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New CAFE Standard May Not Be A Done Deal After All 3
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, CAFE, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 10 3rd, 2011

Image: Flickr user dcJohn

If you follow what’s going on in the automotive industry, there’s a lot of fear and loathing these days regarding the upcoming CAFE requirements. Short-term gains aside, manufacturers have an officially defined goal of reaching 54.5 mpg in passenger cars by 2025. The technology exists to build cars like this today, but lightweight materials are expensive, and not everyone is satisfied driving a 95 horsepower blandmobile with the entertainment value of steamed white rice.

The challenge for automakers, then, is to build desirable cars that double existing fuel economy, at prices consumers can afford. Problem one is that no one knows how to do that, and problem two is that no one asked the American public whether or not they backed the new CAFE standard. Telling the public that cars of the future will be more fuel efficient (and more expensive) is one thing, but no one’s mentioned the drawbacks. Will consumers want to buy cars that no longer carry spare tires? Although many cars come sans spare today, the ugly truth is that most buyers don’t even know this.

What about cars that have lower capacity batteries, requiring more frequent changes? Or cars that have parallel powertrains, that are more expensive to buy and maintain? As The Detroit News reports, those are some of the questions raised by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Congressman Issa has requested that the EPA and NHTSA turn over all correspondence relating to the previously approved 54.5 mpg CAFE standard. Citing public safety concerns, Issa has given the agencies until October 11 to respond.

That gives the American public a chance to comment on the new requirements, and it also delays publishing the regulations until November. Will it ultimately change anything? Probably not, since the already-accepted regulations have the buy-in of groups including automakers and even the California Air Resources Board. Still, you may soon have a chance to have your voice heard, and we’ll let you know more details as we learn them.

54.5 MPG Is Coming, But What Does It Mean? 1
Posted by Kurt Ernst in Automotive, CAFE, EPA, Fuel Economy, Kurt, News on 08 1st, 2011

Image: dsb nola

Last Friday, the Obama administration announced that a deal had been reached on new Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards for cars and light trucks between 2017 and 2025. It was a mixed bag, with both the federal government and the automakers compromising to achieve results each side could live with. Even California, who reserves the right to set their own fuel economy and emission standards, bought into the new fleet-wide requirement of 54.5 mpg by 2025.

If you’re an enthusiast, it’s easy to be alarmed by these numbers. By EPA ratings, not a single gasoline-powered vehicle achieves this today. In fact, only the Toyota Prius, at 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway, comes close. Does this mean we’re looking at a future of driving cars even less entertaining than the Prius? Are the golden days of muscle cars and sports cars behind us?

Not necessarily, because buried in the new fuel economy standards are some exceptions that aren’t well publicized. First, there isn’t a direct parallel between a CAFE rating of 54.5 mpg and an EPA rating of 54.5 mpg. The CAFE rating is based on a complex series of variables, and the fuel economy standard is overstated compared to the EPA rating. I don’t have a conversion chart, but understand this: 54.5 mpg under CAFE isn’t 50 mpg under EPA, and it’s probably not even 40 mpg. It may not even be 35 mpg.

Next, there are “allowances” granted to automakers for being environmentally friendly. Opt to use a refrigerant that’s environmentally friendly, and you get a credit that can be applied to lower your CAFE average. Build an electric car? That’s another credit, even if you only sell a handful. Build a hybrid? That’s another credit to lower your overall score. Using Ford as an example, the Focus Electric will offset the Mustang Shelby GT500, ensuring that both cars (or their equivalents) can still be found on the showroom floor.

By 2025, cars will be more fuel efficient. They’ll be lighter, with smaller and more efficient engines. Hybrids will be common, but that may turn out to be a good thing for sports car fans as hybrid technology goes more mainstream. Imagine a car with perfect weight distribution front to rear, that has AWD thanks to a standard drivetrain plus electric motors, and still gets better than 35 mpg. By 2025, I’d be willing to bet that performance hybrids are faster than today’s muscle cars, for about the same kind of money. If that’s really the future, I’m pretty sure I can live with 54.5 mpg.