By on August 7, 2019

The fuel economy rollback posited by the Trump administration remains a hotly debated issue within the automotive community. Unfortunately, it has become mired in political nonsense, making decrypting the real-world impact of embracing or shunning it rather difficult. Consumer Reports recently took a stab at making sense of the matter, coming out in favor of balking at the notion of a rollback on the grounds that it would ultimately raise fueling costs.

Last year, the administration proposed capping fuel economy and emission standards at 2020 levels, instead of allowing them to rise annually as under existing regulations. The opposition, fronted by California, is vying to maintain the existing standards — with the possible compromise of delaying them by one year. 

“The rollback is like a gas tax because it increases drivers’ fuel costs,” suggested Consumer Reports, comparing the proposed policy change to an additional 63 cents per gallon of gasoline for owners of 2026 model year vehicles. According to Bloomberg, CR believes the administration’s preferred policy choice would translate to an additional $3,300 on those cars. The study also claims owners of trucks and sport utility vehicles would be among the hardest hit — which seems like it should go without saying.

“The facts don’t back this rule’s Orwellian name,” said David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports. “The evidence shows that lowering fuel economy and emissions standards won’t do anything to improve traffic safety, but it will leave Americans stuck with the bill.”

While Consumer Reports usually does pretty good work, some aspects of this study seem short sighted. Advanced technologies focused on maximizing fuel efficiency aren’t cheap. In many instances, the cost of owning a hybrid vehicle isn’t actually offset by fuel savings when you account for their higher MSRP and swifter depreciation. While that could change if fuel prices climb high enough, the more likely scenario is that overall savings will vary on a case-by-case basis and be heavily influenced by how you drive. Meanwhile, purely electric vehicles have a much lower operating cost but a significantly higher point of entry vs a similarly sized car utilizing internal combustion. This is currently offset by federal tax credits, but those won’t last forever and we don’t know for certain how quickly battery prices will come down.

If you are going to put a lot of miles on a vehicle in a short period of time and trade it in after a few years, a hybrid might make sense. However, if you like to wring out every drop of usefulness from your vehicles and don’t have a terribly long commute, the inverse could be true. Although, CR said that this was largely irrelevant since most car buyers finance their vehicles.

To prove we aren’t playing favorites, we’re also going to put down the White House’s assertion that the fuel rollback would save lives. Both the Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency have argued their proposal would reduce the cost of new automobiles and save as many as 1,000 lives annually by encouraging motorists to trade older models for newer, safer, less-costly vehicles. While the financial aspects may be true, the safety claim is highly circumstantial and influenced by a myriad of other factors. There was also talk, which has been walked backed in recent months, that future vehicles will need to be made lighter in order to meet stringent economy standards. This could result in more older, oversized vehicles going head-to-head with flimsy econoboxes… maybe. But there’s nothing to suggest consumers will shy actually away from larger vehicles in the first place — with the only exception being higher fuel prices.

Ironically, more-expensive gas has historically been the best predictor of what consumers will actually buy. Therefore, if the fuel economy rollback does boost the cost of fuel, it may accidentally result in people buying more efficient cars than they otherwise would have. Of course, Consumer Reports‘ increased fuel costs don’t occur at the pump. Instead, it’s the cumulative estimate resulting from owning a less-efficient automobile — something consumers could easily change by buying something else. That said, gas prices will probably go up over the next few years — not that it makes either plan the better solution. Both strategies make sacrifices in one area to see gains elsewhere. The real trick is comparing those factors to make the best decision possible for the nation.

[Image: CC7/Shutterstock]

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48 Comments on “Gas War: Efficiency Rollback Would Raise Fuel Costs, Study Claims...”


  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The shameless idiots don’t know which way is up anymore. Wouldn’t high fuel prices incentivize conservation and therefore sell more efficient vehicles voluntarily? Do they just hate freedom of choice when that choice isn’t killing innocent humans? High fuel prices would also encourage domestic production which is good for employment, for the trade deficit, for wages, for national security, and for giving future generations an opportunity not to be crushed by debt. It’s just further proof that the people who still support Obama’s policies hate the country beyond the point of reason.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      But with RegUnl 87-octane gas costing me $2.399 at the local Shell station this morning, it is really difficult to get worked up over these proposed mandates. They may never come to pass.

      And if they do, they can hardly be worse than the $5/gal gas that we paid in the past.

      What’s more, the price of gasoline and diesel are anticipated to fall the remainder of this year and well into 2020 as US oil producers hit their stride and global oil demand is forecast to drop.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Yup. Everything is upside down. I also love how keeping fuel economy standards the same is cutting them. It’s the same as decreasing the amount of your annual spending increase is cutting spending.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        It’s funny how, whenever anything gets popular, the price goes up “because they can.” But when something gets unpopular, the price … goes up, because “it’s a specialty item now”.

        I get the feeling that the fuel economy standards won’t have much impact on the price, in the midst of all kinds of other factors. And if “the powers that be” raise the price, they will always have some excuse to blame it on.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      I’m not convinced less stringent fuel economy standards would raise fuel PRICES. They may not even increase fuel consumption, except for some new vehicles that will have more powerful engines.

      Fuel economy has only an indirect effect on emissions, and is probably none of the government’s business. Does the government place a wattage limit on air conditioners, microwaves, or refrigerators?

      The volume of electrical generation has an indirect effect on air quality in the same way more cars, and more types of heavy use vehicles burning more fuel does. At what point does government regulation stop?

  • avatar
    ferdburful

    So the higher fuel standards raise the price of a new car which makes it less affordable so fewer people will buy a new car at that price. But we should only worry about the fuel economy standards. There’s a trade-off which Consumer Reports and others really don’t seem to want to recognize. Keep the 2020 standards for a while. We have finally come out of the recession and the low growth years.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      “We have finally come out of the recession and the low growth years.”

      Thank you, President Trump!

      • 0 avatar
        tinbad

        I doubt that one president or even administration serving out a 4-8 yr term can do much about the state of the economy, for better or worse. It’s pretty evident he can barely move the needle when it comes to rallying up its own government and getting his policies implemented, let alone the largest economy in the world. The economy has very little to do with presidents, unless of course you live Venezuela.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          We came ever so close to living in Venezuela in 2016. You make it sound like the Democrats and fake news media who said Trump would implode the economy were lying.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          tinbad, things started popping for America right after the election results were publicized in 2016, and things just got better and better for most Americans.

          It’s the mentality of the citizenry that determines optimism and the sense of well-being, something America did not have since Nov 2008.

          Will there be losers? Yeah, of course. There always are. Some people try and try again and never get ahead. Others should not even be given a shot at it.

          But the Trump era, too, shall end. Thus NOW is the time for all good citizens to get their financial ducks lined up before the next ‘crat administration to raises our taxes, takes away our liberties and freedoms, and quashes our freedom of speech.

          Welfare, socialism, Medicare for All (None), food stamps, YES, WE CAN! Si, se puede.

          Just around the bend. Once President Trump leaves office, no matter when that will be, 2021 or 2025.

          The more things change, the more they stay the same.

          • 0 avatar
            SoCalMikester

            huge tax cuts for companies that hoard money and dont create american jobs? how much of that tax cut are you getting?

            welfare and food stamp abuse are long time republican tropes they drag out to keep you foaming at the mouth while they work their grifts.

            ive got cadillac health insurance but i dont want sick people going to emergency rooms or getting their sickness in the food i eat and air i breathe. sick people drag down the economy and get themselves in debt

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            You are living your dream in California. The poor have better insurance there than the vanishing middle class. Income inequality exceeds that of most third world sh*th*l*s, crime is ignored in some areas and stomped out under a boot in others, poverty is off the charts, science and math education is non-existent, and infant mortality is medieval. Which conservative ideas are to blame for how you’ve soiled your own nest?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “how much of that tax cut are you getting? ”

            SoCalMikester, our income situation is complicated.

            Short story is the amount we have to pay in taxes was reduced noticeably since President Trump enacted the tax cuts for people in my boat, but the withholding was also reduced which COULD have caused us to have to pony up ~$8K at the EOY filing. So we changed our W-4 to (0) zero, each.

            To give you some idea of the complexity of our income situation, there is my military retirement, my VA disability, and my socsec retirement plus on my wife’s side her CSRS/FERS annuity of $7K/mo, her socsec retirement, and on top of that is the residual income from the real estate business and rentals that is now managed from the WY office. That money we never see because it goes into a trust, but we still have to pay taxes on it, after expenses.

            I still do our taxes myself, and then send it to the WY office to be double-checked, verified and authenticated by the company’s tax attorney who is licensed to practice before the IRS.

            Hence, a $9600+ refund this past May. Plus annuity forced-payouts for my wife’s civsvc retirement because the stock market is sky high.

            We’re not complaining about the good life many of us enjoy during President Trump.

            And hey, we’re not the only ones doing well under the current administration. It’s like a 180-degree opposite from the previous administration.

            That’s a fact, Jack.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            @SoCal, I got a nice cut, thanks for asking. I’m sure it was I’ll gotten though or whatever excuse you need to come up with to rationalize taking more of my money.

            If you are going to stick your hand deeper in my pocket, you could at least…well never mind.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Average fuel economy of the U.S. fleet has only shown marginal (tenths of an mpg) improvement despite huge fuel economy gains for most vehicles. People just buy bigger vehicles when gas is cheap and vehicles are more fuel efficient.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      ” People just buy bigger vehicles when gas is cheap and vehicles are more fuel efficient.”

      Exactly.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      Most but not all. I like to squeeze out the most mileage from my Civic. Last tank, I set a new personal best. The EPA estimate sez 40 Highway, but my new personal record is 38.7 . I have made no modifications to the car, but drive 65 on the highway, (slow to most of you) and do mostly highway driving. Yes, I know that when the birds fly over my house, they say “Cheep, Cheep, Cheep !”, but that’s OK.

  • avatar
    highdesertcat

    And speaking of “Efficiency Rollback”, these are the most driven vehicles

    https://www.iseecars.com/most-driven-cars-2019-study

    Looks to me like owners of these vehicles don’t care about the price of fuel, judging from the miles they drive annually on average.

  • avatar
    Lokki

    The problem with the “Peak Oil” theory was that it failed to correctly forecast the improvement of oil extraction and discovery technologies and thus greatly underestimated the available supply. Noting the flaws in previous forecasts as a warning to us, current forecasts project supplies – Of Oil – remaining plentiful and comparatively inexpensive for at least the next 30 years. Natural gas will be plentiful for roughly 600 years; plenty of time to fully develop the process of converting natural gas into liquid fuels (i.e. gasoline)….and to develop methane hydrates.
    https://geology.com/articles/methane-hydrates/

    “Oil Prices Rise Slower than in Previous Forecasts: Many factors that go into the price of a barrel of crude oil, but the really strong numbers for U.S. production going forward will put downward pressure on prices. So while prices may rise in the future, it is likely that the rise will be more modest than it would have been without U.S. production growth. By 2050, EIA expects the price of a barrel of crude oil will be about $108 (real 2018$). That’s about 7.5% less than the 2050 price EIA forecasted last year.”

    https://www.globalenergyinstitute.org/eias-annual-energy-outlook-2019-future-looks-pleasant

    I am one of those whose view of human-caused Climate Change can be pretty much summed up thus:

    The North America, Europe, and Japan together roughly comprise 1 Billion of the Earth’s 6.5 Billion people. Unless we are willing (and able) to tell the people of China, India, and the other 3 Billion in smaller countries that they are prohibited from enjoying the comforts of life brought by increased access to cheap energy (read coal, oil, and gas), all the electric Teslas et al simply amount from a climate change preventing perspective to virtue signaling of the same value of #SaveOurGirls – a hashtag campaign purporting to be an effort to save kidnapped African girls from radical African Muslims. In short, a pointless feel-good campaign which will do nothing to alter whatever the actual consequences of Man-made CO2 generation might be.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      I can’t fix China, though they are charging ahead of us into renewable energy and mass transit. They may not be the nation most needing fixing. All I can do is control my buying and driving choices. I’ve always driven semi-performance cars got 25-30 mpg: GTIs, turbo SAABs. Today I drive a plug in hybrid that gives mw 70 mpg AND 8 seconds 0-60 times. That’s not a tough compromise. I’m not signaling anybody, I’m just living up to my own values. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, you know?

      • 0 avatar
        SoCalMikester

        and not everyone has ready access to even a 115v outlet near where they have to park, much less 220v and a charger. as long as there are people renting where they live, theres gonna be gas powered vehicles.

        because good luck asking your landlord to hire an electrician to run 220v from your panel to a dedicated charger near where you park.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      ” In short, a pointless feel-good campaign which will do nothing to alter whatever the actual consequences of Man-made CO2 generation might be.”

      Won’t, mathematically cant, do a damned thing about CO2 but don’t kid yourself that this is stupid hippies who can’t do math getting their feels on. It’s the biggest expansion of crony capitalism since the cold war and the rent seeking class is absolutely cashing in.

      A world without the green new deal would be a world where our social betters can’t afford to vacation on Mars.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Put Americans in cars 50% more fuel efficient and they’ll drive 50% more.

    Then they’ll crash 50% more and die on US roads 50% more.

    Endless unintended consequences (or are they??). Except Americans can’t always be forced or bullied into Hybrids, EVs, or tiny cars, not with a virtually endless supply of used “gas guzzlers”, like the Toyota Tacoma, with endless inventory of IROCs, custom vans, and such, sitting behind barns and whatnot.

    And as if there’s not already tons of backlash against “new cars”, all the corporate greed, political warfare and corruption that go along with them.

    Look for Americans to make (better, smarter) choices that don’t exactly feed into mass consumerism, high consumption nor a huge debt load.

  • avatar
    drfnw3

    As Consumer Reports notes, most people finance their vehicles. OK. Cutting edge technology to wring the last tenth of a mpg may well cost more than the additional fuel would cost over the life of that loan (in some cases 84 months at this point!). So, net cost for transportation can be higher, even with higher fuel prices. Likewise, insurance costs increase because weight savings and other mandates raise collision repair costs. So again, saving that 1% or even 10% on fuel may not end up putting more money in the driver’s pocket. It just goes different places. All in all, the argument for continually increasing MPG targets sounds more like a way to control people rather than a way to give them more or better options.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    “The evidence shows that lowering fuel economy and emissions standards won’t do anything to improve traffic safety, but it will leave Americans stuck with the bill.”

    This is a non-sequitor. Those two have nothing to do with traffic safety. And the more restrictive standards he seems to approve *will* stick people with a hefty bill.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Weimer

      Also, I might point out, most safety innovations (stiffer chassis w/ crumple zones, airbags, door bars, ABS systems, etc.) add fuel-economy robbing weight.

  • avatar
    Best_Ever

    2 and 3 cylinder engines for ALL!!!! YAY!

  • avatar
    JoeBrick

    So postponing or canceling a PROPOSED LAW CHANGE will cause a rise in the price of a commodity used by millions everyday ? What a crock of Sh!t !
    AND WHAT A CROCK OF SH!T IS David Friedman, vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      P.S.- and just HAVING a Vice President of ADVOCACY shows that Consumer Reports CHOOSES not to and can NEVER be unbiased…

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        They’ve pegged the needle leftward for years! They’ve always had it bad for hybrids, EVs, and all the green BS included with them, plus they always seem to find some sort of green angle to everything from toasters to TVs! I just have to laugh when they finally come to their senses about something like the Tesla Model 3, over which they fawn excessively until they see the cold light of day!

        If there was some sort of alternative to CR, in a Fox News-vs.-CNN sort of dichotomy, I’d be all over that in a minute! Just give me the answer of what’s the best, most reliable product in a category! I could give a [reference to fecal material] about how it helps the environment!

        • 0 avatar
          Roader

          This. The problem is, there’s a revolving door between Consumer Reports and government regulatory agencies. As a result, Consumer Reports never met a government agency that didn’t need expanding or a government regulation that didn’t need toughening.

          Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Just one point- I want any new regs to concentrate on the least efficient vehicles, because that’s where the biggest potential gains are. Advancing a Prius-class car from 50 to 75 mpg sounds impressive, but it actually saves less fuel (and money, CO2, pollution) than raising another vehicle’s efficiency from 20 to 25 mpg. Do the math.

    Not saying that trucks and other jumbos shouldn’t be available, but economic incentives should be used to limit them mainly to folks with their company names painted on the door.

    • 0 avatar
      PandaBear

      This, but that’s where the real money is and companies won’t allow that.

      I would rather the standard focus on reducing “waste” than focusing on mpg. If you mandate things like aerodynamic improvement, weight to volume ratio, plumbing lost, idling waste, you can actually keep the useful part of the bigger vehicle and bigger engine around that consumers care about. Instead of pulling a turbo small engine with CVT that won’t last more than 150k.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The turbo engines might last but many of the CVTs will be lucky if they get close to 100k.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    Just wait until your government starts flirting with the idea of a carbon tax…

  • avatar
    FOG

    What am I missing? The reason for stopping the insane fuel economy standards is simple. It is not feasible. We keep worshiping the political gods of The Fountainhead while ignoring science.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Being unfeasible is a feature for the Democratic Fascists who champion Obama’s CAFE standards. They place industry at the whim of an unaccountable bureaucracy. Why do you think killing the Bill of Rights is their highest priority? Tyranny is a scary pursuit when the populace is armed and can communicate with one another.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It’s not just “unfeasible”. Due to the billions that would be owed in fines, it’s extortionist, and really no different than organized crime.

        Every automakers could offer an array of electric cars, and hybrid versions of every gas model, but consumers will still be encouraged not to buy them, unless automakers are fine with being non profit orgs.

        Yet the fines are just small enough to be swallowed by automakers, strategically, yet add up to billions a year, per automakers including Toyota.

        Trump is just trying to fix what’s broken.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          But no matter what good President Trump does, the extreme far left conspiracy will never give him credit for it.

          And that’s OK too, because smart people will benefit from the repairs made to what’s broken and enjoy good times for how long they may last.

          Like BIG V8 engines making a (small and selective) comeback.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I clicked this article expecting to read some kind of nonsensical economic argument how encouraging increasing fuel consumption in the future would cause a demand and price rise on a commodity based on some form of economic projections.

    But what these cranially-rectally inverted propagandists appear to be arguing is that the non-existent average car of 2026 (because they’ll all be “trucks” by then) will use more fuel on the 2020 standards than the presently-legislated pipe dream would have them using, therefore the costs you’ll never actually incur because you can’t afford to buy this car that couldn’t exist by then would be as if fuel costs were higher than they are today. But they may not be. And you may not drive more, and it’s not like everyone buys a new car every year to take advantage of 0.01 mpg increase.

    I’m appalled at their blatant detachment from reality. Further appalled at the ignorance that allowed these useless fools to make this argument without being mocked and ridiculed into a dark oblivion. Allow me to go weep for the future of humanity.

  • avatar
    cprescott

    This report is dishonest. It assumes that vehicles could have been made to meet the outrageous and arbitrary Obama standards that were designed to limit personal choices and to make what was available more expensive so as to curb the use of vehicles PERIOD. This was nothing about being green or environmentally sound policy. Like all of the modern era global climate change items, this is a whole package of wet dreams that the left of left left want to use to redistribute income from those who produce to those who have an excuse. There is nothing more or less about this policy initiate.

    And if you really cared about fuel economy, you alone could save 25% without spending a dime by learning how to drive your vehicle efficiently and to obey posted speed limits and to anticipate traffic lights and to package your trips into one. But then again, that would mean you are free American who chooses for yourself rather than someone whose heart bleeds for you.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @highdesertcat–Not just V8s but you might see people willing to spend money on having vehicles rebuilt so that they can keep them longer. I question the longevity and reliability of a turbo charged 3 cylinder with a CVT. Many many transmission failures with CVTs especially Nissan and if you are going to spend 4k to 6k for a new transmission that will fail again it might make more sense to keep a vehicle you know is reliable. Many Nissans with CVTs are lucky to make it to 100k miles. From what I have read is that many of the CVTs cannot be rebuilt and the belt inside the transmission cannot simply be replaced. Maybe if these vehicles were really cheap one could justify buying one since you would know that they will not last and are willing to pay a lot less for them, in other words these are disposable vehicles. If a vehicle is only designed to last 5 to 10 years then I don’t want to pay upwards of 30k for it.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Most of the small, CVT equipped crap boxes have a manual available that makes them way less crappy. CVTs are the modern equivalent to speccing that malaise era Honda with a 3 speed auto of the day (or were those old Honda’s 2 speeds…I don’t remember. Take a decently fun car and make it, well, crap.

      The turbo motors will be fine. That tech is proven. Duesenbergs had forced induction available for crying out loud. They aren’t really any more or less servicible than other modern motors. It’s still all about accessibility and architecture when you are pushing high mileage (250k plus). At that point, the timing chain on a Coyote v8 is likely to need attention. Think a job like that is going to be easier on that big 5.0 DOHC motor than a little inline 4 turbo mill? Even on my trucks 2.7 v6 TT, the turbos don’t really interfere with many jobs and they don’t look difficult to get at should they need service.

      Yes, a twin turbo transverse V6 would make the rear one difficult. Then again, my friends good old 98 Maxima is really no easier to get at the rear of. Any transverse V has always been a pain.

      Having said that, CVTs and some dual clutches do seem less durable. Pretty much every segment has other options. My modern rides have 6 speed conventional slushboxes (their current model years have more gears but still conventional autos), or an honest to God actuate the clutch with your left foot which is why God gave you 2 feet 6 speed manual.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Jeff S, as I aged and could better afford new cars, I found myself adopting a new philosophy re cars and trucks; one that states that “All vehicles you want are good as long as the factory warranty lasts.”

      Since 2008, when we bought our first Japan-made Highlander and then switched over to the Toyota fan club, we have adhered to that new philosophy and get rid of a vehicle ~the time the factory warranty expires.

      It has worked well for us. I’m too old now to be writhing around on the cement drive way, tooling and wrenching on my cars. I still do oil&filter changes, alternator R&R, serpentine belt replacements, but no more labor intensive stuff like waterpump changes, brake jobs, tire rotation, and the like.

      Currently we do not own ANY vehicles but that is driven by our residing outside of the US much of the year. Once we get too old to travel comfortably, I’ll reassess the situation and buy two more vehicles, one for my wife, and a truck for me. Based on previous ownership experience, I’m inclined to buy another new Sequoia for Kitty, and another Tundra for me.

      No CVT or 2-cyl vehicles for me.


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