Here's Trump's Ace in the Hole for Dialing Back MPG Rules

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
heres trumps ace in the hole for dialing back mpg rules

It’s no secret that the Trump administration will eventually come forward with a relaxed version of existing automotive fuel economy targets. Despite previously agreeing to them, most automakers have decided Obama-era goals are less than ideal and have reached out to the current president to take it easy on them — something he appears willing to do.

However, the White House is going to have to sell the decrease to numerous states that claim they won’t accept such a proposal, as well as a driving public that likely doesn’t want to spend more money on fuel than it has to. Fortunately, the administration has a strategy for this, and has tapped the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for backup. It’s trying to prove that cutting fuel economy would actually make vehicles safer.

According to documents obtained by Bloomberg, the NHTSA claims lower MPG standards could lead to a potential drop in highway deaths.

A specific example in the agency’s safety analysis would permit an average fleet-wide fuel economy standard of 35.7 miles per gallon by 2026, down from a 46.6 miles per gallon under the Obama-era target. It states that traffic fatalities would be reduced by an average of nearly 1,200 per year from 2036 through 2045.

The reason for this has everything to do with size. One of the easiest ways to improve economy is for a vehicle to shed weight. Lighter materials are already an essential component in keeping models trim, especially as vehicles become outfitted with weightier high-tech systems. As well, consumer preferences trend toward larger vehicles.

Simple physics backs this theory up. Imagine the difference between dropping a grape onto a cat from six feet up and dropping a watermelon. In one of those scenarios, you’ll have to get a new cat.

If you’re asking yourself, “What about crash test ratings? Small cars can still get five stars,” you are correct in your befuddlement. While most crash testing is a good metric to compare cars within a given segment, it’s less useful in a real world setting. Throwing every car at the same stagnant barrier is a great way to see how it would fare against a car exactly the same size as itself. But it’s less useful when trying to see how it would stack up against a much larger vehicle. Let’s not forget the watermelon.

The NHTSA has even said in the past that heavier vehicles “offer more protection than light vehicles with the same safety equipment, particularly in two-vehicle crashes.” And, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s new focus on illumination and autonomous safety systems is nice, that group doesn’t tell you how your Honda Civic will stack up against a Chevy Suburban in a head-on collision either.

That means the Trump administration has a compelling argument against stringent economy regulations that might force automakers to scale down models and put them on the streets with the behemoths of today. It could also mention that the public’s interest in crossovers and SUVs has stagnated real-world fuel economy averages for years now.

Does this mean we should slash the existing economy targets by 23 percent? That’s debatable. While highway deaths have risen in recent years, it might not be possible to attribute the problem to vehicle size. Those fancy semi-autonomous safety systems have been proven to make drivers less attentive, despite also helping already poor drivers avoid accidents. But the real culprit is likely the fact that more people are driving now than ever before. Longer distances, plus additional drivers, equals more accidents.

Either way, California is ready to oppose the dismantling of the Obama-era regulations. Environmental officials within the state have already said they would fight to uphold the existing standards. They’ve also warned that slashing MPG targets would make U.S. manufacturers uncompetitive — as there would be no incentive for them to invest in electric cars and other advanced fuel-saving technologies. Meanwhile, automakers have started suggesting that California may be asking for too much with its zero-emission vehicle initiatives.

Whatever your take on economy targets, we can all probably agree that it would be nice if the decision was left up to scientists and not politicians.

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2 of 126 comments
  • Vehic1 Vehic1 on Feb 14, 2018

    His term is already in its second year, and to say the least - the jury is out on whether he'll get another. Whatever whim he indulges in his quest for revenge with the Black Guy may not last forever. Also, gas prices aren't going to drop dramatically, unless oil companies start simply giving it away - so it's unlikely that everyone will purchase the T-rex Guzzlinator 4WD Chrome Edition Dually pickup (rated .05 mpg).

  • WildcatMatt WildcatMatt on Mar 12, 2018

    What is with the fractional MPG targets? Just set it at 45 (or 40) and call it done.

  • Xidex i haven't even turned the dial to AM since the 90's I think at that time it was only because there is one station i liked was on the AM dial (it is no longer around) Someone had to point to the station otherwise i wouldn't have even scanned the AM dial. I still think the AM dial should be left on radios though, If no one listened to it then there wouldn't be any stations would there.
  • Kwik_Shift I have five AM stations preset, each different from one another in terms of content. Some politics, some day to day, some do it yourselfing or help. Focus is more on local news and events. FM is just about pushing crap music and djs pushing the MSM message for their corporate overlords. FM is about making radio sound exactly the same all over North America. I like ONE FM station that plays different varieties of country music and has an entertaining dj. Overall, to each their own.
  • Kat Laneaux What's the benefits of this as opposed to the Ford or Nissan. Will the mileage be better than the 19 city, 24 hwy? Will it cost less than the average of $60,000? Will it be a hybrid?
  • Johnster Minor quibble. The down-sized full-sized 1980-only Continental (which was available with Town Car and Town Coupe trims) gave up its name in 1981 and became the Town Car. The name "Town Coupe" was never used after the 1980 model year. The 1981 Lincoln Town Car was available with a 2-door body style, but the 2-door Lincoln Town Car was discontinued and not offered for the 1982 model year and never returned to the Lincoln lineup.
  • Zipper69 Some discreet dwebadging and this will pass for a $95k Lucid Air...