According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is defined as “the sales weighted average fuel economy, expressed in mpg, of a manufacturer’s fleet of passenger cars or light trucks with a GVWR of 8,500 pounds or less.” From 1990 thorough 2010, the CAFE standard for passenger cars has been fixed at 27.5 mpg; over those 20 years, cars have actually gotten heavier, thanks in part to safety components such as airbags, high strength steel, and side door beams, but average fuel economy has stayed about the same. In 2007, the Bush administration approved new CAFE standards, with the intent of reducing U.S dependence on foreign oil; since that time, environmental groups and pollution-sensitive states have latched onto the “better fuel economy” bandwagon like a pit bull on a chihuahua basted with steak sauce. The Obama administration has taken the fuel economy standard from the extreme of 35 mpg by 2020 proposed under Bush to the absurd, which is as high as 62 mpg by 2025.
Fuel economy champions, such as democratic senator Dianne Feinstein of California, want to see a six percent increase in fuel economy per year, starting in 2017. Under their draconian view of the auto industry, manufacturers would need to achieve a 62 mpg fuel economy average by 2025, which is just 14 years away. Doing so requires electric vehicles to account for 14% of new vehicles sold, yet the EV technology available today (and in the foreseeable future) greatly restricts EV functionality compared to conventional automobiles. Even the best case scenario for enthusiasts projects a CAFE standard of 47 mpg by 2025, which doesn’t bode well for performance automobiles.
An auto industry trade group, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, is petitioning the current administration for standards based on analysis, not theoretical numbers pulled from the ether by politicians with no technical knowledge of automotive engineering. AAM also disputes the senator’s claim that 62 mpg cars would only increase in cost by $3,500, and counters with their own numbers showing an industry wide sales decline of 14 percent should the 62 mpg standard be implemented. The organization also cites the potential loss of nearly 250,000 industry jobs, something that proponents of the stricter standards seem to gloss over.
Nothing has been decided yet, but if you love cars and driving it may be a very good time to become politically active. Mandating technology that doesn’t yet exist (at least in a cost-effective manner) seems like a bad way to set public policy, but if enthusiasts don’t speak up, that’s exactly what will happen. If we’re all forced to drive boring electric pods in fifteen years, we’ll have no one but ourselves to blame.