Making good on his campaign rhetoric, President Obama has announced a national policy to increase fuel-economy standards starting 2012 and ramping up to a combined car-truck 35.5 mpg average in 2016. The move addresses the efforts by California and its 13 emissions-partner states to create their own standard. This move, therefore, simplifies production targets for automakers, while significantly increasing the standard over the current CAFE law that calls for an average fuel economy of 35 mpg in 2020. (Learn about green cars and saving fuel with your current car.)
"In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible," said President Obama today, flanked by senior executives from BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen. "That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years.”
Estimates have ranged from $600 to $1,300 for the cost per vehicle of meeting this accelerated standard. However, the Consumer Federation of America estimates that their projected additional monthly cost to purchase a 2016 would be $22 – significantly less than the forecasted $42 a month in fuel cost savings. In other words, consumers will come out ahead financially based on the calculations from this non-profit association, plus the nation benefits from reduced CO2 emissions and fossil-fuel consumption. Although, this doesn’t bode well for the 21st-century muscle cars.
The single fuel-economy requirement will simplify engineering for automakers, though the struggling industry faces significant challenges in hitting these mandates at a time when research and development budgets have been universally slashed. Further, achieving corporate fleet averages depends on people buying the vehicles. No legislation will sell cars in and of itself.
The National Automobile Dealers Association released a statement: "Dealers are also heartened by the President's intent to have the EPA and NHTSA coordinate their regulatory efforts. Implementation of this next step, however, could turn out to be challenging because these agencies have two very different goals under federal law.”
Still, it will be left to the dwindling number of dealers to put these vehicles in driveways. Let’s hope the automakers are able to create innovative, compelling models to inspire purchase, rather than depend on a gasoline tax or other forced inducement to purchase the green machines of tomorrow.
See the top 10 most fuel-efficient cars on the road today.