By on December 1, 2007

kingston2.jpg2020. That’s the year by which all automakers selling vehicles in the United States must [now] achieve a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 35mpg. The symbolism is strictly ironic. The politicians who crafted the new Energy Bill hardly displayed 20-20 vision. They singularly failed to see that their well-meaning efforts to force Americans to conserve fuel by forcing manufacturers to produce fuel efficient vehicles evokes the law of unintended consequences. While it’s impossible to see the future with perfect clarity, there are obvious “unforeseen” pitfalls.

Let’s start with the legislation’s basic assumption: automakers can create a range of vehicles with a combined fuel economy of 35mpg. Ostensibly, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel (and everything attached to it). All carmakers have to do is build and sell more vehicles like the ones that already achieve the requisite target. According to the official EPA website, only two cars sold in the U.S. literally fit the bill: the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Toyota Prius. Uh-oh.

First, both cars are niche products; the vast majority of American consumers prefer to drive something else. That reality creates a strange paradigm. Any automaker that doesn't meet the new standards has a far better chance of selling vehicles and making money than one who does. If the CAFE fines are lower than the profits generated by ignoring the standards, auto execs wishing to maximize shareholder value must turn their backs on the legislative directive, pay up and get on with it. To wit: BMW and Mercedes' current CAFE fines.

Second, the Prius and Civic hybrid both use proprietary technology. Detroit doesn’t possess the necessary gas – electric expertise to replicate their mpg results. To think that The Big 2.8 can catch-up with Toyota and Honda in 12 years, never mind overtake them, is a leap of faith without historical basis. Yes, this dilemma is Detroit’s own damn fault. But Ford, GM and Chrysler are already teetering on the abyss. This legislation is a shove in the wrong direction.

Third, the Prius and the Civic Hybrid's towing capacity is listed as“not recommended.” While I’m sure there are plenty of environmental campaigners who’ll be happy to learn of the Energy Bill’s de facto death sentence for SUVs, the economic impact of neutering pickup trucks' load carrying and towing capacity would be dramatic.

The argument against this line of thinking: automakers will now race to develop technological solutions that will raise their CAFE numbers by 40 percent without sacrificing comfort, performance, price, practicality, towing, safety or reliability. Call it the “if we can put a man on the moon…” school of thought.

If we accept this metaphor, Japan is America with a ten year lead. Detroit is Communist Russia. Ford is bankrupt. Chrysler is bust downsizing for re-sale. And even if Chevrolet’s Volt turns out to be a stunning technological triumph, there’s little chance GM can convert their entire passenger and light truck lineup to lithium-ion battery-aided propulsion— and get people to buy the result— by 2020. That said, GM may not have to Volt-up the whole fleet; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration might agree to some highly advantageous mpg calculations for plug-in gas – electric hybrids; a new formula that will help off-set the rest of the fleet's low-mileage stats.

The potential for finagling on CAFE raises the automakers’ most obvious “solution” to Congress’ “solution” to our dependence on foreign oil: cheating. The new Energy Bill extends the ethanol credits that inflate automakers’ EPA stats based on almost entirely theoretical E85 use. I have every confidence that Representative John Dingell (D-Michigan) secured plenty of exemptions, exceptions and get out of jail free cards for his Detroit constituents.

For example, the Detroit Free Press reports that “Money generated from fines that luxury automakers would receive for missing fuel-economy standards are to be given to automakers that retool old factories for building models with advanced technology.” If we assume the “luxury automakers” bit is Freep conjecture, this rider could mean that automakers who violate CAFE can use their own CAFE fines to fund new product development. How great is that?

The way I see it, either this Energy Bill will defeat Detroit, or provide enough loopholes and clever caveats to render its 35mpg target meaningless, or simply fail under the weight of its own unrealistic expectations. At the end of the proverbial day, legislation that attempts to control the free market on this scale is doomed to failure. There's  only way this will work: if the free market heads in the same direction at the same time– allowing legislators to claim credit for events they didn't create or control.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Perhaps the Energy Bill will usher in a golden age of environmentally friendly automobiles. Wanna bet?

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88 Comments on “New Energy Bill Dooms Carmakers to Failure...”


  • avatar
    Blunozer

    Call me an optimist (prime), but I think its doable.

    Think how things would be now, if in 1995 they decided improve fuel economy and reduce weight instead of power increases, structural integrity, and double-dub wheels.

    Now, with hybrid powertrains, CAD/CAM designs etc, it should be more than possible.

  • avatar

    Blunozer : So you reckon automakers can build a capable pickup truck that gets 35mpg? Are they planning on revoking the laws of physics? Or will the automakers create 50 or 60mpg cars to offset 20mpg pickups? In any case, "they" built cars that the market wanted to buy. Are you sure the U.S. market wants 35mpg vehicles if they have to sacrifice practicality, comfort, style, performance, reliability and/or safety? If they do, why aren't they buying them now? And if they don't, what happened to the concept of democracy?

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Robert—-”And if they don’t, what happened to the concept of democracy?”

    Bravo ! Could not agree more.

  • avatar
    postjosh

    cafe is nothing but rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. what we need is a huge increase in gas taxes. the proceeds should be spent on government programs to promote energy independence. if we don’t, we will spend more money on our oil wars and further limit our economic growth because of the trade deficit.

  • avatar
    turbosaab

    RF, yes, a small pickup that gets 35mpg is within the realm of possibility. Sprinter vans achieve 25mpg w/ the CDI (turbodiesel) option – this is with standard technology being sold today. A well-engineered full size pickup equipped with the same powertrain should be able to achieve 25mpg as well.

    I strongly agree with you that the federal government should not be regulating this. The idea that a bunch of bureaucrats think they know better than hardworking Americans spending their own money, and are going to force their choices upon us, is wrong, and probably unconstitutional. Let the free market decide.

  • avatar
    Blunozer

    As the price of crude oil keeps going up, so will the demand for higher mileage cars.

    All you have to do look around and see that pump prices and demand for fuel efficient vehicles are related. Monster SUVs are less popular in Canada than in the US, even though Canadian winters make owning a SUV much more justifiable. Our gas prices keep Yukahoe, Titan and Sequoia demand low. In Europe, demand for smaller cars is even higher.

    Do I think governments should artifically inflate the cost of gasoline? No, but the market seems to be doing that by itself.

    As far as sacrificing “practicality, comfort, style, performance, reliability and/or safety?” I really don’t think you need to. Heres why.

    Practicality: Many smaller, more fuel efficient cars seem to be more practical then the fatties. For example The Pontiac Vibe is more practical than the Dodge Challenger will be.

    Style: Why can’t a car be fuel efficient and stylish? Exibit A: The Mini Cooper.

    Performance: Performance increases can be the result of lighter weight instead of increased fuel consumption.

    Safety: Light car = shorter stopping distance… Avoid accidents completely!

  • avatar
    NBK-Boston

    “What happened to the concept of democracy?”

    Congress voted for this thing, and President Bush will have the chance to sign it or veto it. Last time I checked, all us Americans in the room (with the possible exception of any Washington DC residents here) had the chance to vote for (or against) the congressmen and president who are responsible for all this. Democracy doesn’t mean a happy ending.

    Frankly, if all this thing really does is create, through its system of fines and tooling grants, a “shadow feebate” pegged to a 35 mpg standard, I think we call all just nod our heads and move on. Carmakers who earn a lot by selling low efficiency cars will subsidize the tooling of factories that build efficient cars, allowing them to be sold at a lower price than they otherwise would. End of story.

    How different is that from the Canadian system of taxing inefficient cars at the point of sale, and using the revenue to offer government-sponsored incentives on efficient cars? Well, except for the whole clarity/transparancy thing, I’d argue it’s pretty much the same. And the major corporate players who have to sort out the mess will have enough accountants and lawyers on staff to get through it quick enough.

    If CAFE standards were tied to an outright ban on sales of large cars or pickup trucks, or some other wildly punitive consequence, you’d see blood in the streets. But as long as it’s tied to a financial penalty that is in modest proportion to the overall cost of the car, people will pay the price, continue to drive, and give it little thought. It will create some incentives on the margins for the purchase of efficient cars, and spur somewhat the development of new technologies that make efficiency easier to accomplish without making too many other critical tradeoffs, which is all we really expect anyway.

    Other than that — business as usual.

  • avatar
    jaje

    The best way to convince consumers to drive more fuel efficient vehicles is to create deterance on the demand side of the equation (not the supply side). That means levying a gasoline tax over time to make consumers pay more for a gallon of gas. As with CAFE in the past it hardly did anything as when the gas crisis hit and is going on today people are did move towards more fuel efficient vehicles – and it wasn’t from anything that CAFE did. The MFGRs lobbied and enriched the pockets of many a congressman/woman in order to create a wealth of loopholes (flex fuel vehicles). They will do it again. B/c if gas stays cheap enough – those who want big gas guzzling vehicles will still buy them and MFGRs want that business pure and simple. CAFE be damned. The reason why we have CAFE is our Congress is too cowardly to do the right thing b/c anytime someone wants to raise any kind of taxes whether for good or bad – it’s a career ending mistake and we the people need to grow up and make informed decisions and not kneejerk ones based on a campaign commerical.

    Pure and simple if you want to affect demand and the easiest way to do so is levy gas taxes to make it prohibitive to buy vehicles that are wasteful. The lower and middle income classes (which are multitude of buyers) will be affected the most and change their buying habits back to minivans, wagons and sedans. The rich will always be able to afford excess. The tax income from affecting this behavior can be used to help develop alternative energy infrastructure (such as solar powered hydrogen plants, safer wind turbines that can be mounted on building rooftops and not be a danger to wildlife, etc.)

  • avatar
    Michal

    Wow, this article should be fact checked.

    Are there really only two cars that beat 35mpg? Apart from the Civic Hybrid and Prius, I can think of these without any effort:

    Hyundai i30, Elantra, Getz, Sonata. Toyota Corolla, Camry. Ford Focus. Mitsubishi Colt, Lancer, Galant. GM/Daweoo Barina, Tigra, Viva (Australia). Kia Rio. Volkswagen Golf, Jetta. Honda Jazz (Fit), normal Civic, Accord. Subaru Imprezza. Renault Clio, Megane. Peugeot 206, 207, 306, 307. Mercedes A-Class, C-Class. smart.

    Those cars immediately come to mind. As the price of oil inevitably increases (China and India want to drive too!), American car choices will be defined by the cost of driving. The current range of absolutely ‘essential’ SUVs for hauling stuff back and forth will disappear.

  • avatar
    sk8inkid

    How fast the smaller car trend here in America has taken off I find startling. My friends live in Providence, their apartment complex parking lot has nothing larger in it than a VW Rabbit! I think back two years ago, it wasn’t like this. However, you gotta ask yourself does it really affect me? I mean, won’t they just still have the gas guzzler tax? So 2020 my S class still gets 20mpg, just pay a tax and be done. Perhaps they’ll push out a bigger lineup of engine choices, but I’ll personally still buy what I want, even if I have to pay a couple grand to the government in taxes. Its worth it.

  • avatar
    sk8inkid

    …Now only if there was more legislation pushing alternative fuel sources..

  • avatar
    dancote

    I’m concerned for our domestic auto industry when this type of legislation is passed.

    On the other hand, pick-ups and monster SUVs are not required for the average individual. (You’d be surprised how many people in the world get along just fine without them)

    Let those who drive decide. If you want to drive a vehicle that’s classed as a gas guzzler and can afford it, pay the tax and be done with it.

  • avatar
    kansei

    Michal –what Subaru Impreza, sold in the United States (as U.S. legislation is the topic here), gets 35mpg? Last I checked, absolutely none of them because they are sticking to what makes them unique (full time AWD and boxer engines).

    I get 36mpg highway and my car puts twice as much horsepower to the ground as it did when I bought it (turbocharged plus all sorts of ‘breathing’ mods). It’s also a wagon, capable of hauling a twin mattress inside it as needed (can hold driver + a passenger while doing so), and a potent autocrossing car :)

    I also have a truck that I routinely get 22mpg highway in, and that’s a 4×4, extended cab, 4.0 pushrod V6 in a truck built in 1994 in the united states. Yes, it’s not a gigantic truck (Mazda branded Ford Ranger) but it’s way more truck than 95% of people who use trucks need.

    Yes, of course combined fuel economy 35mpg is way harder than doing that just on the highway, but it isn’t out of reach. If you only consider things like a chevy suburban, then yes they will have an incredibly difficult time getting to 35mpg.

    The sad truth is that it comes down to car companies being forced to make the cars people need, not the cars (most) people want. Most people who want a suburban say they need it because they absolutely need 3 rows of seating and tons of cargo space behind the third row. The truth is, they only really need something like a Mazda5 with a removable cargo holder on the roof. Sure, that 2.3 i4 isn’t too spirited when hauling 6 average sized Americans, but does it need to be? Do you need to be able to beat 50% of the cars on the road from a stop light in a car with 6 people plus cargo?

    People are obsessed with bigger, more power, etc and it’s just silly in this day and age. Stop thinking for yourself and think about society and the world we’re living in. Yes it’s nice to be able to buy whatever car your heart desires but it’s irresponsible and wasteful.

    Car companies need to show Americans that you can build a small car that is solid feeling and has some grunt but at the same time has a fuel-sipping four cylinder or better yet a turbodiesel. The cars exist today but most car companies don’t bother marketing them (or in the case of turbodiesels they don’t bother selling them here at all).

  • avatar
    autoacct628

    The “tax” is being paid now as buyers of low mileage vehicles bear the brunt of a massive loss of market value on their vehicles.

    Let the market take care of the problem. The price of gas now seems to be dictating much of the vehicle market demand.

    If the government wanted to help. Rather than tax the carmakers, they would tax the consumer at the gas pump, (with a reasonable income tax credit to offset the pain on low-income comsumers) and make the proceeds available to the big 2.8 in terms of low interest loans to allow them to quickly retool to make higher mileage vehicles. Yes, I know, it sounds like corporate welfare, but with the right strings attached (interest rates on the loans tied to CAFE achievement and job retention, for example) it would be fairer and more effective for our economy than just a CAFE program. It would be a corporate welfare program that would protect JOBS in this country.

    Won’t fly though. Makes too much sense.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Legislators and civil servants take perverse pride in their low business I.Q. and face no consequences for their nincompoopery. I have an aversion to them messing with it.

    Automakers have a long and inglorious history of non-responsiveness to urgent societal issues and bring unduly punishing legislation down upon themselves.

    New technology will not reduce fuel consumption to legislative requirements. Massive fleet downsizing will be required, and a lot of weaseling with the standard.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    Car companies need to show Americans that you can build a small car that is solid feeling and has some grunt but at the same time has a fuel-sipping four cylinder or better yet a turbodiesel. The cars exist today but most car companies don’t bother marketing them (or in the case of turbodiesels they don’t bother selling them here at all).

    Where? And will they meet U.S. safety standards, and will the diesels meet emissions requirements?

  • avatar
    AGR

    If the price of gas goes to $4 a gallon in the US and $1.50 a liter in Canada? The consumers will demand what sort of fuel economy from the products the manufacturers will offer for sale?

    In North America if the transportation infrastructures continue to deteriorate and literally collapse who will pay? Where will the money come from to repair, and refurbish.

  • avatar
    CarShark

    @AGR

    Not much different, I’d say. We pay $3/gallon. Bitch. Moan. Whine. Then get in our car and leave. If you go to $7 or $8/gallon like in some parts of Western Europe, then you might see something different.

  • avatar
    EJ

    Detroit has already been made mostly obsolete by the likes of Toyota and Honda. So why let the world’s energy and global warming policies be held back further by a few companies that have been slacking?

    (there is still some hope: Chevy Volt, Ford hybrids…)

  • avatar
    Strippo

    The sad truth is that it comes down to car companies being forced to make the cars people need, not the cars (most) people want.

    The sad truth is that it comes down to influencing demand so that people seek out the cars they really need, not the cars (most) people now want.

    An energy policy based on CAFE cannot accomplish that. And while it has been said that raising taxes on gasoline is political suicide, the reality is we’re currently being “taxed” mightily by the oil-producing nations.

    Pump prices might very well be lower now than they currently are if gas taxes had been much higher all along. Such is the magic of discouraging “irrational exuberance” for a finite commodity like oil over the long run. And in a revenue neutral scenario we could be enjoying lower income tax rates to boot. In other words, tax policy could be used to discourage unnecessary gasoline consumption instead of discouraging productive effort as it does now. And with an appropriate tax credit for the poor to address the regressive nature of such a shift, we could all end up better off financially in the long run. Imagine that.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    I’m guessing that there are probably enough loopholes and credits in the bill so that future E85-capable hybrid Yukahoes and Aspurangoes get credit for over 35mpg.

    I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the free market being the end to all solutions as it can take years or decades for the desired conclusion to arrive. For example, improvement in safety and emissions equipment have been given a serious shove thanks to legislation. Airbags were first available in the 1970′s – a GM option, if I remember correctly – but took well over a decade to become widespread.

    Would the US been better off with an energy policy (gas tax, displacement tax, etc.) following the oil shocks of the 1970′s, where decreased demand sank oil prices for more than a decade afterwards? Yes, there was a price to pay, starting with econobox 0-60 times in excess of 15 seconds – you don’t get something for nothing. I would argue that the engine displacement tax previously in place in Japan has made those automakers more competitive with small powertrains, engineers having to work harder to get the most out of 2 liters (and 4, 5, or 6 cylinders).

  • avatar

    Michal: Wow, this article should be fact checked. I didn't mean to imply that the Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid are the only cars made that beat the required 35mpg COMBINED mpg figure. I was pointing out that they are the only cars sold in the U.S. that hit the target. I've amended the text to clarify the point.

  • avatar
    bfg9k

    Robert Farago :
    So you reckon automakers can build a capable pickup truck that gets 35mpg? Are they planning on revoking the laws of physics? Or will the automakers create 50 or 60mpg cars to offset 20mpg pickups?

    How about hydraulic hybrids for trucks? The EPA and Eaton (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/02/epa_eaton_and_p.html) estimate a 60-70% improvement in fuel economy.

    Lighter weight materials and better aerodynamics will contribute enormously to mileage. If this law holds, we may yet see mass-produced carbon fiber vehicles. The pickup of the future will probably not have a gigantic macho square front end, and who knows, maybe it’ll resemble the trucks by Luigi Colani.

  • avatar
    starlightmica

    Some hybrids’ combined MPG’s:

    46 Prius
    42 Civic
    34 Altima
    34 Camry
    32 Escape/Mariner/Tribute FWD

    An E85 Jeep Commander rated EPA rated at 10mpg combined (on E85) uses 1/3 (32.65% using fueleconomy.gov #’s) the amount of gasoline when running E85 vs. regular gas, resulting in a combined rating of 30 for CAFE purposes via the current loophole. (Someone correct me if I calculated incorrectly.)

    You don’t really want to know what a 2WD GMT900 pickup is worth, right? The answer is . . . 42 (but Douglas Adams fans already knew that), and a flex fuel Yukahoe hybrid would probably come in the high 40′s. That’s right, Prius territory, folks.

    For now, all Detroit has to do for now is make their entire truck/SUV fleets flex fuel. The E85 loophole doesn’t start phasing out until 6 years from now, that buys them a whole lot of time. I think they can bank CAFE credits, too – a E85 Yukahoebrid would then be the icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    radimus

    Every time an article about fuel economy goes up one or more people suggest that the US levy heavier taxes on fuel. I’m sorry, but I’m not with that at all nor do I see it ever happening here.

    That idea is probably fine if you live in Europe or Japan where there is an extensive mass transit system. What’s the guy living in typical rural or small town US supposed to do? Drive his car, that’s what. Mass transit is no where near him, nor will it ever be.

    Second, high fuel taxes will only turn the screws to the poorer people. And whatever politicians vote for it will see themselves out of a job come the next election cycle.

    Third, one of the cornerstones of the US economy is cheap transportation. Right or wrong, like it or not, that’s how it is. The government isn’t about to do anything that will screw with that.

    Finally, you can whine about the laws of physics and how will all be driving deathtraps but in the end the automakers will find a way. They’ll lobby for loopholes, extend hybrid tech into more models, employ various technical tricks like disabling half the cylinders or what not, make use of lighter materials where they can, whatever. They did it before, and they’ll do it again. And I don’t think whatever happens will effect the towing capacity very much.

  • avatar
    hansbos

    It’s quite simple to mitigate the equity consequences of a higher gas tax. Say you increase gas taxes by $1 per gallon nationwide. Say an average driver drives 15000 miles at 20mpg, thus using 750 gallons of gas and paying an extra $750 in taxes. All you need to do is to give every taxpayer a $750 REFUNDABLE tax credit (like the EITC) to offset their losses from the increased taxes. You could even give rural drivers a $1500 credit and contractors a $3000 credit if you wanted to. The point is that everyone has an immediate incentive to drive less and only people who drive more than average (for their situation) or who have an uneconomical car are financially penalized. If I were a presidential candidate, this is what I would propose to deal with global warming. There is no need whatsoever for CAFE.

  • avatar
    EJ

    The New York Times says this about the ethanol loophole: “[The new CAFE law will] allow the car companies to retain a credit for vehicles capable of running on a blend of gasoline and ethanol. That credit was set to expire in 2008 but now will begin to decline in 2014 and be eliminated entirely by 2020.”

    Despite all the griping about the CAFE law, in truth: it’s a sweet deal for the auto industry.
    Consider the alternative to CAFE: sky high license fees and gas taxes (the way they have it in Europe).
    The average selling price of vehicles is far higher in the US than in Europe. All of that money stays in the pockets of auto makers (instead of getting sucked into government taxes).
    Gas is cheap in the US, making it possible for low income people to drive cars.

    So, while keeping cars and gas cheap, how are we going to do something about the use of oil? CAFE laws. And those need to be without loopholes, of course.

    Is 35 MPG possible?
    Consider Toyota’s lineup: they have the Highlander hybrid SUV (26 MPG) and the Prius (46 MPG). Average: 36 MPG.
    Toyota just showed off the 1/X hybrid that supposedly can get 100 MPG using carbon fiber materials. Add plug-in hybrids and the picture gets even better.

    What about pickup trucks?
    First of all, maybe fewer people should be driving those. I can think of several people in my street who can easily do without, because they don’t have anything to tow. Secondly, auto makers will need to learn to innovate. Can you make pickups differently, so they use less gas while still being capable for hauling/towing? Of course you can, if you make that a priority for your engineers.

  • avatar
    casper00

    This will create nothing but chaos…..first if this becomes real and I’m guessing it is, this will put even more pressure on car manufactures especially the big 2.8, which of course is already struggling. With this new law it will force car makers to concentrate on improving mpg. This will leads to other failures in other categories. A pick-up truck is built for work, to haul, a van is built for the capacity….what i see in the future yeah a lot of cars are going achieve 35 mpg but at a heavier cost…just prepare for of mechanic issues….

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    turbosaab:

    Let the free market decide.

    I never asked for airbags, crumple zones, door beams, electronic nannies or being forced to wear a seatbelt. In 20+ years of driving they’ve never done me any good but I’m forced to pay for them all. Sometimes the government has to act in our best interest, because given the choice we won’t do it individually. Oil consumption goes way beyond a personal choice; it involves foreign policy, pollution, refining and distribution infrastructure. Someone’s choice to get 10mpg in their Yukahoe going to Starbucks has a direct effect on the rest of us.

    I would contend the new standards actually give Detroit a chance to survive. They are now forced to plan for a future where they can be competitive with the other manufacturers instead of panhandling like some hobo to the government whenever fuel prices spike.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    So, while keeping cars and gas cheap, how are we going to do something about the use of oil? CAFE laws.

    Let’s take that premise and run with it for a second. Even assuming that CAFE laws can work to keep gas and cars “cheap”, the result would simply be more and more discretionary gasoline consumption by more and more drivers. It’s just the American way. So if CAFE laws truly facilitate cheap cars and cheap gas, then what’s the point of having them?

    There is only one sure way of manipulating market forces in a free society, and pretending that the market doesn’t exist, as CAFE laws do, isn’t it.

  • avatar
    CarShark

    I think this bill just shows how disconnected Congress is from business reality. Like many here, I believe that free market capitalism is the best path to prosperity. :)

    The big difference between now and the regulation of safety, emissions and fuel economy back in the 70s is that there is even more competition. GM and Toyota are constantly trying to out-green each other as we speak. There is (or will be soon) a hybrid Camry, Malibu and Altima, plus a diesel Accord. The hybrid Escape and Mariner are doing well, so it shouldn’t be long before there are hybrids in every compact SUV.

    The thing is, even those don’t get 35 mpg. The only cars I can see making the grade are the subcompacts and a few compacts, but they’d have to have even less powerful engines then they have now, and I’m not sure the American consumer wants that. And if the American consumer doesn’t buy it, then…Unless they want to make laws that say cars can only be SO old. I think they do that in Japan, I’m not sure.

  • avatar
    Dman

    Robert We went from domestic tankers getting under 10 mpg to cars getting over 25, many over 30. This since the FIRST CAFE RULES!!! The domestic masnufacturers certainly did not do this on they’re own accord. No. They were dragged kicking and screaming to this point. Same story with safety features. And the buyers DID MAKE THE FINAL CHOICE. And THEY STILL DO! That is why the Japanese get bigger and the domestic’s get smaller. “Ohh Ohh Poor Us! We will most cerainly go extinct with this!” Sames *** different decade and century.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    The answer is simple:

    DIESEL.

    The same small car that gets a combined 28-30 MPG with a gas engine will get 38-40 COMBINED with a diesel.

    Also, Mercedes has a 1.8 gas engine that develops 235 horsepower naturally aspirated. How? It uses, among other things, a combination of gas and diesel technology.

  • avatar
    Hank

    There’s no virtue in setting low, already obtainable goals. If you want to get better, you reach for what just out of your grasp. I share the first poster’s optimism.

  • avatar
    AGR

    CarShark,

    Everyone complains about the price of gas, and keeps on driving, and progressively downsizing to smaller more economical vehicles.

    As the vehicle population increases in developing countries, chances are good that the price of gas will increase, and perhaps even spike especially that its a finite resource.

    At some price point the consumer will go beyond complaining and upholding his driving habits. People that live and need to commute in any metro area in North America spend an incredible amount of time by themselves commuting in an oversized vehicle. On any day how much gas is wasted crawling in traffic dealing with the daily commute, averaging 43mph.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The automakers need not worry. They have enough lobbyists and attorneys on the payroll to ensure that fuel economy legislation will be fairly toothless and meaningless. There will be delays, extensions, loopholes and reinterpretations that will render it irrelevant.

    I go back to my usual argument re: CAFE. CAFE only exists because nobody in Washington has the politically suicidal tendencies that would be required to propose a hefty fuel tax increase. It’s not intended to actually accomplish anything, it’s just there to impress the voters that The Government is Doing Something.

    A fuel tax would be the most economically logical way to motivate Americans to buy smaller cars. But it’s too politically stupid to contemplate. Ergo CAFE.

    The one tangible result of this legislation will be that government bureaucrats will be buying more glorified golf carts, because those vehicles will contribute positively to meeting the requirement.

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    P71_CrownVic :

    The answer is simple:

    DIESEL.

    The problem with that would then be supply; there’s twice as much gasoline than diesel in crude oil. If all US cars (probably the biggest sector of the biggest market) switched to diesel then the price would skyrocket. Seeing as diesel is also used for heating and goods transportation, you’d have to tell some grandma in Montana that her heating and food bills have doubled just so some yahoo in San Francisco can get 40mpg in his SUV.

  • avatar
    glenn126

    It’ll work out. I hate the idea of the E85 loophole. By 2020, we’ll have hopefully figured out that ethanol is a terrible motor fuel; expensive, energy (read: oil) intensive, and that these imbecilic laws regarding Ethanol and throwing however many billions of our (taxpayer) money at yet more big industry pals of our so-called leaders, was a very bad idea. Not to mention that food prices are already so much on the increase, that people coming for help at our local church food pantry have gone from something like 6 or 8 families twice per week, to 12 to 18.

    We can’t eat our SUV’s, folks.

    The other, final point I might make for people is that, my “little” Prius is about as big inside as a Tahoe SUV and uses about 1/4 the energy. OK, right, it cannot tow and the trunk area is smaller than the Tahoe. But for general transportation use (which, let’s be honest, is what most Tahoes are used for – with one person in them commuting) a Prius is 100% as serviceable. A Civic IMA is smaller inside, but Honda is learning quickly and bringing out a direct competitor to Prius soon.

    There are all kinds of possibilities, but they cost money. Direct fuel injection, smaller displacement, alloy exterior body parts, getting used to the idea that 0-60 in 10 seconds was plenty fast for our parents in their V8 midsized 1960′s cars and it’s plenty fast for us, or alternately, clean diesels, adding hydraulic or electric hybrids, plug-in electric hybrids, electric cars, etc.

    In fact, we Americans should have started making moves along this direction in 1973, or at latest, 1979. In my humble opinion.

    In other words, Detroit Inc should have pressed on beyond the supposed 27.5 mpg goal on it’s own. It will go down in business history as one of the biggest blunders for any industry, for centuries.

    It’s not like we weren’t warned by our enemies – the fuel crisis in 1973, the next in 1979, the increasing importation of oil (30% in 1973, now over 60%) leaving America at the mercy of it’s enemies.

    Speaking of which, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is threatening to TURN OFF the oil tap to the United States. That’s 11% of our supply.

    Would that bring us back to “even days/odd days” for filling up gas tanks, again? And/or, maybe $8 a gallon in Des Moines (and $10 a gallon in Hollywood)? Yet another war about oil?

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    Frankly, if all this thing really does is create, through its system of fines and tooling grants, a “shadow feebate” pegged to a 35 mpg standard, I think we call all just nod our heads and move on. Carmakers who earn a lot by selling low efficiency cars will subsidize the tooling of factories that build efficient cars, allowing them to be sold at a lower price than they otherwise would. End of story.

    You seem to be forgetting the government will take their cut as well. If it’s anything like the welfare program, that cut will be on the order of 30%.

    If you need a lesson in what happens when the government decides for the people what they ought to be driving, buy a Tribant (sp?).

  • avatar
    EJ

    EJ: So, while keeping cars and gas cheap, how are we going to do something about the use of oil? CAFE laws.

    Strippo: There is only one sure way of manipulating market forces in a free society, and pretending that the market doesn’t exist, as CAFE laws do, isn’t it.

    I agree that taxing the hell out of gas would work very well. But that’s not what we want in America.

    The nice thing about CAFE is that it has been succesfull in improving MPG without high taxes. That’s like having your cake and eating it too. Especially if manufacturers come up with smart, somewhat affordable ways to improve MPG.
    The biggest problem with CAFE is that it has been stagnant over the years. The CAFE standard needs to be steadily increased over time.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    The nice thing about CAFE is that it has been succesfull in improving MPG without high taxes.

    MPG has improved here because of the existence of markets outside this country where fuel economy has always mattered. Importation of some of those cars/car designs for economy/green-minded buyers improved MPG to some extent here. That and companies like Chrysler giving away PT Cruisers to balance out their truck fleet for CAFE purposes.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    And what about democracy?

    We HAVE democracy…and it is working just fine!!!

    GM, Ford, and Chrysler…all three of which are in the collective crapper…are living proof.

    The trucks each of these companies are building, whose profits subsidize their car business…will be their ultimate downfall.

    I tell you what…I don’t see too many 4000lb LTD’s on the road today. Do you?

    In 10 years time these ridiculous monster trucks being used as daily transportation will too look equally as out of place and dated. Mark my word.

    The continual financial distress of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, the continual loss of market share, the layoffs, the plant closures, the literal rotting of the city of Detroit…

    This is Democracy in action!!!

    Let Freedom Ring!!! Now give me a “Hail Yeah!!!”

    The invisible hand is moving. The forces of Big Oil against The (former) Big 3….this is Democracy.

    The only thing which differentiates this clash from the 1971 oil “crisis” is that in 1971 the Big 3 and Big Oil each were a cartel in their own right.

    Today, the Big 3 cartel is broken and no longer exists. Big Oil is still standing.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    I’m slightly stunned that the only cars on the US market that can achieve 35mpg in both ways is the Honda hybrid and Toyota Hybrid. I couldn’t have sworn that the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz (Fit) could have done it, but apparently not (The European versions can).

    I don’t agree with all this “What happened to democracy” malarky. You could argue that with any law which forces one to do something (Wear a seatbelt, ABS fitted as standard) it all adds onto the price of a car. This is just an extension of that prnciple. When we changed over from leaded petrol to unleaded, people argued that we’d all have to buy new cars, but by a slow transition, we all switched. That’s progress.

    I can’t argue about the economic impact of SUV’s and pickups (they’re not used that much in the UK), but I can imagine that some people would have problems running their jobs. But whenever there a price rise in fuel, that always gets passed onto the customer. Which means that the end effect isn’t the the pick up driver, but the customer of their services.

    All of this means that the Germans (once they’ve got their emissions in check) can now re-enter the market with their diesels. Add some particulate filters and ammonia to speed up the break down of the emissions and a NOx reducing catalytic convertor (i.e Bluemotion or Bluetec) and you have a powertrain easily capable of achieving 35+ mpg and rugged enough to be used in SUV’s and pick ups.

    In fact, there another example of how a law affected someone. Emission laws prevented the Germans selling a lot of their diesels in the US, which meant they had to withdraw them. Now if they want to re-introduce them to the US market, they’ll have to adapt them to fit US laws and regulations and since the US is the most profitable market in the world, I’m sure the Germans will find a way to make diesels fit! Because once they do, the hybrids will have a serious fight on their hands……

    The race is on!

    P.S. I am currently listening to:

    Golden Earring – Radar Love.
    The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running.

    Brilliant tracks!

  • avatar
    jthorner

    From 1970 to 1985 cars became smaller, engines got smaller and fuel economy went up. Once CAFE stopped incrementing what happened? Everything got bigger, vehicles grew, engines grew and a horsepower race not seen since the 1950s and 60s got under way seriously. When Cadillac’s Northstar V-8 debuted in 1993 at 295 HP it was a new high water benchmark for modern Front Wheel Drive engines and came in a car priced at about 2.5x what a new Camry or Accord went for fully equipped. Today a V-6 Camry packs 268 HP and hits 0-60 times of around 5.8 seconds. The rest of it’s competitors post similar numbers.

    This is simply madness. There is absolutely no good reason why four door sedans need to pack that kind of a punch. The capability is almost never used in real life, and when it is said use is a danger to other drivers on the road.

    If CAFE limits had kept bumping up 0.75 MPG per year since 1991 instead of being left at the same level for 16 years we would already be past the 35 MPG number for cars at least. We wouldn’t be buying monster trucks for commuting 30 miles each way to work and a family sedan would probably be clocking 10-12 second 0-60 times instead of half that. Fuel consumption in the US would be much lower than it is today and fuel costs would also be lower per gallon due to less demand.

    I agree that a big stinking gas tax makes more economic sense than CAFE, but it isn’t going to happen.

    I am sick and tired of the industry and self-appointed automotive experts (journalists) making excuses for why this or that can’t be done or why hitting aggressive efficiency goals is going to put them out of business. The world of automotive journalism is part of the problem with it’s endless fascination with the biggest, baddest, fastest vehicles. BS. Stop whinging and get to work.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    To be honest, a lot of these arguments seem to be born of a deep-rooted vendetta against the SUV, and suggestions intended to loosen the SUV’s grip on America have the unintended consequence of screwing over everybody else who doesn’t have an SUV.

    Take raising the gas tax for example. Raising them to astronomical levels will hurt the small car owner. I think it’s safe to say that part of the reason they’re driving a Fit or Yaris or Aveo is because they can’t afford to be in a Civic or Corolla or Cobalt. The owner of that Toyota Sequoia may grumble at what he has to pay to fill up, but at least he has the Yaris, Corolla, Camry Hybrid, and Prius to fall back to. Owners of the smallest of the small have nothing they can move down to. They’re just stuck.

    It’s fine that you find it detestable that the guy next to you on the morning rush is driving solo in his Nissan Armada. What’s not fine is what your attempts to get at him will do to everybody else.

  • avatar
    John Williams

    A lot of talk here has been about what people should be driving as opposed to what people WANT to drive. WANT is a very strong emotion as opposed to need and is probably the driving factor of people opting for large, powerful ALL-IN-ONE type vehicles like SUVs. Of course you might not use the seating capacity or the vehicle clearance, but at least you’ll have peace of mind that it’s there when you need it, plus it looks damned good. People buy ALL-IN-ONE printer/copier/scanners even though they might not even touch the scanner/copier feature. They buy it for the peace of mind.

    Now, the last time a government entity had the power of telling people what they should be driving, the citizens were driving what could possibly be the worst examples of automobile technology — a Trabant. Yep….a two-stroke pollution machine built with an environmentally unsound “duraplast” body by disaffected Eastern Bloc workers who could put the average UAW worker to shame in shiftless work ethic. Now, when government tells the people what they can drive, they will punish the people…….and leave themselves (the elite) with only the finest in automobile-dom (benzes, beemers, etc). So pardon me if hearing someone going on about what they think I “need” to drive strikes me the wrong way……

    ….OK, I’ll make a deal. You tell me what to drive. And you pay the note, insurance and repair bills for the damned thing.

    Are those crickets I hear?

    Well, then. I guess I’ll just keep driving my LS400 (18/24mpg) @ $3.25/gal. I can take the hit. Begrudgingly, but I’ll manage.

    Oh……and about gas taxes……politicians aren’t gonna dare pull that off. Unless, of course, they like being put out of power. Or being blamed for the riots that’ll inevitably start amongst the lower classes in response.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I’m slightly stunned that the only cars on the US market that can achieve 35mpg in both ways is the Honda hybrid and Toyota Hybrid. I couldn’t have sworn that the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz (Fit) could have done it, but apparently not (The European versions can).

    A US gallon is 5/6th’s the size of an Imperial gallon, so equivalent mpg figures calculated in US gallons are lower.

    You have to multiply US mpg figures by 20% to be able to compare them to UK figures, or multiply UK figures by 5/6th’s to convert them to US figures. For example: 20 mpg US = 25 mpg UK; 30 mpg US = 36 mpg UK.

    From 1970 to 1985 cars became smaller, engines got smaller and fuel economy went up. Once CAFE stopped incrementing what happened? Everything got bigger, vehicles grew, engines grew and a horsepower race not seen since the 1950s and 60s got under way seriously.

    The correlating factor here has been gasoline prices, which in the US are largely tied to the price of oil because gas taxes are not high enough to substantially influence behavior. When prices are high enough, drivers are motivated to find ways to reduce their consumption, which generally means driving smaller cars. Price increases and taxes are the most compelling motivators for reducing individual fuel consumption, and you can see it in the vehicle choices that we make.

    In theory, high CAFE standards should generate a couple of results: (a) manufacturers should start making excellent small cars so that they can compete in what would be a very crowded field (they would need those sales to increase their ability to sell larger vehicles), and (b) prices of gas guzzling vehicles should increase because their supplies would be effectively subject to a quota.

    But instead of achieving this utopia, we ended up with the Ford Pinto and Chevy Chevette. I guess things don’t always go as planned.

  • avatar
    Rastus

    I’m an optimist too. I think this latest “delay” is just that, a slight delay…we’ll get there! Just fork over another $1.6 BILLION of your hard-earned dollars, please:

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0UDO/is_14/ai_78476749

    We’re getting there…I can see the fruits of that well-funded tax-payer money already:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:2007_Chevrolet_Suburban.jpg

  • avatar
    sitting@home

    John Williams :

    opposed to what people WANT to drive.

    People want to drive what best suits them that is available on the market. SUVs are relative newcomers to the market, zip back to the 70′s and you’ll find nobody wanted them because they weren’t available. Who knows what next class of vehicles will come along especially if it’s forced to be more economical and comply to the same safety regulations as every other vehicle on the road.

    Now, the last time a government entity had the power of telling people what they should be driving, the citizens were driving what could possibly be the worst examples of automobile technology — a Trabant.

    I don’t think you can make this analogy. Eastern Europe was a closed system, imports of technology were restricted by either the importing or exporting nation and the people were hopelessly poor due to the type of economy. The Trabant was the result of the government not caring about emissions, safety or build quality, just letting the people buy the cheapest domestic made car possible. Now that sounds exactly like what Detroit would do if the government removed all restrictions.

  • avatar

    Hasn’t Europe already achieved these goals, or very close to them? Last I heard, their auto industry has not suffered apocalytpic failure.

    In fact it’s healthier than ours.

    This change is good, even if it requires compromise and innovation.

    I think RF knows this and was just trying to spark discussion by writing this halfhearted diatribe.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Michal :
    December 1st, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Wow, this article should be fact checked.

    Are there really only two cars that beat 35mpg? Apart from the Civic Hybrid and Prius, I can think of these without any effort:

    Hyundai i30, Elantra, Getz, Sonata. Toyota Corolla, Camry. Ford Focus. Mitsubishi Colt, Lancer, Galant. GM/Daweoo Barina, Tigra, Viva (Australia). Kia Rio. Volkswagen Golf, Jetta. Honda Jazz (Fit), normal Civic, Accord. Subaru Imprezza. Renault Clio, Megane. Peugeot 206, 207, 306, 307. Mercedes A-Class, C-Class. smart.

    Those cars immediately come to mind. As the price of oil inevitably increases (China and India want to drive too!), American car choices will be defined by the cost of driving. The current range of absolutely ‘essential’ SUVs for hauling stuff back and forth will disappear.

    It’s combined milage, and half the cars on your list aren’t sold in the US.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Alfamike :
    December 2nd, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Hasn’t Europe already achieved these goals, or very close to them? Last I heard, their auto industry has not suffered apocalytpic failure.

    In fact it’s healthier than ours.

    This change is good, even if it requires compromise and innovation.

    I think RF knows this and was just trying to spark discussion by writing this halfhearted diatribe.

    They sure as hell didn’t do it by forcing manufacturers to make more efficient cars. You can still buy your 7mpg SUV or supercar in europe if you have the money.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Nothing CAFE has ever done has come close to the net result of the 1970s oil crisis with regard to getting Americans to buy more fuel efficient vehicles. It’s proof positive that this will all sort out in the wash when the price of gas gets high enough. You can pay taxes on gas now and maybe get some infrastructure improvements, or you can wait until the price increases due to market forces and put all that money in the pocket of the oil barons. Either way, high gas prices are coming and that is what will sell more effecient cars. You can force the automakers to build anything you want, you can’t force people to buy them with legislation.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    hansbos :
    December 1st, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    It’s quite simple to mitigate the equity consequences of a higher gas tax. Say you increase gas taxes by $1 per gallon nationwide. Say an average driver drives 15000 miles at 20mpg, thus using 750 gallons of gas and paying an extra $750 in taxes. All you need to do is to give every taxpayer a $750 REFUNDABLE tax credit (like the EITC) to offset their losses from the increased taxes. You could even give rural drivers a $1500 credit and contractors a $3000 credit if you wanted to. The point is that everyone has an immediate incentive to drive less and only people who drive more than average (for their situation) or who have an uneconomical car are financially penalized. If I were a presidential candidate, this is what I would propose to deal with global warming. There is no need whatsoever for CAFE.

    Or God forbid…invest the money in a mass transit infrastructure or alternative fuel infrastructure. Where the hell are my 300mph cross country mag-lev trains I was promised anyway?

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Yes, 35mpg by 2020 seems ambitious– if we assume that the world and all its roads will look just the same, a dozen years from now. But what I’m already seeing is gas prices rising between 50 cents and a dollar each year. Anyone care to project that trend forward? Just multiply the low figure by 12, and gas will be nudging $10 a gallon by then. Will a 20mpg vehicle still seem “pretty darn good” in that world?

    Since developing new cars, engines and powertrains (and making them economical and reliable) takes so long, we’d better get an early start. The American road is already littered with the super-sized results of decisions made in the era of $1 and $2-gallon fuel. Here in Denver, used car lots are crammed full of jumbo pickups and SUVs, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty available for years to come, for those who just have to haul a big powerboat around (and have you witnessed how they suck down fuel? It turns out that shoving water aside is a lot harder than pushing air around).

    I’m delighted that we’re leaving the era when the purchase of an over-6000 lb vehicle was federally incentivized by large instant tax benefits, originally intended to help farmers and the like. This perverse incentive illustrates how we haven’t enjoyed a true “free market” for vehicles in a long time. I look forward to a day when automakers have to place cash on the hoods of their smaller cars to meet the CAFE numbers.

    If the new energy bill includes larger pot-sweetening incentives for household PV systems, I’ll put that cash on the hood of my next car (my solar system is paid for, and due for installation this month). It’ll be a used VW TDI. Even with the wrong (auto) transmission choice, 35 mpg is the floor for these cars, not the ceiling. My self-shifter should make 45 mpg on 50% renewable biodiesel. I’ll keep the 25 mpg Forester to pull my travel trailer. And I’ll enjoy listening to all ya’ll big-rig junkies complaining about how you can’t get up your driveway or tow your toddlers to school without 300 HP…

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    PS; you could change the headline to: “New Diet Plan Dooms Morbidly Obese Cardiac patient to Failure”

  • avatar
    hansbos

    Tankd0g:

    Or God forbid…invest the money in a mass transit infrastructure or alternative fuel infrastructure. Where the hell are my 300mph cross country mag-lev trains I was promised anyway?

    The nice thing is that you would do both. The refundable tax credit would address the equity problems of a higher gas tax; you would still generate a lot of additional revenue on top of that, which you would spend on alternative energy and alternative transportation options. (I would advocate a major expansion of cycling infrastructure in U.S. metro areas).

  • avatar
    EJ

    John Williams : A lot of talk here has been about what people should be driving as opposed to what people WANT to drive. WANT is a very strong emotion as opposed to need and is probably the driving factor of people opting for large, powerful ALL-IN-ONE type vehicles like SUVs.

    Well, John Williams, nobody here is against free choice. But I think as a society there is now a consensus that we need to cut back on the use of oil.
    So, how are you going to get that done, John Williams?

  • avatar

    More alternative views…

    “[The new energy bill] will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, save consumers over $26 billion at the pump and $18 billion on their energy bills, give us greener cars and clean electricity, put us on the road to energy independence, and make real progress in the fight against global warming.”

    Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

    “As oil prices climb to $100 a barrel and gasoline prices soar to $3.00 per gallon, consumers are being bled dry. Although the 35 mpg target is less than the automakers can and should be expected to deliver to the American people —already, the current best-in-class fuel economy performers for the combined car and light truck fleets are achieving an average 29 mpg, and every Democratic candidate in the presidential race with an energy plan has recognized the weakness of the 35 mpg target and is proposing much higher goals — the estimates are that consumers will nonetheless enjoy real savings, with some estimates projecting savings of over $20 billion by 2020.”

    Public Citizen

    And so on…

  • avatar
    NICKNICK

    This is probably the equivalent of laughing at your own joke, but i’m going to quote myself here because the gas tax keeps coming up even though it’s a *terrible* idea:
    “Fill in the blanks (assign values to the variables):

    If we reduce gasoline consumption by N gallons per year, we will be free from terrorism and war.

    Pretending that carbon emissions cause global warming: reducing carbon emissions by Y tons/year by reducing gasoline consumption by Z gallons per year will save the earth.

    There are W barrels of oil left in the earth.

    Having solved for N, Y, W, and Z, you may apply a gas tax of X dollars per gallon to achieve your goal.

    Until you can give me real values for ALL of it, you may not clamor for gasoline taxes.”

    Without knowing the values needed, you are in effect asking for an arbitrary tax. For all you know, the current rate of consumption is well below the threshold for preventing global warming and supply disasters. The crisis may be media-created. Without data YOU DON’T KNOW. You are asking uncle sam to just take some more of your money, and you don’t know or care how much. pretty dumb.

    And as for “horsepower wars” that keep coming up: just because a car *CAN* make 400hp doesn’t mean it always will…that’s up to you and your right foot! Lots of HP just means that an engine can breathe. Keep your foot off the floor and your 400hp powerplant magically turns into a 150hp slug. pretty amazing, huh?

    VW GTI/Jetta available with 5 engines: 2.0L 115hp, 1.8L 150hp, 1.8L 180hp, 2.8L 174hp, 2.8L 200hp. Highway mileage: 30, 31, 31, 30, 30.

    6.0L 400hp LS2 Corvette: 28mpg 6.0L 400hp LS2 Escalade: 17mpg

    it’s all about weight and aerodynamics, not horsepower. leave the muscle alone.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    If we reduce gasoline consumption by N gallons per year, we will be free from terrorism and war.

    Pretending that carbon emissions cause global warming: reducing carbon emissions by Y tons/year by reducing gasoline consumption by Z gallons per year will save the earth.

    There are W barrels of oil left in the earth.

    Having solved for N, Y, W, and Z, you may apply a gas tax of X dollars per gallon to achieve your goal.

    Until you can give me real values for ALL of it, you may not clamor for gasoline taxes.

    You’re sort of missing the real point, which is that using CAFE to implement an energy policy doesn’t make any sense. If one starts from the premise that the government must do something to curtail oil consumption, then the something that should be done is a gas tax, not a tweak of CAFE laws. Whether the government should be doing anything at all is a different discussion.

    As to your point, anyone who accepts your premise will ultimately have to accept your conclusion, but I’m not sure that gets you anywhere. Gas tax proponents could just as easily insist that you supply values for N, Y, W, and Z in order to demonstrate that there is no valid purpose to be served by using tax policy to discourage gasoline consumption, and that until you do you may not clamor against gasoline taxes. I doubt you’d accept their terms, so don’t be surprised when they reject yours.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Human beings are forced to make decisions without “all the data” all the time.

    Doing nothing is an also a decision.

    Arguing that nothing should be done about anything until the coefficients of each term in a made up equation are known with precision is a fool’s argument.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    How about M, the amount of oil coming from the middle east. You can find the value for that right now and as long as the answer is “more than one barrel”, America is still dependant on a highly unstable energy supply.

  • avatar
    jurisb

    have you ever thought why a candy bar costs 50c today , and 5 years ago it cost 50c, but fuel prices just keep soaring?
    simple. candy bar is an interchangeable item. there is a substitute for it. you increase too much price, and people go for something else, or refuse to buy it at all. here you have an answer for expensive dentists or fuel prices. fuel manufacturers know that people have no substitute for fuel, and can milk them forever!
    and you see what stupid excuses they give for increasing prices! what physical expenditure propels china`s demand for fuel to increase the crude oil prices? stress of workers that their oil is so much needed?
    just check the profits of exxonmobil or royal dutch/shell. they are bigger than the budgets of most african countries!
    and an excuse that we are running out of oil reserves or whatever is false. today oil reserve is guaranteed for next 80 years! it is more than 20 yearsa ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • avatar
    M1EK

    Robert, the Prius is now in the top 20 list most months. Is it really accurate to call it a “niche” vehicle?

    http://www.thetorquereport.com/2007/08/what_are_the_top_20_best_selli.html

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Niche doesn’t necessarily mean small numbers. It just means it’s a market segment that isn’t being served by other automakers. Sometimes this works out to be very profitable, other times it’s a disaster (Subaru Baja).

  • avatar
    windswords

    You know, I have to agree with the posters here who say that we Americans are driving the cars we want instead of the cars we really need. 99% of the people do not need a pickup, big SUV, or big van to get a latte from Starbucks… and niether do people who own a 5 or 7 series, a CTS, an S Class, any AMG Merc, an R5 or R8, well, even a V8 powered M3. What sense does that make? We should have a commeittee of people like me to decide what kind of car you should drive. (soup Nazi voice:) No Jaguar for you!

  • avatar
    carguy

    Attempts to regulate the supply of low mileage vehicles is pointless and will not do much to increase fuel economy. The only way to do it is to tackle demand.

    1. Remove the gas guzzler tax expemtion from luxury SUVs – exempt all working trucks.

    2. Raise the tax on gasoline but exempt diesel to minimize the impact for freight and commercial transportation.

    I hate taxes as much as anyone but its the only way to do it.

    Chris

  • avatar
    CarShark

    @jurisb

    But wait, hasn’t the continued annoyance generated by huge Big Oil profits just made people want an alternative MORE? I’ve heard more good news about fuel cells and ethanol in the past year than I’ve heard in the 20 years before it. Necessity is the mother of invention, or words to that effect.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    “Having solved for N, Y, W, and Z, you may apply a gas tax of X dollars per gallon to achieve your goal.

    Until you can give me real values for ALL of it, you may not clamor for gasoline taxes.”

    Here’s an analogy, Strippo- It’s Monday, time to go to work again. “The heck you say!”, you say. “Unless I the exact value of X (how many minutes it usually takes to get to work), Y (what delays may happen on this particular commute) and Z (how many days I can miss before the boss fires me), I can’t do anything at all. So I’ll just go back to sleep.”

  • avatar
    BuckD

    Are my only two choices between Farago’s doomsday scenario and an “environmental golden age”? How about somewhere in the middle? When did apocalypse fever grip the auto pundit industry?

    Based on Farago’s reasoning, he should be pleased with this development: it means he can keep cranking out “GM deathwatch.”

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Here’s an analogy, Strippo- It’s Monday, time to go to work again. “The heck you say!”, you say. “Unless I the exact value of X (how many minutes it usually takes to get to work), Y (what delays may happen on this particular commute) and Z (how many days I can miss before the boss fires me), I can’t do anything at all. So I’ll just go back to sleep.”

    I hate to complain, but why couldn’t you have posted this five hours sooner?

  • avatar
    jl1280

    Well if our governement doesn’t have the obligation to make some changes then who does? But not to worry, even if the changes don’t stick, or the fines are paid, or the formula is fiddled, the real price of gas will be such that everyone will wish, plead, and pray that they have a car with 35 mpg or more! Good old ecomonmics and geology of oil is going to get us in the end.

  • avatar
    Paul Milenkovic

    Here’s what’s driving the increased CAFE standards and the SUV hatred.

    I pull into the left-hand turn lane to make a left turn at a light on a fairly busy highway. A motorist driving a big honkin Yukowatchamacalit with illegal window tint pulls into the opposite-direction left-turn lane, completely blocking my view. I suppose I could kinda guess if it is safe to pull out by counting cars, but the opposing traffic is going well over the speed limit, assisted by a downhill run in that direction, and it is snowing pretty hard. So I do the safe thing under any circumstance and wait it out.

    So what happens next is that a Jeep Cherokee pulls up behind me in the left-turn lane. And honks their horn. The kind of what-kind-of-idiot-can’t-see-the-traffic-is-clear honk. I don’t think High-and-Mighty has a clear view past the Yuko either, but I certainly don’t way down in my Taurus sedan.

    There is already enough resentment towards SUVs as it is, so you honk at a sedan with the view blocked by another SUV because you are way up high and can see? Does this engender support for resisting CAFE standards? No, I don’t think so.

  • avatar
    M1EK


    Niche doesn’t necessarily mean small numbers

    But that was quite clearly the way in which Robert was using the term.

    As for “want” versus “need” – if SUVs didn’t get CAFE exemptions today, people wouldn’t “want” as many of them because they’d cost a heck of a lot more than they do now. Likewise with their favorable treatment (compared to, say, station wagons) on emissions and safety interactions.

    In other words, “want” is just a spot on a demand curve. And we’ve artifically pushed the demand curve for a long time with SUVs – to the point where it’s incredibly disingenuous to complain that “we’re just giving them what they ‘want’”.

  • avatar
    Paul Milenkovic

    With all due respect and consideration of the policy against direct criticism of an article, and with proper understanding that the views of one editorialist does not represent an editorial policy of TTAC . . .

    Criticizing CAFE on account of unintended consequences, eliminating the freedom of a gearhead to drive a performance car and pay the $4/gallon gas is going to be even without increased gas tax, all of these are valid reasons to oppose CAFE.

    Opposing CAFE because it will hurt the Big 2.8, I don’t properly know how to put this. No, TTAC doesn’t have an editorial policy or a party line or any such thing. But one of the themes underlying the criticism of the Big 2.8 on these pages in editorials by many writers and many commentators is that the problems of GM, Ford, and Cerebrus are ones of their own making.

    The leadership of the Big 2.8 have this long list of things of why life is so unfair: the runup in gas prices, the health insurance meltdown, the inflexibility of the UAW, the prime lending crisis drying up home building and truck sales, and on and on. On the other hand, do you think that Ford or anyone else would hire economists or other experts to give them a heads up about oil price trends and what a heavy reliance on frame-rail vehicles is going to do to the business?

    Suppose this CAFE legislation simply went away. Are the Big 2.8 now no longer doomed to failure?

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Unless something recently changed and I never noticed, CAFE will continue to be calculated using the pre-2008 test procedures and will continue using the actual figures instead of the lowered ones reported to consumers. So, look at the 2007 Camry in its most popular format: 4-cylinder automatic. It posts figures of 24/33 reported to consumers, but since the city is reduced by 10% and the highway is reduced by 22% before the reporting to consumers (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPA) the actual figures are 24/(1-0.1) = 26.66 and 42.31. With a weighting of 55% and 45% we get a figure of 26.66*0.55 + 42.31*0.45 = 33.7 MPG.

    How about the 2007 4-cylinder Accord sedan with automatic? 24/34 means 34.3 MPG. The stick-shift Accord makes more then 35 MPG. All versions of the Civic pass 35 MPG, with the automatic sedan boasting 30/(1-0.1)*0.55 + 40/(1-0.22)*0.45 = 41.41 MPG.

    Also note that the CAFE fleet average is calculated as an arithmetic mean of each vehicle’s score. So, if you sell a 100 MPG vehicle and a 10 MPG vehicle the fleet average is (100+10)/2 = 55 MPG even though if both vehicles drove 100 miles a total of 11 gallons would be consumed for an actual fuel consumption average of 200 miles / 11 gallons = 18.18 MPG. Anyway, this means that every huge luxury truck sold could just come with a free economy car (perhaps just put it in the trunk so the buyer can take it home).

  • avatar
    wsn

    GM was bragging that they had the most over 30mpg auto models, right? It is so hard to improve to 35mpg in 12 years? Go GM go and conquer the world.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Suppose this CAFE legislation simply went away. Are the Big 2.8 now no longer doomed to failure?

    You’re basically asking if the camel is relieved of its current burden if the huge bail of straw destined to break its back is never placed. Of course it isn’t. It just remains a piece of straw short of having its fate absolutely sealed. So what do you do? Place the straw anyway because the tribe has decided that the camel hasn’t performed as well as it should have in the past and some ungulates just need killin’?

  • avatar
    i6

    RF- “Are you sure the U.S. market wants 35mpg vehicles if they have to sacrifice practicality, comfort, style, performance, reliability and/or safety? If they do, why aren’t they buying them now?”

    The US market wants a car that hauls up to 7 people, goes to 60 in up to 7 seconds, costs up to 7 grand and that rides like it’s up in 7th heaven. But the market is not unreasonable, people will buy the thing that comes closest to their ideal. CAFE is essentially a tax credit for fuel efficiency so will shift the market’s buying patterns in that direction. How much will it cost? …how much do you want to tow?

    The glass-is-half-full perspective is that the 2020 requirements will force domestic manufacturers to direct 20:20 vision on the future, a faculty that Toyota and Honda have exhibited since the release of their hybrids many years ago. The domestics have lacked vision for long enough, I say.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    Someone correct me if I’m wrong here but isn’t this just a bill to prop up US automakers and the corn lobby. Using CAFE’s calculations, all those stupid flex fuel vehicles already far exceed 35mpg, and guess who is the only one marketing E85 vehicles? Is it Toyota? I don’t think so.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_Average_Fuel_Economy#Calculation

    “Fuel economy calculation for alternative fuel vehicles multiplies the actual fuel used by a “Fuel Content” Factor of 0.15[13] as an incentive to develop alternative fuel vehicles.[14] Dual-fuel vehicles, such as E85 capable models, are taken as the average of this alternative fuel rating and its gasoline rate. Thus a 15 mpg dual-fuel E85 capable vehicle would be rated as 40 mpg for CAFE purposes, in spite of the fact that less than 1% of the fuel used in E85 capable vehicles is actually E85. [5]”

    Sickening. Far from getting rid of big SUVs and muscle cars, it seems to be protecting them for decades to come with extra welfare checks going to US farmers.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    @tankd0g:
    Yes, the E85 loophole actually causes more fuel to be burned because the vehicles are allowed to be less efficient. In fact, even if E85 vehicles ran 50% of the time on E85 it would still cause an increase in gasoline consumption. The only good thing about the E85 loophole is that (I think) there is a 2 MPG limit that a manufacturer is allowed to gain. After a 2 MPG increase, the E85 loophole cuts off.

  • avatar
    tankd0g

    The only good thing about the E85 loophole is that (I think) there is a 2 MPG limit that a manufacturer is allowed to gain. After a 2 MPG increase, the E85 loophole cuts off.

    Is this rule in the new bill? I haven’t found reference to it yet.

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    EJ . . . CAFE is not a normal arithmetic mean. It is a geometric mean. Basically, you first convert from miles/gallon to gallons/mile, THEN average.

    So assuming equal volumes, the CAFE average of your 26mpg Highlander and 46mpg Prius is only 33mpg. That still does not cut it . . .

  • avatar

    technological pessimism bigtime

  • avatar
    Joe O

    While I think there are betters ways for government to try increasing fuel economy, I don’t think it’s that inconceivable.

    I do think that if they dilly-dally on requirements, then they’ll get bailed out in 2018 from the requirement in some way….

    I still don’t get exactly how CAFE averages are figured out. If you drive a Ford Fusion 4-cyl manual, you might get an EPA average of 28mpg. If you drive the 6-cyl AWD version, 22mpg EPA average.

    Are all trim levels averaged together to create a model average? Is a manufacturers CAFE standing determined by a the number of models each mfr sold?

    I.e. If Honda sells 100,000 Fits with an average of 32mpg, and 100,000 Accord V6s with an average of 22mpg, does that mean their CAFE average in 27mpg?

    If CAFE is not weighted this way, then mfrs such as Ford/Dodge/Chevy would be penalized for making work trucks such as the F250/350. Unless those are excluded from CAFE. Are they? How is that line drawn?

    A few things about trucks: there is a TON of technology out there to improve large truck fuel economy. Start-stop technology, decoupling alternators and electric on-demand water pumps, hydraulic drives (especially designed for trucks which can handle their size) have been shown to increase fuel economy up to 60%, hybrid technology for low-load situations, and of course some plug-in capacity since it’s just such a darn good idea.

    I think bringing truck fuel economy up is going to become a much easier proposition than people think. A 30% increase in fuel economy on most trucks comes out to ~4.5mpg. That shouldn’t be that hard to do, just given the items I listed above.

    Joe

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    RF Penned: The potential for finagling on CAFE raises the automakers’ most obvious “solution” to Congress’ “solution” to our dependence on foreign oil: cheating.

    Right you are, sir. Sometimes I wonder if Congress is really uneducated after all, or if they are just crooked.

    But then the really scary thought intrudes my consciousness: What does that say of the people who keep re-electing these boobs? Michigan keeps re-electing Dingell term after term after term. Does it help Michigan? I don’t know, but it sure hurts the nation.

    Politicians like to say that they are for the “little guy,” but the fact is that government usually stands in the way of progress.

    This was understood by the Founding Fathers, who created the Bill of Rights not to list the rights of the people, but to LIMIT the abilities of an overreaching government.

    The Founding Fathers were 100% correct in their fears. However, I think they didn’t go far enough to prevent that which they feared most (a collapse/takeover from within), because government intrusion continues to worsen each year.

  • avatar
    md82twa

    Adding huge gas taxes will acomplish nothing. It will only hurt the average joe who has no choice but to commute to work with a car. Where I work the public transportation is almost non existant. Rich people will continue to drive with a tax. The US industry wouldnt be where it is if it actually looked at trends instead paying dividends. Shure SUVS are profitable, but now demand for them is leveling off. Ford and GM still don’t get it. Ford sales are off because they don’t market their cars – every time you see and ad for a Ford it is for a truck not a car. It’s like all American makers sell is trucks. And excoriate GM, Ford and Chrysler for shoving trucks down our throats…but Honda and Toyota are JUST as bad with the LX470, Sequoia, Tundra, Pilot and Ridgeline. Detroit can meet the challenge; they don’t have a choice.


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