Here's a perfect graphic illustration of how cars have gotten so powerful these days, and how much of their power goes to just hauling their weight around.

This animated chart comes to us from Randy Olson with added analysis by The Daily Kanban. Click 'Expand' in the upper left of the graphic to see it in full or click right here to see the graph all by itself.

What the chart shows is the average power to weight ratio by carmaker from the mid '70s through today.

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The reason why you're looking at corporate averages is that it balances out little eco car specials that nobody buys with the blooming growth of mid- and fullsize family mobiles that everyone does.

The reason why you're looking at the mid '70s through today is because the 1970s is the start of the current era of the automobile. The '73 Oil Crisis was when we first started freaking out about gas prices and the '70s is when we started seeing cars getting regulated on safety, fuel economy, and exhaust emissions.

The Daily Kanban breaks down what's interesting in this chart fairly well.

  • Like people, cars get heavier as they gain power.
  • Over time, the power to weight ratio improves only slowly
  • In the past decade, improvement has accelerated.
  • Detroit's carmakers did shed power and weight in the malaise era, then made a sharp U-turn in the Reagan years.
  • Germans move aggressively from lower left to upper right.
  • Japanese follow with their usual deliberate caution.
  • Daimler added substantial power, but only inconsiderable heft.

The ultimate conclusion here is that the average car is more speedy than ever before, but it takes a ton of power to work, since carmakers keep solving all of their problems by packing on the pounds.

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What is it going to take to get carmakers to turn back towards significantly lighter, more efficient automobiles?