Friday, April 21, 2006


Consider the Ford F-150, the most sold single model of a vehicle in the world. Two aspects of it are exceptional. One, that it achieves this impressive feat while being sold almost exclusively in North America. And two, that it's so ludicrously wasteful.

A task is considered to have been completed with the most efficiency when the amount of energy expelled is as large as necessary and as small as possible. The index of the F-150 originally referred to its payload of 1500 pounds, although the Ford website tells me it varies between models. The car is powered by a 4.2-liter V6 or a choice of two V8s, and has an official consumption figure of around 14l/100km in town, falling to 11l/100km on the highway.

Now, assume you are in Europe and you need a service vehicle to deliver goods or equipment, and you think that three quarters of a ton should just about do it. You go to the dealership, and you buy...

A Renault Kangoo. Or a Peugeot Partner, or a Citroen Berlingo, or an Opel Combo, or, if you think you need a bit more space, a Ford Transit Connect. And here's the thing: a long-wheelbase Connect with a 90bhp diesel engine is rated at 900kg, or 2000 pounds. The official mileage is 30mpg in the city, and 40mpg on the highway.

Ah! you will say. But there is no way that a mere 90bhp will be able to shift all that weight!

You'll be wrong. A friend of mine works as a delivery driver for the Estonian postal service. I've had the experience of riding along with him in a Kangoo equipped with a 1.4l diesel putting out a manic 75bhp, with the back full of mail (and paper, as you might be aware, is quite heavy). Trust me: in the right hands, that thing flew.

And besides, American horses tend to be a lot less effective. I spent a bit of time in California a couple of years ago, and got to ride along, and briefly drive, a brand-spanking new F-250 King Ranch with a monster 6.8l diesel. I'm aware that US manufacturers tend to regard official power outputs liberally, but my chief impression was that nothing with 328bhp has any business being that slow.

Most Americans who admit the wastefulness of fullsize trucks justify it by their ability to tow things. Yet a European van, equipped with an engine of the same class - around two liters, around a hundred horsepower - will quite happily tow a race car on a trailer, or a small boat. And these are already beyond the weight limit when you need a special license.

Shall we attempt a moral here? The primary virtue of a commercial vehicle in Europe is efficiency. The primary virtue of a commerical vehicle in America is comfort. Europe embraces the principle of reasonable sufficiency, while America embraces the principle of overwhelming force. Europe will devote the minimally appropriate amount of energy to a task, whereas America will devote the maximally available amount.

America likes doing things. Europe likes getting things done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is weird. I really would like to see the Dodge Dakotas with the 2.8l Diesel (4 cyl 16 valve, made by VM) from the Jeep Cherokee/Liberty. I would even buy this combination of European economy and american comfort.

But until the barrel brent crude passes 100US$ there won't be such an option. This is especially said since there already was a small series of Dakotas with European Diesel engines:

The same applies to the Ford Ranger: Asia and Europe get a modern Common Rail Diesel from the Ford Transit. The US? No way!


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