The Obama Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday finalized new standards that will regulate all automakers to improve fuel efficiency to 54.5 mpg across their fleet by the year 2025. The plan is to drastically reduce foreign dependence on oil and provide American drivers with long-term relief at the pump. The EPA estimates that the new regulations will save drivers $1.7 trillion and cut automotive emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program.
So what does this mean for the future of the auto industry? And what does this mean for you?
The ultimate goal of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations is to encourage – or rather, force – automakers to improve the quality of the product they’re selling to the public. There are actually standards already in place that require automakers to achieve a fleetwide average of 37.8 mpg by 2016, but the 54.5 mpg by 2025 requirement is the one that will force companies to really take efficiency seriously.
Already, the effects of the new CAFE standards have reached production cars. Electric and hybrid cars have been the flashy celebrities of the automotive world for the past five years, but the real improvement is coming from more basic technologies.
Foreign automakers have been using small, turbocharged engines for years to achieve efficiency without compromising power, but public pressure and the CAFE standards have recently led American automakers to do the same. Ford has the EcoBoost, General Motors has Ecotec and FIAT has begun putting their MultiAir engines in Chrysler products like the new Dodge Dart.
It’s a good starting point, and when you throw in technologies like direct injection, variable valve timing and CVT transmission the mileage figures can quickly increase. These are not secret innovations, they’ve all been around for years, but automakers will now be forced to use these technologies extensively if they hope to meet the standards as they’ve agreed.
This doesn’t mean the death of 500 horsepower sports cars or all-wheel drive pickup trucks. The 54.5 mpg standard applies to cars and light trucks, but not low-production supercars or large vehicles like heavy duty trucks or SUVs. Besides, that 54.5 mpg mandate really works out to be more like 40 mpg, as Micheline Maynard explains. Rest assured, that Shelby GT500 with your name on it isn’t going anywhere soon.
But that won’t stop opponents from railing against the EPA announcement, particularly in this politically-charged environment. Over the next few months, expect the issue to be defended by Democrats and environmental proponents. Meanwhile, it will be trotted out by Republicans as an example of Big Government over-extending its power. Nevermind that the development of new technologies and materials will keep skilled workers employed, and could lead to a resurgence of American ingenuity that sets a higher bar for the industry at large. For Chrissakes, GM invented a suspension that makes a 4,000-lb. Camaro turn around corners – quickly! This? This is cake.
Whichever way you may lean, the CAFE standards are here and they won’t be going anywhere soon – especially not with support from the UAW and eleven major automakers (that account for 90% of all cars sold in the U.S.).
Automakers have come a long way lately, and the progress has made this one of the most exciting eras to ever hit the automotive industry. Cars are better than ever thanks, in part, to government regulations that encouraged the use of direct injection and other innovations. If automakers are going to take the next step and meet the 2025 standards, they’ll need to push the envelope even further with weight reduction, low rolling resistance tires and much more.
For instance, there’s one quick and simple way to increase efficiency: diesel. European cars like the Mercedes-Benz BlueTec and Volkswagen TDI are fan favorites – if not best-sellers – and further development and integration in the American marketplace could help to educate the public about the benefit of diesel engines and convince politicians to ease outrageous taxes and fees on diesel vehicles. This may happen by 2025 or it may never happen in a million years, but the point is that everything is on the table, and the next thirteen years may be the most innovative decade-plus in the auto industry since turbocharging.
What can you expect from the future of automobiles? Well, a little bit of everything. More hybrids and more electrics; better hybrids and better electrics. Direct injection and small displacement turbocharging and regenerative brakes and automatic engine shut-off and new types of lightweight batteries. Expect experimentation, and don’t be afraid of it right off the bat. After all, your next car could change the world.
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