Obama Raises U.S. Fuel Efficiency Standard to 54.5 mpg

WASHINGTON, DC, August 2, 2011 (ENS) – The Obama administration and 13 automakers have agreed to boost the fuel economy of cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The new agreement more than doubles the current Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, Standard of 24.1 mpg.

Making the announcement on Friday, President Barack Obama was joined by representatives of Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo – which together account for over 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States. Officials of the United Auto Workers, and the State of California, who helped to develop the agreement, also were present.

Morning rush hour in Chicago (Photo by Timothy State)

“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said President Obama. “Most of the companies here today were part of an agreement we reached two years ago to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars over the next five years.”

“We’ve set an aggressive target and the companies are stepping up to the plate. By 2025, the average fuel economy of their vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon,” said the President.

In late 2007, CAFE standards received their first overhaul in more than 30 years when President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring that automakers boost fleetwide gas mileage to 35 mpg by the year 2020.

In May 2009, the Obama administration pushed the 35 mpg target forward to model years 2012-2016, raising fuel efficiency to 35.5 mpg and beginning to save drivers money at the pump this year when model year 2012 vehicles debut in the fall.

The 2025 standards agreed Friday build on the Obama administration’s earlier agreement for model years 2012-2016.

Achieving these fuel efficiency goals will require innovative technologies and manufacturing that are expected to spur economic growth and create high-quality domestic jobs.

These programs, combined with the model year 2011 light truck standard, are expected to save American drivers $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, and by 2025 result in an average fuel savings of over $8,000 per vehicle, the administration says.

The new standards are expected to result in savings of 12 billion barrels of oil in total. By 2025 they will reduce oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels a day – as much as half of the oil the U.S. presently imports from OPEC countries every day.

The standards also curb carbon pollution, requiring performance equivalent to 163 grams per mile of CO2. The administration says the standards will cut more than six billion metric tons of greenhouse gas over the life of the program – more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States last year.

The nonprofit alliance Go60MPG, a joint effort of Environment America, the National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Safe Climate Campaign, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, applauded the agreement, but encouraged all parties to do more.

“We remain convinced that automakers have the technology and American innovators have the know-how to take us even further and reach 60 miles-per-gallon and beyond,” the alliance said in a statement.

“This agreement must now be finalized through a rulemaking process,” the alliance said. “We will continue to work with the administration and all the stakeholders to ensure the sound implementation of this critical agreement and to accelerate progress and innovation in the months and years to come.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “As the administration moves forward to finalize the standard, it is critical that they avoid weakening loopholes and giveaways for the industry, and we look forward to working with them to ensure the strongest 2025 fuel efficiency and pollution standards possible to benefit American families and workers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have worked closely with auto manufacturers, the state of California, environmental groups, and other stakeholders for months to ensure these standards are achievable, cost-effective and preserve consumer choice.

The program would increase the fuel efficiency standard for passenger cars by an average of five percent each year.

The standards for pick-ups and other light-duty trucks would increase an average of 3.5 percent annually for the first five model years and an average of five percent annually for the last four model years of the program, to account for the unique challenges associated with this class of vehicles.

“These standards will help spur economic growth, protect the environment, and strengthen our national security by reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Working together, we are setting the stage for a new generation of clean vehicles.”

“This is another important step toward saving money for drivers, breaking our dependence on imported oil and cleaning up the air we breathe,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. “American consumers are calling for cleaner cars that won’t pollute their air or break their budgets at the gas pump, and our innovative American automakers are responding with plans for some of the most fuel efficient vehicles in our history.”

At the Colorado think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, transportation consultant Greg Rucks says automakers could achieve vehicles that get 100 mpg by applying “integrative design, vehicle fitness and new manufacturing methods.”

“We are currently on the tail end of a 100-year learning curve, where we see design improvements flattening out,” said Rucks. “Instead of wringing the last bit of innovation left in current designs, the same amount of innovation and design effort could be more productively applied toward revolutionary autos that exceed 100 mpg with better safety and performance. Automakers who recognize this early will be in the best position to capture market share.”

The key to taking significant amount of weight out of a vehicle without making it smaller is to substitute lighter, yet stronger materials such as advanced composites like carbon fiber, Rucks advised. At only one-third the density of steel, carbon fiber is able to absorb up to six times more crash energy than aluminum.

“Transitioning to advanced composites – as compared to design optimized for metals – could vault automakers into the realm of 150 + mpg, and capture safety and performance benefits,” said Rucks. “For automakers, a shift to advanced materials requires significant retooling both in the boardroom and on the factory floor.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.