- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - What’s more fuel-efficient, a Ford Model T or a modern-day sport utility vehicle? President Barack Obama says the Model T, but his comparison is a stretch.

Obama, touring a California electric car plant on Thursday, said, “The 1908 Model T _ think about this _ the 1908 Model T earned better gas mileage than the typical SUV in 2008.”

“Think about that: 100 years later, and we’re getting worse gas mileage, not better, on SUVs,” Obama said.

Ford’s own Web site says the Model T’s mileage ranged from 13 to 21 miles per gallon. Some Tin Lizzie enthusiasts who still drive the vehicles report numbers closer to the bottom end of that range. A typical SUV sold in 2008 gets 18.7 miles per gallon.

But even comparing vehicles that are so different is misleading, say auto industry officials and fans of Henry Ford’s pioneering car.

The 1909 Model T _ which debuted in September 1908 _ weighed 1,200 pounds. A 1909 Model T ad told consumers it could reach 40 to 50 miles per hour on its 4-cylinder, 20-horsepower engine. It had a 10-gallon gasoline tank with an advertised range of 200 to 225 miles carrying four passengers.

By contrast, a typical SUV sold in 2008 weighs about 4,600 lbs and carries equipment not dreamed of 100 years ago: emission controls, safety equipment like air bags, antilock brakes and an aerodynamic body. Model Ts featured hand-crank starters and tail lamps fueled by kerosene.

“It’s not a comparison that holds up well today,” said Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Moore.

Moore said that by comparison, a 2009 Ford Escape achieves 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway while providing 200 horsepower, a tenfold improvement over the Model T.

Obama’s line echoed a 2003 advertisement from the Sierra Club which was published around Ford Motor Co.’s 100th anniversary. The ad compared the fuel efficiencies of a Model T and a Ford Explorer and urged the Dearborn, Mich., company to “use existing technology to make cleaner cars that go farther on a gallon of gas.”

“The point is that the average Ford today does not compare favorably to the Model T’s fuel economy,” said Dan Becker, a former director of the Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Program.

Many Model T enthusiasts report varying gas mileage levels _ from 10 mpg to 25 mpg _ and note that dirt roads commonly found in the early 20th century would have reduced the fuel efficiency.

Tom Miles, of Albuquerque, N.M., the vice president of the Model T Ford Club of America, says he typically gets 12 mpg on his 1926 Model T Touring car and the fuel efficiency suffers when he drives uphill.

When he heard Obama make the comparison, he thought, “Well, yeah, but you’ve got to look at all the other things modern cars do.”

Jay Klehfoth, chief executive officer of the Centerville, Ind.-based Model T Ford Club of America, said he averages about 25 mpg on his four Model Ts. But with an array of modern regulations, he noted, “You couldn’t build a Model T today because the government wouldn’t let you put it on the road.”

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