New US CAFE standards call for 35.5 mpg for 2016

US regulators on Apr. 1 announced increasing stringent fuel economy standards for all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the US, starting with 2012 models and gradually increasing through the 2016 model-year vehicles.

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Apr. 1 -- US regulators on Apr. 1 announced increasing stringent fuel economy standards for all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the US, starting with 2012 models and gradually increasing through the 2016 model-year vehicles.

Responding to a May 19, 2009, directive from President Barack Obama, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency said the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save oil.

The standard would be equivalent to an average of 35.5 mpg for 2016 model-year vehicle if all GHG emission reductions were to come from fuel economy improvements. The 35.5 mpg is about a 10 mpg difference compared with current standards.

The EPA GHG standards require these vehicles to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 g of carbon dioxide per mile in model-year 2016 vehicles. This would be equivalent to 35.5 mph.

The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the standard could be as low as 34.1 mpg if automakers were to meet it through a combination of fuel economy and air-conditioning improvements.

In general, the rules require automakers to improve fleetwide fuel economy and reduce GHG emissions by 5% every year. The fuel-efficiency target for auto manufacturers varies by company depending upon the type of vehicles. For instance, manufacturers producing primarily small cars would have a different target than manufacturers building a broader range of cars and trucks.

NHTSA estimates the rules could save the average buyer of a 2016 model-year car $3,000 over the life of the vehicle and, nationally, conserve 1.8 billion bbl of oil and reduce nearly 1 billion tonnes of GHG emissions over the lives of the vehicles covered.

The fuel economy announcement did not address the threshold at which refineries and other large industrial plans would be required to control GHGs (OGJ, Mar. 1, 2010, p. 29). This is a separate issue to be addressed in the future with no new rules expected to be enforced before 2011, EPA officials said.

NPRA comment
EPA said the CAFE action would not affect refineries. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association issued a statement expressing concerns about the announcement.

“We’re disappointed and, frankly, perplexed that EPA has chosen to proceed with this rulemaking, given its implications and the potential for harmful consequences involved,” NPRA Pres. Charles Drevna said. “As NPRA stated in its Nov. 25, 2009, comments to EPA, the agency has not taken the steps needed to address what it knows will be the enormous financial and regulatory impacts that will result from this rulemaking.”

Drevna said the “tailpipe rule” establishes standards to regulate GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act, which was a law never intended to regulate GHG emissions. Drevna said he believes it violates several statutes, including the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, and the Paperwork Reduction Act, as well as a number of executive orders.

“Of even greater concern, however, is the fact that EPA has acknowledged that regulation of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act will lead next year to the regulation of stationary source emissions of greenhouse gases,” Drevna said, adding, “Such misguided and flawed policy has the potential for devastating consequences to American consumers, businesses, jobs, and the economy.”

DOT, EPA comments
“These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters during a news teleconference from Washington, DC. “We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air.”

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said this is the first US regulation to cover GHG emissions. Manufacturers will be able to build a single, light-duty national fleet that satisfies federal requirements as well as the standards of California and other states.

“This is a significant step towards cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand-in-hand,” Jackson said.

The collaboration of federal agencies also allows for clearer rules for all automakers, instead of three standards (DOT, EPA, and a state standard), she said.

Specifically, the new national program reduces CO2 emissions by about 960 million tonnes over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, equivalent to taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030, officials said.

NHTSA and EPA expect automobile manufacturers will meet these standards by more widespread adoption of conventional technologies already in commercial use, such as more efficient engines, transmissions, tires, aerodynamics, and materials, as well as improvements in air-conditioning systems.

Although the standards can be met with conventional technologies, EPA and NHTSA expect some manufacturers might pursue more advanced fuel-saving technologies like hybrid vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and electric vehicles.

Contact Paula Dittrick at

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