Gas Consumption…Then and Now

First Fill-up

My first car was a ’55 Ford Fairlane with a V8. Because of the importance of fuel cost to a teenager, I remember the amount: $0.49 a gallon in my home town. I also remember my car’s fuel consumption: for the time, a reasonable 24 mpg. That’s 12 litres/100 km for you metric sorts.  

In 2009 I was driving a Windstar van. In size, weight, and power it was similar to the old Ford, although space was used far more efficiently. Gas prices were about $1 per litre, and it cost me a nice, round, easy-to-remember 10 cents a kilometre for fuel. 

These memories give me a good basis to compare my situation today. 

The New Numbers

For those of you who didn’t follow my car-buying saga a couple of months ago, I ended up with a Kia Niro PHEV (that’s Plug in Hybrid-Electric). I have now, after 4 weeks of driving, actually had to fill up the gas tank, so I have some numbers to compare. 

In that time I drove a total of 1162 km, as you can see in the red circle of the image above. There were 42 km on the car when I got it, so I drove 1120 km on this tank. This took 40 litres of gas. Taking advantage of an online converter, we find this works out to 3.8 litres/100 km (78 mpg). Not bad when fuel just went up to $1.71 per litre. (The number in the red square is there for your entertainment. It shows my fuel consumption rate after driving about 2 km under battery/hybrid. Just under 500 mpg.)


So, what has happened to cars and gas prices over 55 years? Gas prices have gone up, of course, although better technology has countered that.

But how much? Take a look at the comparisons. I have added in the data for a new Mazda CX-5, another car I considered buying, which is powered by an old-fashioned gasoline-only engine.

Car/YearL/100 kmThen $/litre2019 $/litre$/100 kmCents/km
Ford, 196512$0.110.84$10.0810
Ford Van, 20099$1.00$1.14$1010
Mazda CX-5, 20198.5^$1.71$1.71$14.5014.5^
Kia PHEV, 20193.8$1.71$1.71$6.166+2* = 8

^This is the dealer’s quoted consumption under optimum conditions. No car ever comes close to it in real life. My numbers are actual usage, counted from filling the tank.

*One Kwh is $0.095 in B.C. right now, and my usage shows my electricity costs about 2 cents per km.

Rates of Change

Note in the first two rows, the fuel cost to drive a large car, adjusted for inflation, remained the same for 55 years. A small advance in technology dropped the L/100 km by 25%, while the price of gas rose a similar amount. Inflation took care of the rest. However, in the last 10 years, the price of gas has risen 50%, far more than technology has improved performance. The state-of-the-art Mazda (which partakes of neither hybrid nor plug-in technology) only has a 0.5 improvement in gas mileage on the huge Ford van, leading to almost 50% jump in actual cost per kilometre. 

About the PHEV

I have to admit, the above data will be skewed to some degree by my driving habits. Between 1965 and 2009 I have probably mellowed a bit. And that dratted needle on the left side of the dashboard is a great motivator for parsimony. Normal driving keeps you in the “ECO” range at the top. If you let up on the gas, you immediately switch to the moderate “Charge” range. Putting on the brakes gets you into the thick blue line of regenerative braking; super-reward territory. 

On the other side, if you step on it, you slip into wrist-slap area of thinner “ECO.” And if you floor it, you get a satisfying surge as both gasoline and electric motors jump in together, but the needle jumps to the very top of “POWER,” and you can hear the gurgle of gas spewing out on the pavement. Figuratively speaking, of course. 

How Does the PHEV Do It?

 If you look at the two numbers in the bottom centre of the dashboard, the one on the left (showing “0”) is the projected range under electric only. I had forgotten to plug the car in the night before. The one on the right (787) is range under hybrid. When you start off after a charge, the battery range reads “38,” and system uses the electric motor heavily, running the battery to 0 in 40 or 50 kilometres, and burning little gas. This doesn’t mean the battery is empty. Just that you can’t go on battery alone. When you run on hybrid, your gas consumption is in the range of 4 litres per hundred kilometers. But the average has been heavily skewed by the “free” electric power you used up at the start. 

So if you have a daily commute and plug your car in every night, you will cut your gas bill in half over a similar-sized non-hybrid car.  

If your yearly gas bill used to be about $2000, that’s $1000 a year you can put in the bank. Keep your car for 10 years; the $40,000+ price tag begins to look a lot less threatening. And what if the price of gas goes up even more?

Dream On

Project the data; if the price of gas goes up another 50% in the next 10 years, your savings will approach half the original price of the car. Then add the fact that, with gas prices that high, your neighbour’s non-hybrid will be almost unsellable, and you’re another three or four thou ahead. 

And maintenance costs are supposed to be much lower for hybrids: no alternator, electric power steering, much less brake wear, etc. Wait 10 years. I hope I’m still around to let you know how it goes. 

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