Although we’ve covered CAFE and its effects on the new car market before, the launch of the Lexus NX provides us with an interesting example of just how far auto makers will go to have their offerings classified as “light trucks” under the U.S. regulatory scheme which incentivizes manufacturers to offer these sorts of vehicles beyond mere market forces.
To recap quickly, CAFE splits vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GWVR) under 8,500 lbs into two categories: cars and light trucks. Each vehicle has a “footprint” formula based on the vehicle size, with fuel economy targets it must meet. These are added up to a “fleet average” for each manufacturer, and there are a whole host of byzantine rules regarding “credits” for different technologies, like start-stop systems, hybrids and EVs that can be applied. They key concept here is that two vehicles can be the same “footprint”, but the “light truck” has to meet a fuel economy standard that is less stringent than the “car” standard. This (along with market forces) has been one reason why crossovers have become such a prominent segment in the American auto market.
As the crew at Top Gear Philippines discovered, the Lexus NX doesn’t just meet the standard of being a “light truck” by virtue of its approach angle. The solution is a different fascia for North American markets, such as the one shown above. Compare that to the one below, which has a “fuller”, square-jawed appearance.
The change in fascia isn’t the most onerous hurdle to overcome, but it does illustrate the fickle nature of the regulations, and how far auto makers will go to meet them – and exploit the various loopholes contained within.