By on June 27, 2011
A little education, as they say, can be a dangerous thing. Using some rudimentary game theory from my days of studying political science, I’d become fairly convinced that the CAFE target for 2025 would be set at 62 MPG for the simple reason that CARB wanted that number, isn’t elected and could pull out of negotiations if it didn’t get it. After all, the White House and automakers wanted a uniform national standard above all else… wouldn’t they give up a few MPG in order to preserve their main goal? Well, after talking with a few people familiar with the negotiations last week, I soon realized that things weren’t that simple (thanks a lot, bachelor’s degree). I was told that a compromise would be reached at between 50 and 60 MPG; CARB might not have other business with the Feds, but their Governor did and Jerry Brown wasn’t likely to back a play for 62 MPG. And sure enough, the Detroit News reports that the White House has opened negotiations with Detroit by backing a 56.2 MPG 2025 standard.
According to the DetN’s report

The 56.2 mpg figure and EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emissions limits equivalent likely is an opening bargaining point. The final proposal could change as automakers and the White House hold more meetings to try to again reach agreement.

The administration plans to formally propose new standards in September and finalize them by July 2012.

It estimated last fall that hiking fuel efficiency to 56 mpg by 2025 would boost the average vehicle cost by $2,100 to $2,600. But the administration said the rule would save car owners $5,500 to $7,000 over the vehicle’s lifetime in fuel costs, and owners would recoup the additional up-front cost within 2.5 to 3.5 years.

But don’t get too caught up in calculating those numbers just yet, as it seems that at least a few of the auto industry’s allies were expecting something a little lower than that. As the DetN reports

But the proposal caught some Michigan members of Congress off guard, and was higher than some automakers expected.

On Tuesday morning, two White House aides — former auto czar Ron Bloom and Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Office of Environmental Quality — met on Capitol Hill with Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit; Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, to discuss fuel efficiency efforts.

The three had heard rumors that the administration would back 55 mpg by 2025. Despite questions, the White House aides didn’t disclose the 56.2 mpg proposal for 2025. But Levin said automakers had been given a figure at the Wednesday meetings.

“There was a scenario that was placed on the table which frankly shocked me and was very different from what we were told was not in the cards — even in terms of discussions — just hours before,” Levin said.

In a statement Friday, Levin said he was surprised “to learn that the administration had decided to lay down a scenario for regulation of vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions after telling us just the day before that no ‘decision’ had been made relative to those issues.”

He questioned the administration’s forthrightness.

Though none of the lobbyists I spoke would give out a specific number, they all said that a number was close and that it was essentially agreed upon. At least, as one Beltway insider put it, “the big number, the one that we’ll all stand up, hold hands and commit to” was very nearly a done deal. And the complex regulations that turn one politically totemic number into reams and reams of rules, guidelines, schedules and formulae? “Only about six people in the country actually understand that part,” admitted one long-time industry lobbyist, “and I’m not one of them.” Though negotiation over the CAFE “number” have probably been narrowed down to a 3-4 MPG window for some time now, the actual regulations, with all of the inevitable loopholes and “gaming” opportunities won’t be done until next summer. Besides, there’s a baked-in opportunity to rethink the entire deal, politically totemic “number” and all, in 2018.
CAFE may seem like a huge fight, but this time around it seems that industry and regulators are working together in nearly unprecedented harmony.
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17 Comments on “White House Opens The 2025 CAFE Haggling At 56.2 MPG...”

  • avatar

    How can one translate, roughly, between CAFE and EPA MPG figures?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    And here goes any chance of killing ethenol with it’s WONDERFUL “you can count the car as more efficent than it really is if it can burn E85.”

  • avatar

    The number won’t be as important as the loopholes. I’d bet by 2025, the Ford Focus will be certified as a light truck so it complies with a lower number, the Chevy Malibu will have bloated to 8000 pounds to take advantage of farm equipment exemptions, and the Chrysler 300 FlexFuel will be technically able to run on Leprechaun piss and so not have to meet any standards at all.

  • avatar

    CAFE may seem like a huge fight, but this time around it seems that industry and regulators are working together in nearly unprecedented harmony.

    This turn of phrase should amuse anyone.

    • 0 avatar

      Amusing it may be, but as far as I can tell it’s the truth. I went into these conversations imagining a real poker game, but everyone I talked to insisted that the tone has changed. Yes, CARB is the outlier, but they’ve got more to lose than I thought. Meanwhile, the feeling seems to be that the market has changed and that selling efficient cars is in the industry’s interest as much as the governments. I was told “look at the dealer lots now and compare them to the last time we negotiated CAFE. Things are different now.”

      • 0 avatar

        It is obvious that the manufacturers have noticed that people are willing to pay money for cars that are more ‘efficient’ and ‘environment-friendly’ than the cars they allready own. It’s the same thing they noticed with safety some years back. And considering how ‘good’ cars from the 80’s and 90’s were in general (besides rust, many of them could easily still be on the road today had all car production stopped in 1995) They need a reason to still produce new cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      It amuses me not. It scares me what devilment they are dreaming up at the taxpayer’s expense.

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t a Co rating be much more effective than a MPG figure? And how realistic do they really think that number is? Only very small, very effiecient diesel cars have any chance of producing those numbers right now, end even then the driving style does still have big influences on that MPG figure.

    • 0 avatar

      Sweet Jeebus. RTFA.

      This is a CAFE rating. That phrase means they can only use the economy ratings calculated following fairly specific procedures. All cars sold in the US (ignore the loopholers for now) are CAFE rated using the same technique. Basically, they drive a fixed course in a fixed way, although they don’t even really drive them, but there are pretty detailed rules of how it’s done.

      Window stickers use EPA ratings, which use the same sequence of tests, but then absolutely do nothing more than adjust the result (the “CAFE” numbers) by some predefined percentages, resulting in the fuel economy numbers you see on window stickers, newspaper ads, and TV commercials. As mentioned in this article, anything that is advertising 40mpg today probably beats a CAFE rating of 56.2 already.

      Personal driving style certainly affects YOUR fuel economy, but the driving style used for calculating CAFE ratings is very well defined. You know, maybe somebody should come up with a catchy phrase about how you could see wildly different economy numbers depending on things like your driving style, level of equipment, weather conditions, traffic patterns, etc., etc., etc.. Maybe something like, “Your mileage may vary.”

      The US public is familiar with MPG. It’s not necessarily the best units to use, depending on the desired goals, but it’s one we have and know, and it CAN be used to describe the targets.

  • avatar

    Oh, let’s just get serious and make the target 100 mpg. Or 350 mpg. Either of these figures is just as realistic as 56 mpg. This is an average, remember. Even a Smart doesn’t get 56 mpg. This is nothing more than an excercise in politics, because it will never happen. All of the low-hanging fruit has been picked. Every additional mpg increase is going to come at a greater and greater cost. We are getting ready to lose our spare tires. What is next?

    • 0 avatar

      Actually a friend of mine owns a Smart roadster, that averages 52mpg, despite being a 8 year old car (and is tuned to over 100 hp :O). And is fun to drive (and more practical than most other 2 seaters. But, it is a seater, so if we all would drive them, we would need twice (or even three times) as many cars, effectively ruining the total average…

    • 0 avatar

      CAFE numbers are much higher than EPA numbers. 56.2 CAFE is more like 40 mpg EPA, and keep in mind that number only applies to cars, not other categories of vehicle like the “light truks” that SUVs and crossovers usually fall under.

      There are cars that meet this standard now, so meeting it in 14 years is not really a problem. There is still plenty of low hanging fruit, from aerodynamics to weight savings. One of the biggest, easiest savers would be start/stop systems, but the test doesn’t reward them better numbers because it doesn’t simulate the reality of sitting at a lights for 10 minutes of a 30 minute commute.

    • 0 avatar

      56 MPG don’t seem like that big a deal. I was getting betting than that before I went to stickier tires, but I still see 53~55 most of the time.

  • avatar

    If we’re arguing about CAFE numbers in 2025 we will be very fortunate. Ultimately, if CAFE numbers are enforcing fuel economy, that means you have oil to burn (literally). If oil becomes too expensive, then CAFE numbers will be irrelevant as in order to sell a car it will require much better than meeting CAFE.

    Honestly, that you say that industry is not fighting over CAFE right now suggests we’re near that point – customers are demanding fuel economy, so whatever the number is it doesn’t matter, because if you merely meet it you will be sunk.

  • avatar

    This is what happens when apparchniks like Bloom meddle with the market. Wouldn’t a $3.00/gallon federal tax accomplish the same thing? Time to plan for that Vespa dealership.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    So, here is the scam. When you buy a car, you will have to buy two cars. One of them will be a regular car that gets CAFE 30 mpg. The other one will get 100 mpg. That will cause the mfg’s CAFE average to remain at 65 mpg.

    The 100 mpg car will be brutal. No power anything, plastic body, plastic windows, no HVAC. 25 hp two cyl engine, manual transmission. A Tata Nano without the charm.

    You will take delivery of the two cars, and get plates for both of them. Once that is done, you will take (probably on a trailer) the mini car, to a special dealer who will buy it from you at a decent percentage of list price. That dealer will ship the car to a parts company that will reduce it in to parts small enough not to require a VIN. The parts company will sell the parts to an OEM, which will build a new 100 mpg car with them.


    Now how many of you still think that CAFE is a worthwhile exercise?

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