THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

Statistically Speaking: Detroit Does It Better in Europe

by Bill Chameides | December 5th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 5 comments


A side-by-side look at some U.S. cars and their European cousins shows stark differences between the cars Detroit makes at home and those made abroad.

So the Big Three automakers are in trouble and want some of our money to stay afloat. Before handing over any cash, we might want to look at how Detroit does when it has to.

One of the big problems with the Big Three, it is widely said, is their failure to innovate, especially when it comes to fuel efficiency. Earlier this year, Congress forced the issue by increasing fuel-economy standards from the current 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) to 35 mpg by 2020 in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 [pdf].

But Detroit cried foul –- no can do without lots of government money. And so, Congress agreed to provide $25 billion in government loans to help Detroit make the transition. Now the Big Three want to use that $25 billion to stay afloat — and forget the newly mandated fuel economy.

It’s a sad story. But before we get out our handkerchiefs, here are some interesting statistics.

Fuel Efficiency: U.S. Car vs. European Cousin

Car U.S. mpg
European mpg
Carbon dioxide
emissions/mile in U.S.
(in pounds)
Carbon dioxide
emissions/mile in Europe
(in pounds)
Ford Focus 27/37 38/59 .52 .38
Chrysler 17/23 37/42 .84 .53

So why is Detroit having so much trouble making fuel-efficient cars here when they are already making them in Europe? To be fair, it looks like it’s not all their fault.

Europe’s fuel-efficient cars built by Detroit use a different engine: one powered by diesel as opposed to gasoline. But hold that “aha” for a minute – European diesel is an ultra low-sulfur fuel with highly reduced pollutant emissions. (This new diesel allows controls that lower other pollutants, controls that were previously not viable with higher sulfur diesel.)

Diesel:  New vs. Old

Whatever the reason for not building these lower emission cars on this side of the pond, clearly Detroit knows how to be green and clean. The cars they are building in Europe exceed the newly upped fuel-efficiency standards mandated by Congress last year — standards that had not been touched in decades. That’s why I say we need to attach some very strong green strings to any Detroit bailout.


Steve Austin, “Study: European Variants of U.S. Cars Average 60% Better Gas Mileage” –

Diesel (ULSD) –

“Emission Facts: Average Carbon Dioxide Emissions Resulting from Gasoline and Diesel Fuel” –

Ben Hewitt, “The Case for Diesel: Clean, Efficient, Fast Cars (Hybrids Beware!),” Popular Mechanics, January 2008 –

filed under: automobile, carbon dioxide emissions, faculty, Statistically Speaking, transportation
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  1. Brett
    Dec 11, 2008

    I concur; what’s up? Even larger vehicles like the Chrysler Voyager or Jeep Grand Cherokee offered in the UK and Germany are on the order of 40% more efficient with CRD (common rail diesel) engines. I’ve personally driven an Opel in France that was nearly identical to a Cadillac CTS, but for the emblems, 6-speed manual and turbo diesel. We got over 40 mpg with that car over 2 weeks of mixed city/highway driving. In the end, I suspect the problem is us, the ‘typical’ American consumer. Detroit rises to and responds to the vote of our purchases. Americans typically have a disdain for diesels thinking they’re all like city buses and construction equipment, loud and smelly. Of course until recently, we had no real fuel price incentive to change our thinking either. Perhaps we ought to look in the mirror and understand the messsage our choices, in aggregate, send to the domestic producers of goods and services.” title=”RE Detroit Does It Better in Europe

  2. Daniel Wedgewood
    Dec 7, 2008

    Dr. Chameides, It’s difficult to have sympathy for the Big Three Babies. I fell sorry for their workers who have been caught in so many tangled webs of collective stupidity and lack of foresight. When normal consumers find themselves in such situations they lose their homes and/or credit scores – what will really happen if the the Detroit Three collapse? Why would it be so bad to have new car makers spring up to take their place (such as Jet Blue has done in the aerospace industry)? If the Big Three keeps failing to be nimble and effective, why support them? Just because they have been around for generations does not mean that they deserve to be around forever. Dan” title=”Little sympathy

    • erica
      Dec 8, 2008

      From DR. CHAMEIDES – Dan, That’s a sentiment shared by many. Many others have a different point of view. It was not my intention in this blog post to weigh in on either side of the bailout debate, but to opine on the one aspect of the bailout should it occur.” title=”Not trying to take a side

    • David
      Apr 9, 2009

      Three babies??? More like the three stooges.” title=”big three

    • David
      Oct 1, 2009

      I think the MPG stats are wrong . They are comparing a gas powered Us Car, to A European Diesel powered car. However the mileage is better in Europe. The stats I have are 27/37 , for the Us car, and 31/41 for the European model. I still have no sympathy for the greedy idiots.” title=”MPG

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