Monday, 17 August 2009

A modest proposal

On my bike ride into work this morning I was musing why anyone should need a car with an engine capacity of over two litres. And indeed, reaching the conclusion that governments should simply ban their production.

This evening, I chanced upon a UK newspaper ad for the new Mercedes Benz E-class saloon. Available with a range of engines, of which one, a two litre diesel, offers fuel economy of 43mpg around town and a staggering 64mpg on the open road. At the same time, this five-seater passenger car can accelerate to 60mph in under ten seconds and had a top speed of 130mph (and just look at the performance of the same car with a 1.8 litre petrol engine!)

But the E-class is also available with a FIVE AND HALF litre engine. The E500 can sprint to 100 kmph in 5.5 seconds and has a top speed limited to 155mph. This extra speed exacts a terrible price on the environment; 17.4mpg around town and 261g of CO2 blurted out into the atmosphere per km, rather than the 137gm of the E200. [Click here for tech specs in Poland. And note that the cars cost Poles 20% more than they cost Brits.]

Why this need for speed? Why this thirst for five and half litres of engine? (And it costs 20,000 quid extra/100,000 PLN on top of the price of the E200, but that's not my point here.)

Why should anyone make or buy a vehicle as pointless as the Mercedes Benz E500, given the base models (diesel or petrol) offering more than adequate acceleration and top speed?

My point is about where to draw the line on the use of high performance cars on public roads. You can buy yourself a Formula One racing car - but you are not permitted to drive it on public roads. So why is it that you are allowed to buy a car as potent as a Porsche 911 Turbo, and take it out on roads shared with Maluchy, Super Bizony, Żuki and pedestrians? "I promise to keep within speed limits" is twaddle. You know damn well that an owner of a performance car is going to make it perform regardless of national speed limits. Which, I'd like to remind readers, are 110kmph (68mph) on expressways and 130 kmph (80mph) on motorways.

Poland's roads are bad. To drive rapidly on them is to endanger human life. To belch out unnecessary amounts of CO2, to burn up fuel two and half times faster than in a smaller, more efficient engine, is criminal waste of natural resources.

Governments should act and pass legislation prohibiting the manufacture and sale of passenger cars with engines with a cubic capacity exceeding two litres. End.

8 comments:

Neighbour said...

Michael,

Greetings from the corner of Idzikowskiego :-)

I remember myselfo going 4 persons in a new Opel Astra Warsaw to Paris. We left Warsaw at 10.00 April 1996 to arrive in Paris at 7.00 next day. Last saturday we left Jeziorki at 7.00 and arrived in Paris after 22.00.

On katowicka expressway 130kmh (above the limit, but within common sense range), local road to from Rawa to Brzeziny and Strykow 100kmh, then A2 motorway to it's end some 130 knm before the border @ 140kmh - within reasonable range again (yes, I know, above the limit). Then German autobahn - surprise - not more than 150 kmh, because the left lane is corwded with those E200 Mercedes cars that overtake other cars on middle lane 10 kmh more 0 and that maneuvre takes more than 1 kilometre per each car overtaken. Believe me, it's rare that you can drive whaterver speed the factore has fitted your viehicle with on motorways - my son said German autobahns are overstatement :-)

Still - arrived in Paris after 15 hours of safe, peaceful driving. In shape good enough to walk 15 minutes to see Arc de Triomphe at midnight.

I still remember all that grief I had travelling on - excuse my French - shitty roads of Poland back in 1996.

That's why you have better cars. I was walking Avenue Kleber with my son counting sports cars, luckily spotting DB7 (want some pics?) and was discussing the need and greed for sports cars. My point was - why owe a DB7 in France, where you can drive 130kmh on motorawys and 90kmh elsewhere and 50kmh in towns - only in Germany motorways you could really feel the ponies :-)
My son's standpoint was simple - because it's there - in the streets, so why not work hard to have a DB7 or an F430 Maranello?

Best greetings from a city that never sleeps (and believe me, cars are rolling past my bedrom window 42/7),

Neighbour said...

Ooops, sorry for typos, French wine is so gooood and cheaper than any place around Jeziorki :-)

Anonymous said...

I can tell that you have never owned a really quick car with a big engine. I have owned quick sport cars with smallish engines. They were fast and agile. But the real kick is to accelerate in a huge old American car with 440 cu in (around 5l, I think). An amazing feeling, all that mass accelerating.
On Polish roads, you are right, quite pointless.
Andrew in Calif.

Bartek Usniacki said...

why should the state impose bans on production and sales? it smacks of communism - I do go along with you when it comes to environment protection, but why not taxing sales of such car - dear citizen, if you want to drive a car propelled by absurdly big engine, alright, it's your business, but you'll have to pay the excise. Isn't it currently effective in Poland (excise for cars with engine capacity exceeding two litres)? If the fools who smoke have to pay the tax why should the ones who manifest their folly with driving performance cars do that - good for the state budget means good for all the taxpayers.

For months I've been trying to catch on why so many people go into raptures over fast cars and other gadget-like goods, but my only explanation is that's due to their complexes, with the most coarse on the fore (pardon the example) - so if a man's penis is too short, he's trying to make up for it driving a fast car...

The maximum speed is almost never reached by the owners of such cars, what matters for them is the acceleration - they can show off when they pull out from the traffic lights and leave the driver of an ordinary car far behind, what in their books mean they're higher in the 'road hierarchy'.

Polish drivers love to boast about how fast they drive, but to my surprise their declarations don't stand the confrontation with the reality. In July I drove the newly built section of dual carriageway between Radzymin and Wyszków (an exemplary road, sheer bliss). I was driving smoothly, a bit speeding - 120 kmph and most of the drivers would drive more slowly, there were a few in such cars as outlined by you who just hurtled next to me at the speed of approximately 200 kmph.

If you drive around town I'd opt for a small car of 'B segment' - Corsa, Clio or Micra's class, if you regularly travel on longer runs it's better to choose a compact class car - Focus, Golf, Megane, etc. Engine should be matched up according to the yearly mileage. If you cover more than 20.000 kilometres it's advisable to pay a bit more for a diesel, if less, vehicle running on petrol is more suitable.

Bartek Usniacki said...

at second thought... I apologise to everyone who bridled at my explanation of delighting with fast cars - it is not backed up by and kind of evidence, however, I will stick to my view.

Michael Dembinski said...

"why not work hard to have a DB7 or an F430 Maranello?" asks Neighbour Junior.

Is it not better to work hard and have a bigger, nicer house, or a second house (by the sea, in the southern hemisphere)? BTW, the amount of hard work - as a lawyer or management consultant, for example, needed to buy one of these is mind-blowing. In a good international law firm, a senior partner can be billing €250-€400 a hour - but that is intense work, with years of education and lowly-paid work coming first.

Cars depreciate in value at a tremendous rate. But land doesn't ('buy land, they don't make it any more').

Andrew: I do have bags of nostalgia for the big beautiful American muscle cars of old; but their time has (sadly) come and gone.

Bartek - is it communist to expect people not to excrete their faeces on the pavement? There are certain behaviours which should not be tolerated in public places. Smoking in hospital delivery wards. Shouting loudly in geriatric wards. Driving at obscene speeds in cars which create vastly more pollution than they need to.

It's when something becomes more than just "it's your business", when you are sharing public space, public natural resources, with others that regulation becomes necessary.

Bartek Usniacki said...

funnily enough I've heard Polish journalists defining purchase of a car as "an investment".

It's not communist, the examples you give are things every civilised man wouldn't do, cause there's a set of rules within the society and for instance I wouldn't urinate on your fence walking by your house not because it is forbidden by a law but I feel and know it would be inappropriate.

Obscene speeds? That's why speed limits are imposed, the fact they're not enforced and only one in fife hundred drivers keeps to them is a different kettle of fish. One can drive a performance car around Warsaw without exceeding 50 kmph - though ridiculous it's possible, you'll say such car consumes at least twice as much fuel as your Micra - the argument is irrefutable, nevertheless I think it justifies the imposition of tax on car sales and fuel.

"it's your business" could be by analogy compared to the classic definition of freedom - your freedom is limited by a freedom of your fellow man.

It's a matter of public disapproval - as the smoking on bus stops became regarded as intolerable, smokers had to hold back with their addiction, meanwhile the new law was passed, but with big cars it would be much more difficult

Michael Dembinski said...

Ah! Andrew in Calif - I've not owned anything faster than a 2.0 litre MG Maestro (115 BHP), but I've test-driven Jags, Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, BMW 7s, Merc E and S Classes, Audi A8(was at launch), Alfa Romeos, Range Rovers - at the end of the day, all rapidly-depreciating tin.

Bartek - 'a matter of public disapproval' - compare the number of people who smoke to the people who drive a car with a large engine. It's just a matter of time before driving behemoths in town becomes considered 'inappropriate'.