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 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.