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Obama's New Fuel Efficiency Standards as Unlikely as Obama Presidency

Volkswagen 2011 Touareg HybridThe 2011 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

In a move that seemed to appease environmentalists angered by yesterday's expansion of offshore drilling, President Obama announced today that he was significantly raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. According to a new regulation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Environmental Protection Agency says that 2016 models will have to deliver an average of 35 miles per gallon across their entire fleet as well as improved tailpipe emissions standards. We'll save about 1.8 billion barrels in oil by not buying gas-guzzlers, but the costs for both carmakers and consumers will be significant: Carmakers will need to spend an estimated $51.5 billion over five years, and new cars purchased in 2016 will be about $985 more. However, drivers of any fuel-efficient vehicles will spend less on gas over time.

In an interesting twist that will help soften the blow for automakers who will have to pour money into R&D and reconfigure their factories, each company will have its own unique target based on the kinds of vehicles it produces. So companies like Honda that make mostly small, efficient vehicles will have higher standards compared to brands like Jeep, whose larger cars and trucks consistently fare the worst in mileage tests (13 mpg for the Commander!). Auto companies can also get credits for reducing emissions, for example, engineering more efficient air conditioning systems.

Chevy VoltThe Chevy Volt, an innovative new electric car

35 mpg is a fairly lofty goal for automakers: the Smart Fortai Passion is the most efficient subcompact and only gets a few miles better than that, about 39 mpg. When you break down the goals over the next six years, it starts to get even more apparent how far some automakers have to go. SUVs and light trucks will definitely have the worst of it: Carmakers are looking at achieving 25.4 mpg by 2012 and 28.8 mpg by 2016. Compare that to Volkswagen's first hybrid, the SUV Touareg, which debuted this week, and only gets 21 mpg city/25 mpg highway.

Passenger cars must increase their mileage from 33.3 mpg to 37.8 mpg in 2016, which will certainly encourage companies who are toying with innovative hybrid models to plunge into production. Expect to see more cars like the Chevy Volt that test-drove this week, which can drive 40 miles on an electric charge, at which time it switches over to a gas-powered generator. Let's hope as the mpg requirements rise, so does innovation in auto design.


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  • R Larsen

    I will stick with my 16mpg Expedition and my 18mpg GT Mustang convertible. When Obama and his socialist friends mandate that we can only drive electrics made by Government Motors and sold by Obama Auto Emporium, I will pay whatever fines they levy on my gas guzzlers and stay with my own preferences. Unfortunate if any of the new 500 pound cars have a run-in with my truck.

  • C. Wilson

    Unless they mandate that we ALL drive tiny electric cars, these new standards will KILL thousands of people: families, kids, babies, seniors, This is a sad and stupid pronouncement by an inept and over baring government.

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    @herbert and @gary. You both seem to think that the US market is in a kind of catch-22 with supply and demand. What would be the solution? Regulation?


  • David Osedach

    Yesterday crude hit a 17 month high. Are we headed to $5/gallon at the pump? Of course we are. Those electric cars are looking more efficient every day. I will be in line to buy the first!

  • Scott Monty

    Quick correction on the subcompact mpg number: the 2011 Ford Fiesta, which is about to hit the market, actually gets 40 mpg, making it the most fuel efficient subcompact out there.

    One of the ways we're addressing this issue at Ford is by making fuel efficiency affordable for all. With every new vehicle that we launch, we've committed to being best in class in fuel economy. Lighter weight and higher strength steel allows customers to save at the pump while our vehicles can still achieve 5-star crash ratings.

    With the EcoBoost engine, Ford gives customers the power of a V8 with the fuel efficiency of a V6, or power of a V6 with 4-cylinder fuel efficiency -- while reducing CO2 emissions by 15% at the same time. And with 6-speed automatic transmissions, we're offering a lower gear that means more fuel-efficient acceleration.

    Our plan is to put EcoBoost in 90% of Ford's fleet by 2013, which means fuel economy gains will be had by many, not just a select few. Here's a quick fact sheet that covers it in detail:

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  • Ashton Gebhard

    I'd like to see more clean diesel vehicles hit the market to help automakers reach their fleet-wide standards.

  • madclark

    Freddy, thank you for the techno correction.
    Herbert, you are right, development and production are market driven. But please compare apples to apples when comparing the EU market to the US market--distances traveled, individual ownership, mass transportation, population centers, etc. They are apples to oranges. The US use of personal vehicles is mandated by the expansion, scope and size of the communities and regions. If you want to shove everyone, but the ag workers back into the urban population centers and restrict families to a maximum number of 4, then you can produce nothing but 4 seaters.
    Gary, yes, there is a responsibility that comes with consumption. Unbridled consumption leads to exhaustion and extinction, thus the old adage—eating you out of house and home. Make resource management sensible and economically viable and it will take care of itself. As long as the only people making money off of environmental concern are those marketing environmental concern it will fail i.e. former VP Gore.
    Currently there are comfortable 5 seater cars in the EU that are getting 40MPG+. Why are those cars not making it to this side of the pond? There seems to be an open hostility toward diesel powered vehicles. Hybrids have an amazing potential—but they must be reliable and affordable.

  • Tom DeSantis

    In America, we drive want we want to drive. That's a treasured benefit of freedom. Advancement of technology is very cool and encouraged but let's take our collective feet off the pedal when it comes to regulation. These misguided save the world zealots are the real problem. And one day soon, I'm going to buy another 1969 Camaro Z28 and rip it up because I can. or maybe I'll buy another Olds Rocket 350 Cutlass...and cruise to Hampton Beach with the Doobie Bros in the dash. For now my straight 6 motored SUV works great at 12-15mpg.

  • Gary Jones

    "And the US market, that's all of us (we the consumers), is the real problem!" Thank you Herbert.
    Even if we increased the efficiency to 80mpg avg'd across fleet, we'd only then run into Jevons Paradox. The problem lies in the delusion amongst 1st and 2nd 'world' countries, that have an unbelievably ego-centric, righteous, entitled outlook on the world. We feel we are numero UNO, and everything is ours to use at will. <steps off="" soapbox="">
    Until we (humanity) start to take a more universal approach, or at the very least a more global approach to resource management, we'll continue to run into this roadblock every time. It was wood once, then it was coal, now it's about to be oil....pattern, anyone?</steps>

  • Herbert Reininger

    This low MPG problem is US market specific. Most US car makers have VERY fuel efficient cars on European and Asian Markets.

    And the US market, that's all of us (we the consumers), is the real problem! We still want big cars with huge engines. If we won't change that demand, the supply obviously won't change either. No car maker wants to build cars that won't sell. It's not that complicated, but in a way it is.

  • Andy Bokanev

    Agreed with Freddy's comment. The required MPG is for the entire fleet, not each car

  • Freddy Nager

    Your facts are not quite correct.

    The 35.5 MPG is the mandated average for an entire fleet, not per car. Indeed, the EPA doesn't even set an MPG mandate -- its focus is on emissions with an MPG "equivalent." From the EPA: "The EPA GHG standards require these vehicles to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile in model year 2016, equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) if the automotive industry were to meet this CO2 level all through fuel economy improvements."

    The NHTSA does set an MPG mandate, but it is 34.1 "for the combined industry wide fleet."

    In both cases, that means there will be vehicles above and below that number. The Touareg Hybrid will be fully permissible in 2016 as long as VW offers new vehicles that get better mileage.