Latest Reader Question: Suppressed Engine Designs? (April 25, 2018)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

James asks: Eric, I am one of those who does not consider myself a car guy and yet the episodes with you on the Tom Woods Show are some of my favorite. I don’t listen to every episode anymore but every now and then find myself asking, “When are we going to get another Eric Peters episode?” Anyway, I was just wondering your opinion on the idea that gets thrown around sometimes about the auto industry buying patents for more efficient engine designs and then just sitting on them. Is this true? Is it because there is a relationship with the oil industry such that they want less efficient cars? Thank you.

My reply: It’s possible, of course. But I am skeptical about it because of the lack any hard evidence. At least, that I am aware of. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Otherwise, it’s just hearsay.

That said, I do know that proven/existing fuel saving technology is being suppressed – via regulation. I refer to diesel engines.

VW was working on a prototype small car capable of averaging at least 60 MPG – and as much as 80-100 MPG. It was powered by one of their excellent diesel engines.

I am convinced the regulatory attack on diesels is not because of their emissions but because they pose a competitive threat (in the eyes of the regulatory apparat) to the electric cars being force-fed to us.

Diesels suffer from none of the EV’s major functional gimps (abbreviated range, long recharge times) and absolutely obliterate EVs on a cost-per-car basis.

Example: VW (before the “cheating” debacle) would sell you a TDI-powered Jetta sedan for about $22k.  This car was capable of 50-plus MPG on the highway and had a range of 600 miles-plus on a full tank. Compare this with the least expensive new electric car you can currently buy – the Nissan Leaf. That one costs almost $30,000 and has a best-case range of around 150 miles and needs at least 30-45 minutes to recover a partial charge.

It’s sad.

. . .

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  1. These conspiracy theories ignore two realities about patents:

    1. Patents are public record in the US and most other industrialized countries. They can’t be “bought” and kept secret.

    2. Patents expire. After no more than about 20 years, depending on the country, the patent ceases to be in effect, and then anyone can copy and produce the invention as claimed in that patent. Anyone.

    To use a famous example alleged in similar conspiracy theories, the Fish carburetor patents are freely available to view and can easily be found with search engines. They were granted many decades ago and have long been in the public domain. Knock yourself out if you want to build one of Fish’s designs.

    Trademarks and trade secrets are not patents, but are something else. Trade secrets can last indefinitely—one example is the formula for Coca-Cola—but you cannot buy a patent and turn it into one. The company that developed the trade secret or buys some other company’s unpatented secret gets to keep it secret, but any attempt to apply for a patent makes it public. That’s why Coca-Cola never applied for a patent on its soft drink.

    Hope this clears up the issue. This is one of many topics about which there is a lot of folklore.


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