Friday, April 13, 2018

Ding Dong the CAFE Standard's Dead

I've been reporting on the EPA's proposed 54.5 MPG CAFE standard since it was proposed in 2012 (to take effect in 2025).  So it only seems appropriate that I should cover the demise of that mileage standard that has occurred this month.

So while I've been watching this subject whenever it pops up in the news, I don't expect readers to know the important things off the top of their heads.  Allow me to summarize for you. 
  • First and foremost is a rule that I think all engineers know: TANSTAAFL - as Robert A Heinlein put it.  There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  You're going to spend money to redesign the cars to meet this average fuel economy number and car buyers are going to spend more money for the cars.  
  • The early estimate from the Obama NHTSA was that a car owner would save $8000 over the life of their car with the increased fuel mileage.  Naturally, most people with an engineer's or manager's perspective then wondered "how much do I have to spend to save $8000?"
  • Estimates of how much a typical car would increase in cost vary widely.  The according to the National Auto Dealers Association estimates $3,000 more.  The Center for Automotive Research (CAR, of course), says it could hit $11,000 to save that $8000.  Another research group, Scenaria, said the price would likely increase by $5000 to $8,000.  While spending $5000 to save $8000 doesn't sound like a good idea, spending $11,000 to save $8,000 sounds quite a bit worse.  Of course, as a buyer, your choice would likely be spend the money or don't have a car.  
  • A former CAR chairman pointed out that the savings on fuel costs turn into a diminishing returns curve. "When you reach 35, 40, and 50 miles per gallon, the cost to achieve it gets too high," chairman emeritus David Cole said in an interview. "And the value returned to the customer gets to be less and less. The risk is that people will say, 'Why should I buy a new car? I'll just keep the old one. It's a better business decision.' "  
The fundamental problem is that the world didn't comply with the 2012 EPA predictions.  Gas prices aren't over $5/gal and climbing.
The problem is that the projected fleet makeup for 2025 was based on the oil prices in 2010 to 2012, which were before fracking revolutionized US energy production and drove oil prices down.  Low gas prices have precipitated a strong consumer shift from cars to light-duty trucks and SUVs; American consumers love their larger, more capable vehicles. The shift to more trucks makes it more difficult for the industry to meet the government’s 2025 gas mileage target.
When the 54.5 mpg limit was proposed, the regulators assumed the public would buy 65% cars and 35% trucks.  In reality, the mix being sold is the exact opposite of that.  The math says that if they're selling 65% trucks to 35% cars, the fewer cars have to be very far above 54.5 MPG to bring the fleet average up to that number.  (The trucks need to be as good as they can be made, too).  I think most people are aware that the top three selling vehicles in the United States are all pickups: the Ford F-150, Chevy Silverado, and Dodge Ram. 

Of course, that's often a problem with these big government programs: the world doesn't unfold as they assumed, at least partly because they based their predictions on improper samples of the country.  Not everybody lives in a big city and drives a small car.  A pickup or SUV can simply do more than a sedan, and some people want that capacity.  Timothy Benson at the Daily Caller has a lot of choice observations on the insularity of the people forcing decisions like this on us.

The overwhelming problem with achieving the CAFE 54.5 mpg average, though, is that the real world doesn't take orders.  The only place the laws of physics can be broken is in TV commercials and cartoons.  A bureaucrat can't just say, "you must make every vehicle twice as fuel efficient" and have thermodynamics suddenly change - as much as they might think they can do that.  The internal combustion engine has been optimized as a system for a hundred years, and nobody is suddenly going to make it 70% more efficient (the difference in CAFE standards from now to 2025).  To deliver the power needed to move big things requires long piston strokes and large pistons, which means large engines.  Instead, to reach the new standard the small cars averaged in the car maker's fleet will get lighter, with more plastics and thinner metal structures. They'd be less safe. The new standard would cost more lives. 

A real half ton pickup, like the big three mentioned above, that got twice the current MPG for the same price would be snapped up so fast it would set every truck sales record imaginable.  Nobody's against that.  We're just against being forced to pay more for a flimsier, less safe vehicle than we save by buying it, and we're against getting stuck with a vehicle that doesn't do everything we need it to do.

Things you won't do with your Prius, courtesy Truck Trend Network.


  1. Well, yes. I've been saying this since teh 5 MPH bumpers, but...

  2. I am not sure it is possible to make a car, a family car, capable of seating a couple and 2 or 3 children and have it get 54 MPG. It will take a breakthrough in automotive engineering and probably will be expensive. Worse, is that one of the techniques to increase mileage also makes the vehicle less safe to the passengers.

    Most people do not know or remember that the Pinto was created to meet the old CAFE standards and still allow Ford to sell cars people wanted and that they could make a profit on. I don't want to demean the Pinto but it was a substandard car and the butt of a lot of jokes.

    1. It's far, far worse than a car that gets 54.5. That's an average of a fleet that sells 65% of its vehicles as trucks and 35% as the high mileage cars.

      It really depends on how good the majority of them are, but I have an '09 SUV. It gets about 22mpg highway. Using that as the fleet average for the 65%, the 35% needs to get 115 mpg.

      This is why companies lose money by selling electric cars. It allows them to get their fleet average up.

    2. How about about one that gets at least 32 City and 42 Hwy that does with room for your luggage too?

      It's a 2015 Diesel VW golf sportwagon.

      Now if they didn't require it to dump fuel into the exhaust "clean" the filter it would get even better mileage.

  3. The EPA already has a body count.

  4. The number of pick-ups around here is staggering. And 90% of them are very obviously earning their owner a living.

  5. The imposition of CAFE standards by the left had nothing to do with efficiency, decreasing air pollution etc. It was part of the plan by
    the powerful elite ( who are immune to the effects of most such edicts) to DESTROY the auto industry in America. Few things have made it more difficult for the elite to rule as the ability of the hoi polloi to come and go anywhere and everywhere as they wished. By making standards that could not be met eventually America would become another Cuba....with aging vehicles that become harder and harder to maintain as time goes by. This would push more and more into dependence on public entity that THEY control.
    Never forget...the movers and shakers behind the scenes are NOT stupid. But they are patient. They are in this for the long game.
    The end of CAFE won't see this effort cease. What we will see is a major push to implement autonomous vehicles. A technology that when fully implemented will allow THEM to decide who travels, when and where. The name of the game is CONTROL.

  6. They could get the 54 mpg vehicles built but you wouldn't be able to afford one and wouldn't want one anyway.
    Besides, this whole scam has been a shell game from the start.
    It's an average across all models for all manufacturers, thus the Pinto and at the other end of the Ford lineup, the F-350. The Pinto gave them the breathing room to keep building huge, gas guzzling vehicles.

    I was a factory trained Ford Technician back in the 90's and even back then they had Multiplexing. The Lincoln Continental had 11 computers inside of it and they all talked to each other at the same time through one wire.

    The stuff they have out there now is light years ahead of what they had back then but my question is, who really needs all that crap?
    I am extremely happy with my gas guzzling, 9 mpg Ford Bronco and they can kiss my narrow little ass with all that electronic B.S. they put in cars anymore. I can actually repair my vehicle.
    How many other people out there can say that anymore?
    I save hundreds and thousands of dollars in repair and maintenance bills.
    The cost of rebuilding one transmission in a newer car costs more than I paid for my rig.
    Seven speed automatic transmissions out there now. That is one way they try to coax just a bit more fuel mileage out of a car.
    7, count 'em, 7 freaking gears. The damn transmissions are so busy shifting back and forth trying to optimize fuel mileage it drives you crazy going up and down hills.

    1. I thought I read that they were changing over to continuously variable transmissions. Doesn't the Prius use a CVT?

  7. I'd love to see Congress pass a law that requires each Agency to track their past predictions, and if the average of the last (say) 20 years isn't within 75% of how reality turned out, they can't issue new regulations.

    1. The (not so) secret brilliance of this is that it would shut down regulation completely, because nobody hits 75% accuracy.

  8. I love my
    1949 Suburban: mechanically reconditioned - 292 with 5-speed Getrag, disc brakes, rebuilt running gear. I can work on it.
    2003 F-250 Triton V-10: Gets 11-12 mpg under any and all driving conditions, cruises @ 80mph+ and surges forward from that speed when I step on it, full size bed.

    1. Plus, you could tow your house off its foundation if you ever needed to.

  9. The principle criteria I used in buying my SUV is that it had to take a 4 X 8 sheet of hardwood plywood. I build furniture, and don't buy my plywood at Home Depot. I also buy a fair amount of exotic hardwood, that I don't want sitting in the back of a pickup. (The closest "real" lumber yard, is quite a bit farther than Home Depot.) When you are paying $25/board-foot for exotics, you don't want to leave them in the weather.

    Mileage was not a concern. In fact my next SUV will probably get worse mileage, because I want to be able to tow a larger/heavier trailer.

    I keep thinking I should get a daily driver that is "more economical" to drive. But between insurance costs and upkeep, it just doesn't make sense.