The MPGe Scam

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You’ve no doubt heard the joke. About how your actual mileage will  . . . vary.

Everyone knows this means: Expect to get less than whatever the EPA advertises on the new car window sticker. But in the EPA’s defense, at least the “city” and “highway” numbers we’re used to seeing are comprehensible. And – within a roughly 10 percent margin of error – they correspond with on-the-road reality.

Your car might not get the advertised 35 MPG on the highway. But it won’t be 15 MPG. Not unless you punch a hole in the gas tank.

Then there’s this “MPGe” business that’s beginning to show up on new car window stickers. On the stickers of plug-in hybrids – which all of a sudden everyone seems to be selling.

Your mileage will really vary.

106 MPGe! (Chevy Volt) 97 MPG! (Ford Fusion Energi) 74 MPGe! (Mercedes GLC350e).

These are spectacular claims – not unlike those late-night TV miracle diet pill ads that promise you’ll drop 20 pounds a week.

Call now!

Let’s dissect this scam – the MPGe thing, I mean  – and then get into the reasons for the scam. Actually, let’s get into the reasons first. They center on the frantic – on the part of the car manufacturers – need to sell or at least get rid of plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

Frantic, because the car companies are forced to manufacture them – not because of customer demand but because of the jihad being waged by the government against internal combustion via de jure “zero emissions” vehicle production mandates and de facto production mandates such as the fuel economy fatwas – which cannot be complied with absent the production of vehicles that don’t use any fuel (well, any gas) either all the time (pure electric cars) or some of the time (plug-in hybrids).

These vehicles help with the averages – the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) averages.

By adding “e” to the MPG mix.

In addition to the usual IC-engine city/highway figures, the electric mileage is factored in. It is computed as follows: 33.7 kilowatts of electricity is equivalent, in terms of energy, to a gallon of gas. Thus, an electric car or partial electric car (plug-in hybrid) that uses 29 kilowatt-hours every 100 miles of driving would rate 115 MPGe, according to the EPA.

Got that?

Of course not. You’re not supposed to. You are supposed to believe that the plug-in hybrid you’re looking at is going to achieve 106 or 97 or 74 MPG – just add “e”!

Just like those late-night TV diet pills that are going to turn you into a bikini model by the end of next week.

There is an element of truth to the “e” MPG claims – but it’s a slender threaded one.

A plug-in hybrid can avoid burning gas for awhile. A little while.  The best of them, as defined by how far they can go without burning gas – operating entirely on the batteries, assuming a full charge – is the Chevy Volt. It can go about 53 miles on a fully topped-off battery. I can verify the Volt is capable of that, having test driven one (see here). But after the 53 miles, the IC engine takes over for the depleted batteries and will provide most if not all the motive force until you can find a place (and the time) to recharge the batteries.

This is how all plug-ins work. Run out of juice, burn gas.

And it won’t be a little – because plug-ins are heavy. About 400-500 pounds heavier than an otherwise-identical but not hybridized version of the same car. And because plug-ins are under-engined for their weight. When they have to fall back on IC to keep on going, the little engine struggles . . . and burns.

And most plug ins can’t go nearly as far as the Volt without running out of juice. The Ford Fusion Energi plug-in I test-drove last week (reviewed here) goes about 25 miles on the batteries. Maybe. If you drive very . . . gently.

That is typical for plug-ins.

Enter the scam.

You’ll never come close to the advertised “e” MPGs – unless most of your driving is within the plug-in’s radius of action on the batteries. Since every plug-in on the market – with the exception of the Volt – has a maximum electric-drive range of no more than 25 miles, very best case – you will almost certainly be burning a lot more gas than the sticker leads you to believe.

How much gas?

About 33 MPG (Volt) and 37 MPG (Fusion) was my real-world mileage once the batteries went flaccid and the IC engine took over.

It’s not bad mileage – especially given the weight of these things. But it’s less than half (and as little as a third) the touted “e” MPGs. And when you take into account the price of a plug-in vs. the same car without the plug-in gear, it’s not just net money loser – it’s a money vaporizer – whatever the MPGs.

Which, I suspect, is why they – the government and the car companies – are resorting to this  . . . let’s call it what it is – deception. They have to – in order to trick people into buying these things. Because why else would people buy them? They cost on average $5,000-$7,000 more than the non-hybridized/IC-only version of the same vehicle.

The math is  . . . unfavorable.

But the car companies are desperate.

And to be fair to them, what choice have they got? They have to comply with the “zero emissions” regs – even if there are emissions, just elsewhere.

They are also under extreme duress as far as the mileage fatwas are concerned. This more than anything else accounts for the otherwise-inexplicable effusion of plug-ins, including extreme examples of this mania, such as the decision by BMW and Mercedes to offer a plug-in version of every vehicle they sell.

They – the Germans – have to deal with the additional duress of laws in their home market that forbid IC cars from operating in certain areas. Plug-ins (and electrics) get around that fatwa.

But it’s all entirely artificial, driven by what has become much more than a mere nudge to get anything exclusively IC-engined off the road. It’s now a shove.

From above.

It is very interesting to take note of the fact that “consumer advocates” and “public citizens” are silent on this oleaginous business.

Yet the consumer – loathsome term, isn’t it? – is being conned. Realistically, unless your drive is put-putting a few city blocks with a Faberge egg under the accelerator pedal and you can recharge when you get there before you need to get back here – your mileage, “e” or otherwise, is going to vary a helluva lot from what the EPA is hoping you’ll be dumb enough to believe it will be.

. . .

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61 COMMENTS

  1. Great job Eric. Elected greedy power hungry politicians are not the big problem. Unelected greedy, power hungry people with lifetime jobs, hiring others like themselves, who think, believe it is in their power to do as they please. They and lobbyists using the political method of force to get their way. The biggest problem is are complacency to accept this BS and do nothing . We and our neighbors who are the government are our own worst enemies. F_-_ the fuel economy and all who wish to be governed by kakistocracy and criminals.

    • But greedy power hungry politicians put them there, fund them, and refuse to stop them. We need a significant house cleaning in DC, from the top on down. Ain’t gonna happen as long as they play their version of Robin Hood. Take from all but the rich (including the poor) and give all of it (less commission) to the poor.

  2. Gee, my 2008 VW Jetta gets 33 MPG on the highway…and I own the car outright. How far we haven’t come since then, and at what great expense!

  3. I was really hoping that Trump was going to kill the insane 54 mpg average regulation that is coming up in just 6 more years. Seems like it would be the kind of thing that he would love to kill, so that he could look like he was really helping the common folks, and killing something that Obama mandated, but it doesn’t look like he has any interest. He likes playing with big toys: The Military, Space Forces, and Nukes. I am 60 years old and drive less than 8K miles miles per year, so I am really hoping I can stretch my Oh-Thirteen Focus SE Hatchback out to the end of my driving days – “Hoping” I don’t have to buy one of these completely idiotic government mandated Rube Goldberg Machines that will soon be almost the only vehicles available.

    • Hi Charlie,

      Me too… I know someone who knows a guy inside the administration; I practically begged this person to try to get my 5 minutes with the Orange One, in the hope that maybe I could get him thinking about why it is any of the government’s rightful business to be dictating MPG or even saaaaaaaaaaafety standards to (cough) “free”people… No dice. My powers aren’t what they were, once.

  4. The Primary problem for diesel engines is the fuel. One needs to understand the problem in order to understand the fix. With emission targets this low. Everything matters. The diesel fuel problem is air contamination. what is the chemical make-up of air?

    • MC, the forest fires across the US every year contribute more pollution than the whole car and heavy truck fleets put together. However this never gets mentioned. Further proof that the regs are solely to remove freedom from the lives of the civvies.

  5. Hi Eric,

    A good point you bring up. Actually glad you did the equivalency calculation of how they do the MPGe, not seen anyone write about this before. Seriously see the marketing of these cars as such a con. the way it says a big save 9900 – almost as if its trying to make it look economically sensible to pay approx 10k extra for the “e” version of the car. Then you start reading the fine print. Which nobody ever does. And even if they do the average person will never understand (how many do you think know what a KW is)…..

    Another thing I noticed (not sure if you agree) – as like you say these are generally quite under engined, when you floor them hard the engine AND battery are used at the same time to make them go!! I suspect this will not help with the fuel economy…. As time goes on and the engines become smaller (which they will as they try to make them cheaper and more efficient on paper to meet CAFE), this will happen more and more. And effectively, like the tiny turbo engines I any real world benefit be lost….

  6. Have you ever read up on Biodiesel? It increases nox
    Have you ever read up on the Renewable fuel standard. RFS?
    Have you ever read up on RIN Fraud?
    VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes are victims of Over-regulation from power mad bureaucrats and lazy stupid politicians? The American taxpayer and others got unknowingly shafted.
    And you right VW rolled over. Bunch of gutless wonders.
    I own a 2015 VW Golf TDI sportwagon. Best Car I have ever owned

    • Hi Mike,

      Yes, on all counts. I’ve written about these things extensively; done lots of radio… I do my best to spread the word… but my powers aren’t what they once were.

      • You do a great job. Thanks for all you do. I listen and read your work when ever I see it.
        Ever heard of air contamination? Fuel cavitation? fuel aeration? Hydraulic flip? small problems individually. Big problems collectively over time. When any of the problems are dealt with there is a marked difference.

        Your powers could be restored with the right story. If it was real breakthrough. If your interested my email address is here. There is a problem that has been missed.

  7. I would like to share my experience with the Volt. I leased a Chevy Volt LT at the beginning of March. I use this car for around town activities. I have driven approximately 1700 miles. Thus far I have not purchased fuel for this vehicle. I like it much better than the Ford Fusion Hybrid SE I previously had. The back up camera is excellent given the large screen display. In my opinion, if you drive less than 50 miles per day this is one to consider.

      • That’s what I never hear. How much does the electric bill go up. Some of us live in areas of the country with pretty high electric rates.

        Granted at the moment some electric companies are giving out “free” electric for electric cars users (generally at night). I know the electric company I am stuck with does (or did). But it’s a program that will have an end, so the cost will at some point be put back on the actual user (rather then everybody).

        And we never hear about the costs to upgrade electric service to homes and neighborhoods. You generally have to add a second electric panel for the car, since most homes don’t have enough space on their existing panel for another big use. And most neighborhoods would need big upgrades to handle even a handful of electric cars. Most places (even in the USA) are very close to brownout conditions as it is.

        • The Volt doesn’t have a very big battery compared to a pure EV like the Bolt, so it can charge overnight even from 120VAC.

          There’s no need to upgrade the electric service panel.

          And using electricity is ~1/3 the cost of using gasoline.

          • Hi Bill,

            I think all plug-ins can charge from a standard 120V household outlet; it just takes a long time for them to recharge! The “fast” (240V) charger makes it feasible to get 80 percent charge back in 30-45 minutes or so.

          • Hi Bill,

            Yes, the electricity cost is less than the cost of gas. But one must factor in the cost of the plug-in car itself. In general, it’s about $5,000 more than a standard/non-hybrid version of the same car or an equivalent car. If the plug in reduces your fuel consumption by say 40 percent – which is optimistic in my experience – it will probably still take the car’s lifetime to make up the higher up front costs.

          • Well, I can see some advantage to home charged electric car even if it isn’t cheaper. You don’t have to stop after work to buy gas in the wind and rain and then get car jacked at the station – ha!

            But where I live there is basically NOTHING within a 50 mile round trip, except for my own property and a few neighbors, and something like a Volt could barely handle our roads when dry, let alone when muddy or a foot of snow.

            Now, something like an electric “jeep” would be great for bouncing around our land and the neighborhood. Would never even have to drive it to town to buy gas, and then be a quarter empty when we get home. But it would have to be CHEAP!

              • Yeah, but at many times the cost of an old jeep or 4wd pickup. I think the ones I looked at were something like $25K when you can get a clunker for local use for under $5K. It would take forever to save the difference in gas.

        • Let me get this straight: you charge your Chevy Volt battery at NIGHT off of your solar system batteries ???

          (or maybe you live on the other side of the world where the sun shines at night)

          • NOTE: Sarcasm below. If this offends you look the other way or don’t read.
            Yep, tp, anything is possible with solar panels. And by the way, there is this wonderful pill that takes 3 pounds a day off your body with no side effects……………….

        • So glad I could help you out financially by way of government confiscation for the subsidies on your solar and electric car.

          I almost feel better about the big check I wrote to the Feds for my quarterly taxes now, not.

    • And – what are the electric outlet requirements for your Chevy Volt?

      120V 20A, or something more like a dryer/welder plug ???

  8. I didn’t know the MPGe was just a calculation. I was under the impression that Uncle had come up with a test in addition to the standard one used on gassers. Sure explains a lot.

    it might be interesting to see a hybrid with a recharge cycle that used the ICE when parked but not able to get connected to a charging station. If you charged the battery off the engine running in the power band it might be very efficient. And turn off all the fuel consuming accessories (since there’d be no one inside) while you’re at it. Then use the battery pack for acceleration and getting moving from a dead stop, and use the combustion engine for “baseload” while cruising.

  9. Wow.

    Americans are such pussified snowflakes now that they want the Gestapo to hold their hand when they pee-pee.

    Americans used to support freedom, but they have now morphed into Nazis and Communists. Americans will easily go to the gulags because Fascists think the police state only affects Commies and Communists believe tyranny targets Nazis.

    Conservatives tend to support small government, be moral, go to church, be responsible, be independent, and oppose killing unborn children. Conservatives generally dislike alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, and minorities.

    Liberals often favor science and Socialism and are impulsive. Leftists are more likely to support welfare, drinking, drug use, homosexuality, and open borders.

    Since Americans tolerate debt, wars, nanny state laws, Obamacare, food stamps, regulations, offshoring, homosexuality, increasing taxes, illegal immigrants, security cameras, license plate readers, checkpoints, redlight cameras, speed cameras, FBI facial and voice recognition, curfews, gun bans, searches without warrants, mandatory minimums, DNA databases, CISPA, SOPA, NDAA, IMBRA, private prison quotas, no knock raids, take down notices, no fly lists, terror watch lists, Constitution free zones, stop and frisk, 3 strikes laws, kill switches, National Security Letters, kill lists, FBAR, FATCA, Operation Chokepoint, civil forfeiture, CIA torture, NDAA indefinite detention, secret FISA courts, FEMA camps, laws requiring passports for domestic travel, IRS laws denying passports for tax debts, gun and ammo stockpiles, laws outlawing protesting, police militarization, NSA wiretapping, the end to the right to silence, free speech bans, private prisons, FOSTA, TSA groping, and Jade Helm then what is to stop the elites from sending the 99% to the concentration camps?

    The US has crossed every line.

    Life has become unbearable. Who wants to live in a prison? Hard work is punished with taxes and regulations, jobs have been offshored, illegal immigrants are flooding the country, and laziness is rewarded with welfare.

    • and overseas the US is the biggest sponsor of terrorism on the planet, from al-Qaeda (CIA) to ISIS (DoD) the US funds and supports terrorism, as well as engages in it directly.
      The US public is FDH – Fat Dumb and Happy.
      The FedGov is as bad or worse than the USSR now.

  10. This is VW had to be slapped down by Uncle, with the Jetta TDI getting 50+ MPG, the Polo at 83 mpg and the UP! TDI at over 100 mpg (real world) this would kill the hybrid market.
    Plus the state does not want us to be able to travel 800-1000 miles out of our area without having to find fuel (which puts them more in control of our movements).

    • you are correct. VW may have cheated. But USEPA and CARB cheated first. VW was victim of very elaborate shakedown.

      • I do not accept that they “cheated” in any way. It was a reasonable thing to do as the cars put out less total emissions per mile from what I understand they only had a spike of NOX at a certain spot in the cycle where they leaned the mixture, but overall they were cleaner, but that was NOT what this was all about.
        I am so disappointed that Winterkorn rolled over. They could have tied up the EPA for decades with a $billion (cheap) in legal fees, and probably would have won. Instead, he decided to “cooperate”.
        The takeaway – NEVER cooperate with the feral government.

        • Right you are, Alex. VW did exactly what U.S. GovCo schools do, they prepped for the test. If you drive like the EPA test cycle it will perform as advertised but, if you don’t drive like that won’t. And, NOBODY drives like that. That’s another dirty little scam. With all due respect, Eric, you’re too kind to say mileage may vary by 10% and you seem fine with it. Try being “within 10%” on your taxes and see how the IRS reacts.

          Government is an institution that was created by civilized people with the false belief if would advance “civilization”. I submit the experiment has failed. As civilized people we need to find other ways to organize our affairs that do not involve the oppressive, corrupt, cruel and abusive entity known as “government”.

          • “Government is an institution that was created by civilized people with the false belief if would advance “civilization”. ”

            Mark, another way of looking at it is that government was created by sociopaths and foisted upon civilized people, sold by the sociopaths as a way of advancing society. It seems that the sociopaths start small and gradually expand their control to levels that suit those who benefit most from government control.

            Of course, I’m a nutjob anarchist who was once a libertarian minarchist, so my view may just be the ravings of a profoundly disturbed mental defective.

            A feature of such mental disturbance is the absolute inability of the nutjob to see just how advanced his derangement is. I may be as fucked in the squash as Trump, who thinks of himself as a stable genius, and my affliction prevents me from seeing myself accurately.

            • I try to give people who I don’t know the benefit of the doubt. However, your assessment is probably more accurate than mine. I agree that “Hey, hey, ho, ho GovCo, Govco’s got to go!”

            • You’ve pretty much nailed it: it all started the moment human societies began to generate significant levels of ‘surplus’ production.

              In hunter-gatherer societies, the main ‘investment goods’ – places to ‘store’ excess production – are children and livestock. There are others (weapons, for example) but “kids and cows” are the main ones.

              The surplus is generally not enough to ‘fully fund’ the life of a parasite, but there will be someone in the mix who gets away with lower productivity because they can bullshit the rest (medicine men, shamans and the like).

              So even in a smallish clan (say, 20-30 people, of whom ~20% are kids), you’ll get one or two able-bodied grifters whose life is subsidised by the group. That’s quite apart from people whose lives are subsidised anyhow (the elderly, for example).

              Once agriculture happens, productivity skyrockets – fecundity follows; populations grow… and the outright quantity of stuff that is available for grifters to target is suddenly more than enough to fully fund their existence (and they can then grift labour from the society as well). A fully-funded parasite class emerges, and from there to actual palaces is relatively short.

              And of course every Fuhrer needs vast numbers of Little Eichmanns to administer the pelf – so the bureaucracy is the next cab off the rank.

              And they need propaganda to keep the masses believing that the grifting classes are performing a vital public service (keeping the nation safe from invasion; keeping demons at bay… the whole megillah).

              “Poets, priests and politicians, have words to thank for their positions; words that speak to your submission; and no-one’s jamming their transmission”

              It’s not remotely ‘tin-foil-hat’; it’s the state of nature. What is slightly harder to understand is that over the broad sweep of human history, a very large proportion of adult humans have been prepared to put up with it.

              At the end of the day, it’s rational not to agitate against the grifters; those who try to kick against the traces face significant, direct, personal costs… whereas the benefits of anarchism are indirect and diffuse – and while they are significant, they only eventuate if the transition to anarchism is successful.

              So it’s “grifters exist; Game Theory keeps them in place“. Sad, but true – although hopefully less true as technology advances and the grift is made clear to more people.

        • Alex, that was a disappointment for sure. The tobacco corporations did the same thing. It seemed that not a single one of their legal departments had an attorney who would have challenged the feds’ standing to sue “on behalf of the states”.

          Even with standing, the feds would have had trouble showing any injury to the states that wanted to try to sue. All of the states and the federal government had collected taxes for the sale of tobacco, which would have served to offset any costs that might have been cited as damages to the state’s budgets, but the lawyers stuck together, corporate and government lawyers, all swapping spit and dry-humping among themselves while everyone else paid through the nose in money and autonomy.

          I think that may have been the case with VW as well, betrayed by their own legal departments into surrendering and handing over much more than the feds could have gained if there had been a fight. The imprisonment of one of their department heads just added insult to injury.

          All of the corporate attorneys involved would be fired if there was any justice in the world of commerce.

          • Ed, Alex – I always suspect that the big corporates always roll over because they realise that in the end more and more regulation and red tape will PROTECT their business from smaller and more lean competitors.

            An interesting example I’m seeing these days related to the tobacco industry is the vape shops. A lot of new small companies are popping up all around selling the liquid / e cigarets. And there not much regulation here yet, hence they are able to do so. That said, there are no large brands or chains yet that stick out, and its all a bunch of small corner shops making their own mixes. But the powers that be dont like this kind of thing, and as we speak, the big tobacco companies are lobbying the EU hard to start regulating these as well, as they are pissed at how these little guys could have snuck under and started taking away their customers…. Ofcourse all this is being pushed as for health and safety and for the good of the public… Who will probably happily accept it…

            • Nasir,
              A couple of week ago the fine citizens of San Francisco voted that flavored vape oil and menthol cigarettes can no longer be sold in the city. The county supervisors of San Mateo County just south of San Francisco voted the same thing. (without voter approval, if that matters)

              • Don’t know how e-cigarette products are taxed, but I suspect the true reason for banning them is the loss in tax revenue as more smokers take up vaping and stop buying cigarettes.

                • Escher,
                  No, this was all about the “chillllllldren”! Sales to minors, big tobacco targeting “chillllldren”. Like I said, they only banned menthol cigs, not regular cigs. You should’ve seen the campaign commercials on TV and heard the propaganda on the radio, sickening. So yeah, 2/3 of SF voted for it.

              • The irony – wasn’t California once the place people went to get away from all the regulation and be free and think about things freely, do drugs or whatever you wished.. all the stories about early tech innovators, the amazing bands that came out…. when did it all go wrong….

            • I think most big government types consider big business people as the biggest dupes that there is. Big business thinks its getting its way (and it is to some extent), but its all in the plan. It will be easy to “nationalize” whole industries when the big companies did all the work merging and combining. That’s one of the reasons you don’t see any government forced breakups anymore, they want them all combined for easy takeover someday.

              In a lot of ways its already happened. Most big business are about as well run as a government agency.

              • Morning, Rich!

                It’s partly that, I think. But it’s also partly that – in general – the business elites, the CEOs and such, are making bank on the arrangement and just don’t care about the rest. Why should they? I mean, leaving aside morality… Try to imagine taking in (I won’t say earning) a seven-figure salary in one year. You are released from the cares and worries that 99 percent of the population has to deal with. Money – to quote Paul Stanley – really can take you far.

              • That’s the transit model. Crony deals and regulation that eventually result in breaking the companies and the government takeover there of.

                As Eric pointed out, for those in charge today they do well and don’t concern themselves much about the longer term.

              • Guys – I personally think its reached the stage where its you scratch my back I scratch yours between the big corporates and government. And at the top they are one and the same. Just look at them, in the end, at every stage, they do each others bidding. I really started thinking this after the 07/08 mess. I had just started working in financial services a couple years earlier, and saw the grilling of the bankers by politicians, just before they were given a shit ton of printed money..At that time I was working for one of the big American banks (the one which some say didn’t fuck up). Our CEO got grilled as well – at the same time which I was on an assignment to confirm that we didn’t have any of the discussed issues. As I watched I went and actually asked my managers why he’s listening to the crooked politicians like that.. Then he got the TARP money – I genuinely wondered why we took it – when we didn’t need it, (I was on an assignment myself which proved it). Even asked at a senior management town hall meeting. Was told it was to ensure greater stability of the financial system…. thought about that for a long time…
                Then over the years, watching the revolving door between regulators, government, senior management of big financial institutions/central banks, lords, aristocrats, and if they dont directly work, the hidden holdings through private equity firms of spouses / siblings / parents you occasionally hear about…. Then seeing that across every other industry – really brings me to the conclusion that big government and big big corporate are the same, different ways by which to control and extract money from us plebs..

                So in the end, the way I see it, there will be big government and a bunch of big corporates, all controlling each aspect of our lives. The front of a free market economy will be maintained. There will be a bit of a show, that left/right wing divide will be maintained to present an image of freedom to the masses who will be too busy on snapchat or whatever to really think beyond the 140 characters or a picture…. and life will be more and more restricted and limited, but few would notice or care as they wouldn’t even be able to think of life any other way….

          • The lawyers work for the court first, then the public, then the client comes in third. The lawyer is only able to function within the limits set by the court. Here in Oz we call lawyers “liars for hire”.

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