In its relentless pursuit of better fuel economy, the Obama Administration is again floating the idea of applying a 56.5 mpg CAFE standard to all automakers that sell cars in the U.S. Good intentions, bad idea.
The most important thing to realize about the CAFE standards and the EPA sticker ratings are not really related. For example, the 35.5 mpg standard due to take effect in 2016 would actually equate to a fleet-wide average fuel economy of just 27 mpg. The 56.5 mpg standard that the Obama Administration is considering for 2025 (after previously considering up to 62 mpg) would actually result in an average fleetwide fuel economy of about 41 mpg (combined.) This is not a bill, just an idea from the White House right now, and not even a new one. I’m not a fan of this huge fuel economy jump though, and here is why.
Americans love big cars. We’re starting to warm up to small cars, to be sure, but pickup trucks are still, by far, the best selling vehicles in America. While I like the 35.5 mpg standard for nudging automakers towards better fuel efficiency, it is only working right now because of high gas prices. Studies estimate that these higher standards could add between $1,000 to $15,000 to the price of a new car or truck, and if gas prices fall again, automakers will be left with a glut of expensive, efficient cars that nobody wants to buy. That hurts the auto industry and the government’s credibility, at a time when both are suffering.
A better answer would be to increase the gas tax, even if it was only by a few cents. Beyond raising much needed capital for our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, it would also give consumers pause when considering their next new car. This would make the transition to higher fuel economy cars organic, in response to higher gas prices. But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, what with the verdant anti-tax stance of the GOP right now and the political untouchability of raising the gas tax. So perhaps a 56.5 mpg standard is the only recourse Obama has left. What do you think?
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.