallised the issue. Here’s a car that appears utterly wrong for the time. (In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that no one in Holden is employed to consider the future, to think about social and economic change.) And don’t give me that bullshit that Holden cannot be blamed; that because a new car is five years in gestation, Holden could have had no idea that fuel prices would start to bite and large car sales to fall.

To be blunt, blind Freddy could have foreseen it. Especially in regard to the V8 models, we’ve been saying in every test over the last 6 years that the fuel consumption was unacceptable.

With a quoted highway of 7.4 and a city figure of 13 litres/100km, you could be forgiven for thinking that it's a frugal V8 in a way previously foreign to Aussie V8s. It isn't. We averaged 16 litres/100km in a mix of country, urban, hard and soft kays. New Car Test - Commodore SS 5.7 V8, from January 2000, is just one example.

On the HSV launch of the VY Series II models I rode in one of the cars with an HSV engineer. In that drive I made the point to him that the fuel consumption of the cars was atrocious and he looked at me blankly. We’d been in a convoy driving as sedately as humanly possible through the flowing roads around Lang Lang in Victoria. He pointed to the trip fuel consumption (showing something like 9 or 10 litres/100 km) and suggested that in fact the fuel consumption was excellent. It’s the same logic that has Holden V8 drivers writing in to us saying how wonderful the economy is for such a large engine.

Firstly, WTF is this stuff about “for a large engine”? That’s exactly like saying that doing the 100 metre sprint in 30 seconds is a pretty good time - for a really fat person. Secondly, to get this sort of fuel economy, the car has to be always driven incredibly gently. And if that’s the case, why buy a big V8 in the first place?

Look, let’s make it clear: we don’t have any problems at all with people who choose to buy and run thirsty cars. It’s a free world: if you want to pay the bill, go for it. We love driving large and thirsty V8s as much as the next enthusiast, but we choose not to buy such cars for our personal transport because we cannot justify the weekly cost. And, further to that, we cannot justify the risk that such a choice exposes us to.

Risk?

It’s a point which often seems to be overlooked when people pose questions about the savings possible in buying a diesel-powered car, or a hybrid-powered car, or even just a more frugal conventional car. The savings of the alternative choice are always calculated in current fuel values – surely, one of the most stupid ideas ever. So, someone might say: “It’ll take you five years to pay off the increased cost of buying a diesel car,” for example. But that comparison is predicated on fuel prices not rising! How dumb is that?

Here’s a quick example. You can buy either a Prius (about 5 litres/100km) or a Camry (about 10 litres/100km). And yes, both cars have similar interior space and performance. If fuel costs $1.50 a litre and you travel 500km a week, the fuel cost for the Prius will be $37.50 and for the Camry, $75, a saving per week of $37.50 to the Prius. But what if fuel costs $2.50 a litre? Then, the Prius costs $62.50 and the Camry costs $125, a saving per week that has risen to $62.50.

And that’s the point about risk. If you choose (note: choose!) to buy a thirsty car, your risk exposure to high fuel costs is increased. That’s especially important if because of a lack of public transport, you use that car for a long daily commute to work and so you’re locked into a high number of kilometres each week.

About this time people will be sharpening their email quills.

I earn $370 a week and I can afford to run a V8.

Excellent: your money; your choice. No, seriously, no sarcasm intended. But don’t complain when fuel prices rise – you have chosen to accept the risk.

It’s all right for you guys but I am stuck with buying a secondhand family car for under $5000.

Fine, what’s the problem? There are plenty of economical family cars around for that money. My EF manual Falcon gets around 8 litres/100km on the highway and seldom more than 10 litres/100km in city conditions. (The auto trans cars suck a lot more.) And if you don’t need a huge family car, there are plenty of ones a class or two smaller than get even better economy.

I need a [insert huge vehicle] to tow my boat/caravan.

Again: your money, your choice. And again, don’t complain when fuel prices rise – you have chosen to accept that risk.

I want a high performance car that I can modify.

One of the highest performance cars I have owned had one turbo, one water/air intercooler – and a 660cc engine. I can’t remember the exact economy but it was certainly in the Sixes (in litres/100km), no matter how the car was driven. Any decently set up 2-litre turbo will get excellent economy when driven normally and only start sucking at really big throttle angles. (Of course, a focus on modification to achieve an amazing peak power figure at the wheels will help destroy this: again, your choice.)

It seems to us that many enthusiasts have a blinkered approach.

I am stuffed if I can see why you need a thirsty, large engined car to have fun in. In fact, I am stuffed if I can see why you need to have a thirsty car - of any mechanical descriptionto have fun in. I am amazed at the stupidity of many car enthusiasts who sneer at small engine cars, at hybrids, at diesels.

By all means, if you want to and can afford the weekly dollars outlay and the exposure to risk, buy and drive a thirsty car. But don’t complain about high fuel prices.

After all, you made the choice.

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