Yes, MIT economists can be wrong about cars

MIT economist Christopher Knittel recently published a report analyzing the fuel economy of vehicles on the streets in 2006.

He then compared those statistics, and the gains made, to vehicles rolling around in 1980. According to Knittel, the reason it only seems as if vehicles have increased their fuel economy by approximately 15% between 1980-2006 is that the weight and power of vehicles have jumped exponentially.

Had the vehicles on the streets today maintained size and power similar to the vehicles in 1980, says Knittel, the overall gain in fuel efficiency would be 60%. Knittel claims that vehicles have increased their weight by 26% between 1980-2006, while bolstering their horsepower by 107% in the same range – thus negating fuel economy gains.


However, what Knittel fails to grasp is that much of the weight the vehicle have gained over the years comes by way of government mandated safety equipment and improvements in rollover protection. The increase in weight can also be attributed – in part – to more SUVs on the road. Battery packs in hybrids also contribute to weight gain in vehicles. Safety equipment like airbags, modern emissions controls, and stronger steel and side impact reinforcements all add significantly to the weight of a vehicle. Frankly, it sounds a lot like Knittel is simply bending numbers to suit his needs.


But what really gets under my skin is that Knittel suggests raising fuel taxes in an effort to reduce emissions and wean Americans off foreign oil. Yes, even more taxes at a time where unemployment in many areas is at an all-time high. Great solution, Mr. Economist.

This, in Knittel’s opinion, would “create demand” (he says create demand, I say force) and prompt Americans to seek more fuel-efficient vehicles. The scary part is that Knittel has other economists buying into this so-called hypothesis and with the Obama administration seemingly set on a green legacy; I fear this asinine solution might gain favor in Washington.


What I see happening if a higher tax on fuel came to pass is this. People that have less fuel-efficient vehicles for whatever the reason – be it a job or because that’s what they had they money to buy – may not be able to afford to drive. 

It is important to realize that not everyone in the country can just go out and buy a more efficient vehicle. No vehicle in many parts of the country means no work, as many states lack a viable public transportation infrastructure.

No work means less food on the table for families. Less food means more on welfare, which means more strain on an already strained system. 

This is patently the worst idea ever for reducing fuel consumption and pollution I have ever come across. I’m sure it sounds nice in an MIT ivory tower with a comfortable income and a robust public transportation system, but many Americans know just how bad additional taxes on fuel would be.