By on March 23, 2017

pumping fuel

An economic assessment conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that, due to recent improvements in technology, the Environmental Protection Agency’s rationale for its 2025 fuel efficiency standards may have overestimated the cost for automakers to comply. The ICCT’s study shows average per-car investments 34 to 40 percent lower than the previous EPA appraisal.

While this information, had it come out sooner, may not have kept automotive executives from bending the president’s ear to reevaluate EPA guidelines, it certainly reframes their reasons for doing so. The ICCT, famous for turning researchers loose on Volkswagen diesels, makes a good case that manufacturers have the tools to meet current standards without spending a lot of money. 

The ICCT white paper builds on the modeling and peer-reviewed data used in the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Technical Assessment Report of US passenger vehicle emission regulations. It includes newer industry research and the usage of advanced vehicle technologies. The paper asserts that technology costs continue to decrease, proving that previous estimates, including those made by the federal regulatory agencies, have been far too conservative.

“All of those evolutionary changes, just getting a few percent here and a few percent there from those allow more cost-effective implementation of the regulations,” said the report’s principal author Nic Lutsey.

Features like cylinder deactivation, higher-compression Atkinson-cycle engines, composite materials, and hybridization will all become more affordable and prevalent in the coming years. So, instead of the EPA-estimated $875 per vehicle needed to meet the standards, the ICCT’s analysis places the average per-unit-fee at $551.

Regulatory matters are usually pretty dry, but that’s a mic drop moment.

Automakers, through their lobbying groups, have said the Obama era rules were far too expensive to meet, and could even eliminate American jobs — leading to Donald Trump’s recent decision to have review those standards. However, protesting on the grounds of excessive cost becomes a little less potent when the necessary investment is the same price as a remote starter and some floor mats. Consumers aren’t likely to take up arms against an automaker or stop buying its product, especially when they are saving at the pump.

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42 Comments on “Fuel Regulation Compliance Costs Could be 40% Lower Than EPA Estimate...”

  • avatar

    I doubt it would have mattered the Grinch that will steal the clean air running the EPA probably considers the emissions equipment already installed an unessecary regulatory burden.

  • avatar

    Clearly the professors in the study had the advantage of building test systems in a controlled laboratory environment.

    I’d love to hear the other side of this argument from engineers who are tasked with building components that are not only cost effective, but are also durable and reliable in environments that range from use in the arctic circle to the sahara desert; in salt air laden coastal environments and with drivers who range from mentally deficient to obsessive compulsive.

    No doubt there is room for improvement, but I’d love to see how much would really be saved once you factor in real-use scenario engineering.

    • 0 avatar

      @hreardon –

      The White Paper’s lead:
      Nic Lutsey, ICCT program director – B.S. in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy from the University of California, Davis.

      Daniel J. Meszler P.E. – B.S. (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

      Aaron Isenstadt – B.S. in Mechanical Engineering

      John German – bachelor’s degree in Physics, “Mr. German has been involved with advanced technology and efficiency since joining Chrysler in 1976, where he spent 8 years in Powertrain Engineering working on fuel economy issues.
      11 years as Manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses for American Honda Motor Company.”

      Joshua Miller – M.S. in Transportation Technology and Policy

      • 0 avatar

        Lou –

        More likely than not, all smart, well educated and experienced individuals. That doesn’t mean that what they dream up in the laboratory, in a tightly controlled experiment, is practical when put into production and used in real life.

        I’m not saying these guys are wrong, I’m just a skeptic because I’ve worked with and have enough experience with people who have great theories, tests and experiments, only to have the realities of production scramble the original ideas.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like you didn’t read the article. It says the cost of existing tech, not brand new tech dreamed up in a lab.

      • 0 avatar

        Again, bts, the point is that there may be very good reasons why improving upon the existing tech won’t necessarily make things better. Ask yourself why the manufacturers wouldn’t have already implemented lower cost versions of existing components/technologies. Automakers fight tooth and nail to find ways to lower component costs by pennies.

        Small example: Audi swapped metal impellers for plastic ones on the 2013 3.0TFSI engine, only to discover that in the real world, they were falling apart within months of use (for whatever reason). The result was a recall and revamp that was likely far more expensive than if they had just stuck with the metal blades.

        Another example: Audi had to recall a substantial number of MY2013 cars that had the (then new) electric steering which replaced the traditional hydraulic system. Lighter weight and less parasitic on the drivetrain, they again found that in real world use there were issues with the electronic steering (software, primarily). Again, costly to replace entire steering racks before they finally found a fix.

        Again: real world is a lot more difficult to account for, and often ends up being very expensive when things go wrong. Automakers have to pick their battles.

        • 0 avatar

          Mazda is in the school of thought that current ICE designs still have a lot of room for improvement, and I think they’ve been successful with SkyActiv.

          Audi, it should be noted, had some designs where to change the oil, the mechanic would have to remove the front bumper for access. Hence, their reputation for costly maintenance.

          Audi sells luxury, power, status, and that’s what their customers want. Sweating the EPA stuff doesn’t help the short-term bottom line.

  • avatar

    Of course a study by a group called the International Council on Clean Transportation would be totally unbiased and therefore no interest at all in slanting the study to show results that favored greater “clean transport”. And certainly basing the study models on EPA data would be totally neutral since the EPA has no interest at all in promoting tougher CAFE standards. Only evil Trump followers would ignore this highly objective and fair analysis, which I’m sure actually understates the likely costs.

    • 0 avatar

      Well of course the ICCT is trying to build a case for itself. The paper is based on peer reviewed data, and is available for all to read. Matt P. includes the relevant links. Evaluate it and argue it on its merits; it would be foolish to dismiss the research outright.

      • 0 avatar

        Its easier to bash the study because of the name of the group that conducted it.

        Like a study by the American Medical Association about medicine which concludes there is value in medicine. Bias!

      • 0 avatar

        This is not a peer reviewed paper and the EPA data that is utilized is also not peer reviewed, but even if they were peer reviewed it would not provide much assurance of objective analysis. The 2009 Climategate scandal clearly demonstrated that “true believers” corrupt the peer review process to make sure that a discouraging word is never heard and the skies are not cloudy all day.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree, just because research is peer reviewed does not give it an automatic pass. But that does not mean all peer reviewed research is worthless.

          A good approach is to rely on multiple sources of information and look for contradictions within. So while we have climategate, which is pretty muddied, we also have revelations that Exxon Mobil knew early on that fossil fuel emissions were heating up the atmosphere:


      • 0 avatar

        Peer-reviewed no longer means what it once did. Lotta peer reviewed studies don’t hold up as politics have replaced science in more and more instances. The WP reports that peer-reviewed studies are now a racket.

        WP :Major publisher retracts 43 scientific papers amid wider fake peer-review scandal

        “A major publisher of scholarly medical and science articles has retracted 43 papers because of “fabricated” peer reviews amid signs of a broader fake peer review racket affecting many more publications….”

        • 0 avatar

          Scientific misconduct happens, but it’s not as wide-spread as it seems. And when it does happen, the impact is harder because “it’s not supposed to happen” in scientific research.

          In contrast, misconduct is given a pass in politics and business, and we’ve sadly grown to accept it.

          Science is self-correcting. The data is out there for others to repeat an experiment. And scientists as a community, still frown upon cheaters.

          • 0 avatar

            Actually peer-review fraud is more common than ever. Furthermore, the failure to replicate study results is now off the charts and considered an epidemic:

            Replication crisis
            The replication crisis (or replicability crisis) refers to a methodological crisis in science in which scientists have found that the results of many scientific experiments are difficult or impossible to replicate on subsequent investigation, either by independent researchers or by the original researchers themselves.

            According to a 2016 poll of 1,500 scientists reported in the journal Nature, 70% of them failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments (50% failed to reproduce their own experiment).

            Shoddy science and peer review fraud are on the rise.

          • 0 avatar

            I’m not sure if this crisis is real or perceived. The insider talk is that scientists are managing this PR badly (I wouldn’t expect them to be good at PR) and that they are letting journalists and social media set the direction.

            Regardless, at least there’s an open discussion among scientists to correct this problem. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

  • avatar

    EPA estimates?

    How many cars has the EPA designed and brought to market?

    EPA cost estimates are worth practically nothing since the EPA doesn’t have any experience actually building and servicing cars.

    This smells like the EPA is trying to save its funding.

  • avatar

    Assuming the data to be true, it certainly helps cement the case for keeping the higher standards. But it will not matter in this political environment. Sadly there is a lot more to be lost by ignoring the need to improve efficiency than the direct/indirect energy/health/environmental benefits. No, there will be more. Since the rest of the industrialized world will continue to move forward, the US alone will stick with yesterdays goals, or whatever goals the automakers coerce out of T-Rump’s “EPA”. The Europeans and especially the Japanese will move forward with design and engineering and Detroit will go for fast cheap profits made with cast iron. The end result will be that American automobiles will become (actually, not perceived) second rate as far as engineering and advancement, with the possible exception of infotainment.

    Old(er) timers among us remember seeing 4WS, OHCs, 4 wheel disc brakes, IRS, etc. showing up first, and sometimes only, in Japanese and European offerings. This era of reducing regulations will return American manufacturers back to that day of lazy engineering. Lee Iacocca said it best in his book when he was a design engineer. The same old parts formed the basis of every new car. Only the sheetmetal changed. How true. If you recall the days of paper Hollander Interchange books at the junkyard, the same parts could be pulled for cars 15 model years apart. Meanwhile the Japanese churned out virtually all new designs every four or five years, often including new drivetrains. Those who fail to learn from history….

    • 0 avatar

      History tells us that higher gas prices (ie taxes) are the best way to promote fuel economy. Government fuel economy standards result in more people driving “fuel efficient” pickups at 18 mpg versus old-tech compacts at 28 mpg. Look at a chart of fleet new car efficiency in the u.s. and you’ll see that overall efficiency improvements are flatlining, while average transaction prices soar.

      • 0 avatar

        Competition from the Japanese and Europeans is what made American cars better.

        Try selling a car today that doesn’t have a 4 or 5 star safety rating.

        The jump in gasoline prices in the 2005-2009 period proved that consumers will move, often very quickly, to more fuel efficient vehicles when the cost to operate them becomes burdensome.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I knew it! That 200 mpg carburetor really *is* sitting on the mfr’s shelf.

  • avatar

    “An economic assessment conducted by the ***International Council on Clean Transportation*** found that, due to recent improvements in technology, the Environmental Protection Agency’s rationale for its 2025 fuel efficiency standards may have overestimated the cost for automakers to comply.”

    The who?

    Let’s debunk

    “Charles McElwee Vice President, Programs, ClimateWorks Foundation”

    Ok, ClimateWorks… but then… wait for it…

    “John D. Podesta

    Oh snap.



    • 0 avatar

      Did you forget to add “/s” at the end of that?

      So the study is biased because a board member is also on the board of a separate non-profit which has a board member from the Clinton campaign? Did Podesta’s emails at least mention influencing McElwee to use his board position to somehow bias the study?

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been noticing this repeatedly, c’mon guys this is TTAC you can do better than this. Half expecting to see Philip-Morris sponsor a study in one of these articles extolling the life-saving benefits of smoking 2 packs a week.

      Need Research Journalist not advocacy agents.

  • avatar

    If it only costs $550 per vehicle to get significantly better fuel economy, then there really should not be any need for government regulation, because no rational car maker would hold back this technology, at a minimum as an option, and no rational consumer would object to spending the additional $550. So let the market decide. I personally have my doubts on this $550 claim. Does it take into account the cost of additional maintenance, addional repair cost due to less proven and more complex technology, and the unquantifiable cost of reduced driver satisfaction in the way a car performs. Again, let the market decide.

    • 0 avatar

      Mild hybrid 48V systems are quite cheap and would provide pretty decent fuel economy improvements. The Mazda6 has the i-eloop mild hybridish system which comes as part of a pretty extensive option package with a factory invoice price of ~$2200. $550 for that system doesn’t seem too far fetched.

    • 0 avatar

      Prado –

      Exactly. And to my earlier point: it’s possible that the raw component costs are indeed that little (I doubt it, but plausible). The issue is whether or not those components will be durable, repairable or easy to assemble. Theoretical lab testing is one thing, real world use and durability are quite another thing.

      It’s like we say in the technology world: computers are great – until you introduce people into the system.

    • 0 avatar

      The market didn’t make GM move on from 3-speed automatics, or Honda from carburetors. Regulation did. Once consumers had experienced the improved vehicle, their expectations rose; only then the market reflected their unwillingness to go backward.

  • avatar

    I suggest people read this report fully/carefully; it makes many assumptions that just do not hold up to real world smell tests:

    Some of them are as follows:

    – A constant car/truck balance of 53% cars to 47% trucks thru 2025….if gas continues under $3 to $4 a gallon just over the next 5 years (as most think it will), will this assumption hold true. I already believe it is trending in the wrong direction. Oh, and by the way, smallish two wheel drive SUV’s at 3500 lbs are consider cars for this white paper….which is a fallacy, as Honda Civic still gets substantially better mileage then even the technically smaller HRV.

    – For light trucks such as Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer, assumes manufactures move to smaller inline 4 engines. Ford already puts a small 4 in the Explorer, and the take rate is less than 5%. Only way this assumption would ever be valid is if gas prices reach the $6 to $7 range; people whom buy these vehicles don’t buy them for their small engines.

    – Assume weight savings of 15 to 20% in light trucks. Ford spent over 1.5 billion alone just to convert the F-150 body to aluminum. Spread out over 925,000 trucks (approx. sales per year for last 2 to 3 years), it would still take that many years to lower the per unit cost of conversion to the quoted figure of $551….and that does not include the costs of making smaller turbo V6 engines, Miller cycle engines, 8 and 10 speed transmissions, etc. Ford is just now testing composite frame sub assemblies, and is at least 5 years off on this technology. I can also tell you the costs to implement this will be at least as large as the costs to convert to aluminum bodies – if not more.

    In short, the people whom wrote this paper must be the optimistic people roaming the face of the earth…many of their assumptions just will not stand up in the marketplace, as people in the US have consistently demonstrated an aversion to paying more for less, especially with gas prices as cheap as they are and are foretasted to be for the foreseeable future

  • avatar

    Fuel costs are the smallest part of keeping a new car on the road. Pump prices freak people out because they have to look at it once or twice a week, depending on how much they drive. But payments on new cars and maintenance on older cars can easily exceed annual fuel costs.

    So the argument seems to be, “Hey, Consumer Plebe! You should be in favor of these expensive technologies because they will save you money at the pump”.

    But there are two points about cost.
    First, this paper, though it bases the allure of its conclusions on saving folks money at the pump, doesn’t address how long the authors estimate that gas savings will need to break even on the higher transaction price of the vehicle.

    Second, have none of these wonks noticed that the average age of the American fleet grows as the prices of new cars grow? Adding all these owl-saving technologies to new cars makes them expensive enough that (notwithstanding big SAAR numbers) older, dirtier, less-efficient cars stay on the road longer, thus negating a large part of the supposed economic benefit.

    • 0 avatar

      Remember, the same groups pushing the EPA mandates gave us Solyndra and the other new energy scandals of the ex administration.

      see Solyndra Scandal

      Documents show politics infused Obama ‘green’ programs

      Anyone read about Jerry Brown’s not very high speed rail fiasco lately? Well, it was a giant lie and violated most of the major provisions of the CA initiative. And it’s in full death spiral. But like Solyndra and the other green energy scandals of the prior admin, the politically connected will make out as the taxpayers are left w/ the huge debt.

  • avatar

    So the EPA was wrong by a factor of 40%?

    But don’t DARE ever second guess some of the dubious claims by the EPA and the Green Lobby.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I’m old enough to remember that “air pollution” was understood to mean unburned hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide — the components that make smog. That’s what people understood when the Clean Air Act was passed in, IIRC 1970 and, also the EPA was created. At least for gasoline engines in today’s cars, that is a solved problem.

    What to do, if you’re the EPA?

    Create a new target. Combustion of anything creates carbon dioxide. So, we make carbon dioxide a “pollutant” because . . . global warming.

    So, now we have pollution forever, and our future is guaranteed. It’s a feature not a bug.

    Mission creep in its purest form.

    • 0 avatar

      Ah, but you weren’t young enough to remember that in 1970,
      there were an estimated 90M passenger vehicles in the U.S.

      The table only goes to 2006 for passenger vehicles, which
      increased to 136M for that year. A new target is needed
      because more cars make more pollution.

    • 0 avatar

      “What to do, if you’re the EPA?”

      Hopefully, the EPA will be eliminated or cut back to the point of insignificance.

      While the creation of the EPA was with all good intentions, the current EPA has become a tool for the alt-left tree-hugging green weenies to create havoc in the auto industry.

      Cutting back the EPA budget and eliminating 4300 jobs is an excellent start for 2017/2018.

      Hopefully, more cutbacks over each of the next four budget years.

    • 0 avatar

      Let’s try less people. Moar people = moar growth is a 19th Century idea at best.

  • avatar

    “However, protesting on the grounds of excessive cost becomes a little less potent when the necessary investment is the same price as a remote starter and some floor mats. Consumers aren’t likely to take up arms against an automaker or stop buying its product, especially when they are saving at the pump.”

    It’s like the propaganda writes itself! Nice critical thinking. Then again, Obama’s CAFE was predicated on an electorate stupid enough to vote away its freedom of choice of vehicles.

  • avatar

    Or it could not. As an economic assessment by the Council for Continued Make Work and Make Belief just may have made me belive it said..

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