Focus on Ethics

In a survey conducted by Duke University, in the United States, motorists were asked to say which of the following two comparisons led to the greatest savings in fuel over a set distance: (a) switching from a 10-mpg (miles- per-gallon) car to a 20-mpg car; or (b) switching from a 25-mpg car to a 50-mpg car? When expressed using the units of "miles per gallon," a simple fuel use comparison became counterintuitive and misleading. Thinking in miles per gallon lead motorists to believe that a 10 mpg improvement always results in the same fuel saving. This fails to convey that the actual fuel saving depends on how good (or how poor) the starting level of a car's fuel economy is.

The Duke research concluded that instead of thinking of fuel economy in terms of miles per gallon, motorists would make better fuel economy choices by thinking "gallons per mile" or "gallons per 100 mile." Changing the way in which efficiency is expressed would help car companies make it clear to buyers where there are the greatest fuel savings to be made.

1. How do the comparison between a 10-mpg car and a 20-mpg car and the comparison between a 25-mpg car and 50-mpg car differ? Base your calculations on 10,000 miles. Which car provides the greatest fuel savings?

2. How should car manufacturers express fuel economy so that it's more transparent to consumers?

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