By the end of this month (October 2011) the world’s population of humans will reach 7 billion souls. I have often opined that the population explosion is the single largest factor we can control to make life on the planet more enjoyable and greener for all of humanity. The population of vehicles has grown as well. After world war two there were perhaps some 50 million privately owned vehicles and now there are over 800 million such private vehicles. This is a 16 fold increase. The human population has increased approximately 3 fold since world war two. Private vehicle ownership in Asia and South America is booming. Perhaps as many as 20 million vehicles are being added to streets of Asia each year.
Pundits predicted that the Tata Nano, a small car produced in India, was going to become the largest seller in that country. Alas many cars are being sold and Indian consumers have pretty much rejected the Nano for larger, more powerful, and better quality cars. The Maruti Alto and the Maruti Wagon are the top sellers, followed by the Tata Indica, the Maruti Swift, the Hyundai i10 and then the Hyundai Santro. The Santro weighs 1,879 pounds, the i10 weighs 2,094 pounds, the Swift weighs 2,156 pounds, the Indica weighs 2,783 pounds, the Wagon weighs 1,819 pounds, and the Alto 1,587 pounds. The average mass of these top six sellers in India is 2,053 pounds. By contrast the less than successful Tata Nano has a mass of 1,350 pounds. You can see that Indian motorists want safer, larger, more powerful, and more status driven cars than the simple Nano.
To be fair to Indian motorists they are still far more eco-friendly than Americans who purchased private vehicles with an average mass of 4,144 pounds in 2007 and this was pretty much the same for 2009. In 1980 the US motorists bought vehicles with an average curb weight of 2,970 pounds. If the mass of the vehicle is halved the vehicle will typically use 70% of the fuel as other factors such as aerodynamic drag also affect fuel efficiency. The average Indian motorist purchased vehicle that was half as heavy as their American counterpart’s vehicle. Assuming the average motorist in the US uses approximately 1.8 gallons of gasoline per day then the average Indian motorist driving the same distance will use 1.25 gallons per day. I think the Average Indian motorist is doing their share to drive more efficient vehicles and the notion that they should all drive Nanos was crazy. The US needs to slim down on the mass of the vehicles we purchase and we can certainly return to average we had in 1980 without any sacrifice in comfort or safety.
Globally, approximately 84 million barrels a day of crude oil are refined and approximately 60 million barrels a day winds up as transportation fuel (diesel and gasoline). Let’s assume the average barrel of transportation fuel has a lower heating value of 5.25 million BTUs. This equals 1.323 million kilo calories. The 60 million barrels a day equals 79.38 trillion kilo calories a day of energy. If each human is fortunate enough to receive a 2,000 kilo calorie recommended diet, the 7 billion inhabitants of the planet would use 14 trillion kilo calories of food energy. Hence our vehicle fleet has an energy “diet” equal to 5.7 times that of a population of 7 billion well fed human beings. This is approximately 40 billion extra mouths to feed each day on our overtaxed planet. Of course a portion of the refined oil is used for food cultivation, harvesting, transportation, processing, packaging, and refrigeration. But our 800 million internal combustion engines are hungry mouths to feed.