What U.S. Vehicle Fuel Economy Standards (if any) Should Be – Results of an NMA Online Survey, Part 2: NMA E-Newsletter #570

Last week’s newsletter (Part 1, #569) provided a statistical summary of responses to an NMA November online survey seeking feedback about CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standards. Here, in Part 2, is where the rubber hits the road. Those taking the survey were given the opportunity to include commentary to explain their choices of whether U.S. fuel economy standards should be set at 54.5 miles per gallon by vehicle model year 2025, be frozen at the 2021 requirement of 37.0 mpg, or hold steady at the current 2018 fleet average level of 27.0 mpg (or lower).

If Part 1 provided a graphical representation of the survey results, the feedback gleaned from hundreds of comments adds important perspective.

There is not nearly enough space to include all of the responses here, but we tried our best to share representative opinions. The feedback is segregated by how the writer voted, i.e., CAFE standard at 54.5 mpg, at 37.0 mpg, at 27.0 mpg, or none of the above, to provide context.

For more survey comments, visit U.S. Fuel Economy Standards – November 2019 Survey where we set up a dedicated page to document the overall results and to publish additional feedback. The volume of opinions shared was substantial, indicative of the importance of the CAFE standard to motorists. We read every response and published as many as possible.

Without further ado:

The CAFE standard should remain at 27.0 mpg or even go lower

  • The Obama-era fuel-economy standards were a political gesture, and are obviously unattainable. Rather than preserve this fantasy-based aspirational standard, fleet fuel economy should be allowed to find its own level as dictated by fuel price, consumer choice, and the price of technology. 
  • CAFE standards are a “slippery slope” argument. Either allow the free market to regulate vehicular fuel consumption, or if government mandates are to be implemented, simply raise the federal gasoline tax. Improved fuel economy will occur as a natural consequence. 
  • Raising CAFE standards does nothing to lower the consumption of fossil fuels or the carbon footprint as it pushes car manufacturers to produce electric or hybrid vehicles. The electricity used by hybrids and electric vehicles will force utilities to generate more electricity thus consuming more fossil fuels. Wind and solar generation is sparse at best and unreliable (e.g. night time). Fossil fuels saved at the pump will be consumed at the power station. 
  • I would favor around 30 mpg. I really don’t think it is safe for people to travel in a car that is smaller. Since I get 24 mpg on the highway in my obviously inefficient car, I don’t think 30 mpg is too much to ask, but there are many reasons why it should not be raised higher. Some people need a larger vehicle for other reasons, such as having more passengers or having to carry work tools. I think the government is far too intrusive on these types of decisions. I think California and New York should go pound sand. 

Raise the CAFE standard to 37.0 mpg, the 2021 target, and then freeze it

  • While I answered yes to question 2 because I feel 35-40 mpg is a reasonable fleet average target over the next five years, I don’t necessarily agree that it should be “frozen” there forever. I would like to see the CAFE standard amended to require modest increases into the future beyond 2025, perhaps reaching 50 mpg by 2030. I’m far more concerned with the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet than reducing dependence on foreign oil. Additionally, I’m confident that continued advances in electric/hybrid propulsion, materials science, and vehicle safety systems will enable manufacturers to build automobiles that can achieve 50+ mpg standards without compromising passenger safety.
  • Automakers should still be pressured to find creative ways to produce higher mileage vehicles, especially since US auto buyers are moving more and more towards larger, less-efficient vehicles (trucks and SUV’s). This is NOT a safety issue as you allude to, it is a realistic concern – we need higher MPG, but not by forcing automakers within a timeframe, but by incenting innovation and increasing it at a realistic rate.
  • The auto industry and market are in a period of transition to electrified vehicles. But that will take time for the technology to develop, costs to come down, and the recharging infrastructure to catch up. Current requirements don’t take that into account and are so draconian that expensive electric vehicles would be forced onto the market. This will cause people to hold their older, more polluting cars longer, hurt the domestic auto industry, and greatly inconvenience many people. Let the market decide the rate of introduction of these technologies, not the heavy hand of government. Note: The argument that cars must get smaller and lighter isn’t really true anymore since electrification is the next step – it will just take time to get there.
  • I believe that the 37 mpg is more realistic, but more importantly, I believe that American people should have a better range of choice for their cars. Once again, the government is trying to force us into cars that many of us do not want. I also remember how bad cars were when the first big CAFE jump was implemented. Also, CAFE is a national issue. States, such as California, should not be allowed to set different standards. That would make cars even more expensive and less user-friendly. Consumers in rogue states would suffer a greater injustice.

Meet 54.5 mpg by vehicle model year 2025

  • The 2012 standards have ‘pushed’ automotive technology, otherwise the “bean counters” at each automotive company would not have spent a dime on advanced R&D! Notwithstanding that, WE (the people) need to get our legislators to do something about propping up the Federal gas tax before electric vehicles become so ubiquitous that our Federal Highway (maintenance) fund is bankrupt. 
  • You mention that “more stringent levels will force auto manufacturers to make vehicles smaller and lighter, and compromising driver/passenger safety.” This is a moving target. Lighter vehicles cause less damage to others. If everyone drives a lighter vehicle there is little safety penalty, but vehicle weights have moved up to where many are over two tons, and some SUVs are over three tons. As with speed it is the difference in weight that is a problem. Continuing to increase vehicle weight is unsustainable, but the only thing that is likely to reverse it is fuel economy standards. As the driver of a 2,800-pound convertible, my life is put a risk by the giant vehicles with which I share the road. 
  • I used to work for an OEM automaker. The lead times to develop a vehicle are incredibly long. The automakers have already done the product planning and pre-production work for the 54.5 mpg standard. Plus, Europe and China require similar efficiency standards on a similar timeline, so the automakers will need to produce similar vehicles for other markets anyway; they’d prefer to sell the same products and same powertrains in all markets as much as possible. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, the fuel economy that we’re all familiar with (on the “sticker”) is not the same as the 54.5/37.0/27.0 mpg fleet fuel economy that we’re talking about here; the adjusted average MPG of the fleet will be much lower than any of these numbers. 
  • I am okay with the 54.5 mpg standard, but the compromise between California, Ford, BMW, VW, and Honda that would raise CAFE standards 3.7 percent instead of 5 percent seems like a reasonable compromise. I do expect electric vehicles to dominate sales in the years to come, but if we don’t force the automakers to make these small, incremental improvements, they will do nothing. I would also hope these known costs will cause these automakers to switch their R&D to electric motors and drivetrains sooner rather than later. 
  • The industry will not increase mileage on its own. Never has, never will. As a libertarian, this is one of the limited uses of governmental power I would approve.

And finally, observations from a few who didn’t choose any CAFE standard

  • The Federal Government must be blocked from any further marketplace interference in this area. Let end purchasers make market-driven choices without any counterproductive meddling from an overreaching federal authority. 
  • We often regulate things that are secondary or tertiary to what we purport to be after. If dependence on foreign oil is bad, then foreign oil should be taxed until the utopian balance of foreign vs. domestic oil consumption is reached. If carbon dioxide is bad, then the carbon content of fuel should be directly taxed or regulated. This requires much less intrusion and bureaucracy and hidden corruption to get to the desired end. If we have to stick with CAFE standards, one change I would like to see is that all passenger vehicles be regulated to the same standard. That is, the differing standard for trucks/SUVs and passenger cars should be eliminated. 
  • I see no reason for a CAFE standard to exist at all. Modern electronics and fuel controls have more than accomplished the purpose of balancing fuel economy and emissions. As a consumer I am amazed at the power and economy achieved in a commercially available automobile. CAFE accomplished its goal. Retire the CAFE standard completely.

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