Obama Administration Sets Fuel Economy Standards At 54.5 MPG
August 29, 2012

Obama Administration Sets Fuel Economy Standards At 54.5 MPG

John Neumann for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

New federal fuel economy standards, representing a victory for environmentalists and advocates of fuel conservation, were issued this week requiring automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks by 2025 to an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon for the 2025 model year.

A goal of almost 55 mpg may sound excessive but engineers deem it achievable with the development of hybrid vehicles while improving the mileage of mass-market models through more efficient engines and lighter car bodies, reports Bill Vlasic for the NY Times.

Current standards for the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, (CAFE) program mandate averaging about 29 mpg, with gradual increases to 35.5 mpg by 2016, writes James R. Healey for USA Today.

"[It's] a monumental day for the American people,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced, who went on to mention that the regulations might boost the price of a new vehicle $1,800 in 2025, but the lower fuel expense could save drivers $8,000 over the life of the cars.

The administration also highlighted the positive environmental aspects with the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2025, eliminating six billion tons over the course of the program. Proponents also contend that the higher average could also generate hundreds of thousands of jobs by increasing the demand for new technologies.

“Our nation will be more secure, our environment will be cleaner, and consumers will have more money in their pockets as a result of the new rule,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, an environmental organization based in Washington.

Thirteen major automakers, including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, endorsed the new standards during lengthy negotiations last year after winning an inclusion of a critical mid-program review period in the final rule.

The review, to be conducted at the end of the decade, is meant to assess the progress made toward achieving the 54.5 mpg goal. The standard could then be altered if the manufacturers are struggling to meet the new guidelines.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group, said a “rigorous midterm review” was necessary to determine how consumers reacted to new models that had better mileage but might be more expensive. “Compliance with higher fuel-economy standards is based on sales, not what we put on the showroom floor,” the alliance said in a statement.

Auto dealers also expressed concern that higher prices for new cars might exclude some consumers from the market. “This increase shuts almost seven million people out of the new car market entirely,” said Bill Underriner, chairman of the National Auto Dealers Association.

The auto dealers may be bothered with the rules, but manufacturers have been hard at work to meeting the more stringent guidelines and they are all looking at the issue from different perspectives.

Nissan is counting on consumers gravitating to all-electric models like its Leaf. Others, like Chrysler, will focus their efforts on improving engines and transmissions on traditional gasoline-powered cars. Ford is currently offering its newly redesigned Focus, a sleek compact model, with a variety of powertrain options, ranging from an electric version to a regular gas engine.

Despite the broad range of current options, American consumers have so far been slow to buy electric cars, despite gas prices that are near $4 a gallon. General Motors is planning to shut down production temporarily of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid to reduce a backlog of unsold inventory.

For the most part, automakers will have to accelerate their efforts to improve mileage by reducing the weight of vehicles, using more aerodynamic designs and decreasing engine size without sacrificing power.

“The vast majority of vehicles will be more efficient without using electric or hybrid powertrains,” said Daniel F. Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group. “These cars won´t look any different than today unless you check under the hood.”

So the CAFE standards are increasing, as they always have, and despite industry pundits decrying them, automakers always manage to meet those standards and it can only mean cleaner air and more efficient vehicles. What could be bad about that?