An online survey was conducted among NMA members regarding U.S. government fuel economy standards. In 2012, a CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) standard was set where automakers had to meet a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by vehicle model year 2025. The US DOT and EPA proposed in 2018 freezing the CAFE standard at the previously established 2021 level of 37.0 mpg. Several states, led by California, are contesting that proposal. The final disposition of the CAFE standard will have a major impact on driving, from the design of vehicles to the cost/availability of fuel.

The survey questions follow, accompanied by many of the opinions included with several of the responses.

The first three questions each required a Yes/No response, with Yes permitted only for one of the three:

1. Should the U.S. retain the 2012 CAFE standards which will require fleet average fuel economies of 54.5 miles per gallon by vehicle model year 2025?

2. Should the fleet fuel economy standard be frozen at the 2021 level of 37.0 mpg?

3. Should the CAFE standard be maintained at the 2018 level of 27.0 mpg or lower?

The hundreds of responses received are summarized by this graph:


Survey questions 4 through 6:

4. If you answered “Yes” to Question #1, what was the primary factor?


5. If you answered “Yes” to Question #2, what was the primary factor?


6. If you answered “Yes” to Question #3, what was the primary factor?


After these six survey questions, respondents were given the opportunity to share their opinions of why the voted as they did. While we can’t publish every comment from the survey, what follows are a large sampling of representative responses, segregated by how the respondent voted in questions 4 (meet a 54.5 mpg standard), 5 (meet a 37.0 mpg standard), and 6 (meet a 27.0 mpg standard or lower). They could only answer “yes” to one of these options. We also added an additional category for those who didn’t pick a fuel economy standard and told us why.

Meet a 54.5 mpg fuel economy standard by vehicle model year 2025

  • We should not place limits on fuel efficiency. If reasonable methods of increasing efficiency can be found, we should exploit them to the greatest extent possible without sacrificing other design parameters such as safety and size. But there must also be an incentive for manufacturers or they will do nothing in this area. Having to depend on foreign oil imports can jeopardize our security as a nation.
  • 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.
  • Remember that foreign car makers are experienced at building efficient cars, and they will push American drivers away from American cars if American makes no longer compete for the high-efficiency market. Eventually we will reach a time when fossil fuels will no longer be available at reasonable costs.
  • I noticed that people wanted lower cafe standards in part on the basis of safety. I would counter that safety in automobiles is a matter of relative sizes, that if all cars became smaller, safety would remain pretty much the same on average, and that if anything, those of us who drive small cars–I drive a ~2,628 lb Civic–would be much safer than we are now, with 4,000 and 4,500 behemoths rolling around. I also think climate change is an existential threat. But I don’t want government micromanaging my mobility, and I know that people put the largest blame for global warming emissions on cars–because their consumption is so visible with millions of them driving around. Yet electric power plants, meat production, air transport, electric power plants, and buildings all cause at least as much, if not more global warming emissions. Therefore, I’d rather see use of a carbon tax to curb global warming emissions. But if we’re stuck with CAFE, set the standard at 54mgp in 2025, for all personal vehicles, instead of having different size categories. 
  • 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 2 tons and some SUVs are over 3 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 2800 pound convertible my life is put a risk by the giant vehicles I share the road with.
  • 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.
  • Future vehicle fuel economy standards can be raised using hybrid, fuel cell and plug-in electric technologies so why would fuel mileage be limited so that inefficient internal combustion engines continue to dominate and pollute the air? I’ve owned a Tesla Model S since 2015 (100 mpg – zero emissions), I could not be more satisfied. After owning cars for 55 years, I will never buy another vehicle with an internal combustion engine. I also have a 7.5kW PV system on my home that generated 95MWh since 2013, which is what charges the car and supplies essentially all the annual electricity for the home. The investment in photo voltaic panels for home/industry electricity production and electric vehicles will not only save on energy costs in the long run it also significantly reduces the carbon foot print. The only people that don’t believe that are ignorant of the facts or are invested in fossil fuel industry!!
  • These standards have historically driven environmental improvements. Does anyone remember what the air looked like in 1970? The rest of the world beyond our shores continues with ever more stringent emissions standards. We must do so as well to remain competitive. Emissions standards since the 1960’s have driven improvements in technology and performance that might not have occurred otherwise. Face it, if a corporation is not required to spend money to improve it’s product when it can take that same money and return it to shareholders in its usual short-sighted way, which do you think will happen?
  • I realize we are all automotive enthusiasts but climate change is an existential problem and all of us need t make sacrifices to make it possible for future generations to inhabit a manageable earth. The original CAFE standards stimulated automakers to innovate and create great vehicles within the stated constraints. There is reason for optimism that American ingenuity and innovativeness will again surprise us.
  • 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% instead of 5% 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 drive-trains 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.
  • The only way to force new technology in the auto industry is with higher CAFE standards. My 2018 Travers gets 20+ % higher fuel economy on the highway compare to my 2012 model. The driving experience is better.
  • My understanding of the 54.5 MPG figure is if the entire fuel reduction goal is to be realized by vehicle changes only. I think there needs effort on trip generators, origin/destination planning, and land use. I think there is a need for consumer education. Differentiate between speed and elapsed time. Revisit the 40-hour work week. Revisit selecting geographic location of the work place. There are three guides. NHTSA vehicle, EPA air quality and CARB (California Air Resources Board) guide. Emphasis seems to be on NHTSA while ignoring EPA and CARB, which is used in 13 states. Those states represent about 40 percent of new car sales. 
  • Efficient vehicles are just as much fun to drive as less efficient ones. Why is this even a question? Fuel efficiency is a good thing for everyone – cleaner, less political problems, less wars, less expensive.

Meet a 37.0 mpg fuel economy standard

  • 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.
  • Auto makers should always be striving for higher fuel efficiency through the use of superior technology. I don’t like the idea of government mandates for these things, but if they don’t do it voluntarily then unfortunately this is the best way. Consumers want higher efficiency vehicles without sacrificing safety, comfort, and their big vehicles. Unfortunately technologies to achieve better mileage have been suppressed for various reasons. Keeping the 2021 standard is a compromise.
  • In addition to the safety concerns presented by smaller vehicles, increasing efficiency has forced automakers to create more complex drivetrains which increases costs, reduces reliability, and makes cars harder to repair. Getting the least efficient vehicles off the road is an easier way to meet environmental/political goals. But those least efficient vehicles are often driven by folks with lower incomes, and the higher costs of more complex vehicles mean they’re less likely to trade up.
  • The USA is now a net exporter of oil. The private market/economy will have most vehicles on the road being electric within 20-30 years anyhow; let’s stay safe, and use our vast petroleum reserves to maintain our standard of living and our economy while the marketplace works on bringing us more efficient and greener technology. The free market will bring it to us faster than punitive legislation will.
  • The auto industry and market is 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.
  • Let the market decide. The price of fuel in the U.S is obscenely low compared to those prices in Europe and Canada; therefore, U.S. consumers will continue to purchase accordingly whereby fuel economy is not a priority. Fuel is plentiful. The auto manufacturers survive by meeting consumer demand, not by meeting legislative mandates. The best way to improve fuel standards is to raise its price so that consumers will make fuel economy a higher priority in their purchase decisions. Adding a $1.00 tax on fossil fuels will provide funding for much needed infrastructure repair and improved public transportation access. I don’t believe the average U.S. consumer believes the peer-reviewed published science of the negative effects of greenhouse gases as each seems to believe (incorrectly) that the resultant outcomes are too far into the future and have no adverse effects in the present. Improving fuel economy standards will lower greenhouse emissions; however, the only way for this to happen is by market demand not legislation.
  • I’m less concerned about safety, more concerned about automakers producing cars we want. SUV’s and trucks have once again become top sellers. The stricter standard might mean those vehicles won’t be available or will be beyond the cost of the average motorist. In October the WSJ published an article, “The Seven-Year Auto Loan: America’s Middle Class Can’t Afford Its Cars” We need cars to be affordable and not have government force us out of our cars and homes due to prices.
  • Vehicle purchase and maintenance costs are rising too quickly, which will decimate the industry as people stick with older cars for longer. We should not move standards backwards, but moving to 54.5 mpg is unrealistic and would force automakers to use risky, expensive, and unreliable technology to meet it. We are better off sticking with tried and true automotive technology to improve mileage at a reasonable rate.
  • Currently, we’re not relying on foreign oil overall — though every oil field has different qualities and it is necessary to buy and sell to get oil with the desired qualities for our region — and we shouldn’t be financing their hatred of us by buying their oil. Fuel taxes, put back into our road infrastructure, should be at a level that encourages lower consumption but not so high that people who really, truly need a Suburban or other large vehicle outside of business purposes can afford to drive them. (People balk at the daily expenses of fueling and maintaining their vehicles, but are oblivious to the bigger costs of depreciation or financing.)

Meet a 27.0 mpg (or lower) fuel economy standard

  • Fuel economy standards should be set by consumers at the new car showrooms, NOT the elected or appointed government officials at their offices or respected chambers.
  • There is a lot of research showing that people are already dying because of where CAFE standards are. Bad idea to go further. There is not a lot of room for efficiency improvements, so MPG gains will come from lower weight of vehicles, which are necessarily less safe.
  • The gasoline engine has reached maximum capabilities. It has proven reliable and has an existing infrastructure well suited to support it. Electric cars are not the answer for anyone living in the rural / suburban areas where electrical outages are more commonplace and last longer than in urban areas. This has proven to be the case as recent hurricanes in Florida have proven time and again. Finally, the existing electrical grid is stretched to the max currently and the massive new demands for the charging of electrical vehicles is probably unsustainable….
  • 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.
  • If Congress wants better fuel mileage, it should stop mandating that ethanol be mixed with gasoline.
  • 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.
  • CAFE is the wrong way to go about it. Tax should be applied at the crude oil level. It gets spread over all layers of transportation consumption, as well as other uses, instead of singling out private passenger vehicles.
  • Increase the gasoline taxes, repair the roads and bridges and let the car buyers decide how economical a car they can afford. The additional funds from the increased taxes must NOT be used for bicycle paths, light rail or scenic overlooks. All such funds must be used only for the benefit of those who pay the bill.
  • The USA is now a net exporter of oil and gas. The national security argument is no longer there. People should be able to drive less-efficient vehicles if they want to pay more for fuel and fuel taxes. 
  • The first stated rationale for stricter standards, independence from foreign oil supplies, is achieved or nearly achieved without these standards. Reduction of emissions is a pursuit of a remote goal that is not popular by itself. At the same time, manufacturers are making vehicles less safe to meet the strict standards and we’re already paying for it with lives – road fatalities are increasing.
  • 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.
  • Due to our advances in drilling and extraction, for the first time since the 50’s/60’s, we are net a fossil fuel exporter. We enjoy plentiful and low-cost fuel which I believe to be a competitive advantage over other countries. Plus with emission standards at all time highs (and continually advancing) for gasoline vehicles and continuing proliferation of hybrid and electric vehicles, I have zero concern about autos being the tip of the spear when it comes to pollution and global warming. Now, I will admit that high performance electric vehicles like Tesla are exciting to drive, but until battery life/range improves to that of a gasoline vehicle, continue to offer high performance fossil fuel vehicles that through continuing advancement in technology obtain greater and greater MPG without government intervention. In summary, let the market dictate the winners and losers.
  • Draconian measures imposed upon manufacturers will result in dramatic price increases for new cars and trucks. This will in turn reduce demand, and cause drivers to keep their older vehicles running far longer than they otherwise would. This will cause a decline in sales for automakers, and produce layoffs of auto workers. It will cause a spike in demand for auto repair people to keep older vehicles running. This will raise the price of auto maintenance, and discourage owners from obtaining what is needed. In turn, the number of old, less-well maintained vehicles on the road will increase. That will continue to supply the atmosphere with more emissions, not fewer. And it may cause accidents due to poorly maintained vehicles. That will then prompt activists to encourage lawmakers to ban an ever-increasing number of older vehicles, placing great hardship on their constituents, and possible damaging the economy. There will be pressure on lawmakers to taxpayer-subsidize junkyards to accommodate the increasing demand for “recycling” now-banned cars and trucks. And the beat will go on, to the detriment of motorists, the taxpaying community, and the US economy.

We don’t want or need a 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.
  • Government should butt out and let the free market determine fuel economy. No one who dictates these standards knows jack about actually accomplishing these dictates. The standards are unrealistic and will lead to motorcycles with paper bodies.
  • CAFE standards cause too many crash deaths. There is no way that a person driving a smart car can stand to survive a crash with a pickup truck or tractor trailer. Complicated computer systems, used to meet CAFE standards, are prone to malfunction which can cause vehicles to stall on the interstate.
  • E-N-D all traces of CAFE regulation. This has been a disaster for consumer choice. CAFE represents the worst of Government intrusion–destroying the ability of citizens to buy what they want due to busybodies, hand-wringers, and Power-grabbers unethically inflicting their preferences on the rest of the population. Adding injury to insult, the vehicles downsized and compacted in order to meet CAFE regulations are harder and therefore more expensive to work on, with more parts “disposable” instead of “repairable”. This needlessly increased the cost of vehicle repairs. CAFE must DIE.
  • The CAFE standards should be eliminated as they no longer apply. The issue is emissions, not oil importation, and the CAFE standard has little relationship to emissions. Emission standards should be more than enough. Any mandated standard should apply directly to the problem, not via some nebulous relationship.
  • I think that, as usual, the fed government is going about it wrong. Instead of trying to force people to drive higher mpg cars and force manufacturers to build them, the government should provide sweet rewards to both manufacturers and drivers for choosing to drive higher mpg cars. Make it worth our while, and we will make it happen. And the free market can remain free. There are many ways to do it — higher fuel tax for low mpg vehicles, tax incentives for higher mpg. People respond to their wallets and to rewards, much better than to heavy handed force.
  • My car miles per gallon is NONE of the government’s damned business! The free market is the best regulator of fuel mileage, like it regulates other commodities. And the market has a way of correcting government over-regulation by finding alternatives. The market driven, free of strangulating CAFE standards, so-called SUV’s, together with real trucks, are the big sellers now in the car market, to the point that Ford has even stopped producing “cars” they couldn’t sell. Larger SUV’s and big trucks cause a lot more fuel to be used, increasing our phony “carbon footprint.” This seems lost to those stuck inside the Climate Change narrative, that perhaps the public are tired of driving around in wrinkled little buzz-boxes, and want the greater protection and power of larger vehicles. 
  • The standards privilege large manufacturers with several lines of automobiles. It discourages specialized startups who might focus a single line to different needs, such as safety, size, or even speed. The complexity of the regulations also favors large companies with large legal staffs over smaller companies still focused more on making better vehicles than on meeting government regulations. 
  • The government should not be in the business of setting fuel economy standards at all. Having said that, I have always driven economy cars. My present car is a 2018 Ford Focus. Driven carefully in nice weather and keeping tire pressure up, it will get better than 40 miles per gallon. The government already has far too much power in the form of un-elected, un-accountable governmental departments that have the power to establish rules and punishment that have the force of law. That is the job of Congress, according to our Constitution.
  • 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.
  • 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.