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Let's Talk CAFE Standards

Let's Talk CAFE Standards

I just happened upon an article from WardsAuto about fuel economy standards as they relate to CAFE standards in the US, and they're data shows that the average fuel economy rating for light vehicles in the US sold in November was 25.4 mpg, which is up slightly (.7%) from a year ago. That may sound all well and good, but then I did a little digging to find out what the CAFE standards actually are, and what they said isn't good.

Pardon me as I way oversimplify this here, but basically, the CAFE standard translates to a fleet-wide average of 2017-2021 model year of 40.3-41 mpg, expected for reporting in 2021. What that means is, between now, December 2017, and December 2021, the average fuel economy rating of vehicles sold in the US need to increase by roughly 15 miles per gallon. That's nothing to scoff at.

Sure, manufacturers are trying to meet the standards with electric and hybrid power-trains, but the demand just isn't there, and it isn't projected to be there by 2021 either. Something would have to change in the minds of consumers in order to meet that standard, in that time frame, and that is inherently the challenge with things like this. Personally, I think the autonomous improvements and expansion of the electric vehicle (EV) market are both helpful in advancing fuel economy standards, but manufacturers can only sell what consumers are willing to buy. To that end, there just isn't the demand to get there.

Think about the farmer in Iowa, or the rancher in Wyoming - they each live quite far away from town, and their daily tasks might easily put them at over 120 miles of driving. Also consider that they likely need a pickup truck. These vehicles are on the low end of the spectrum when it comes to fuel economy, and they are also some of the most difficult to move into the EV space. Why? Well, for a few reasons. One is batteries, which are heavy, and by adding weight to a truck you decrease its capability for towing or hauling. Another is power, which can fairly easily be rectified with the right electric motor, as they provide plenty of torque, but you can't so much do the same with most hybrids, and you still land on needing batteries (see point one). While a third reason is severe duty usage, which is to say that many trucks see very harsh climates and rough terrain. A fourth reason lies in long-haul occasions, when the owner has a trip that would require multiple fuel stops even, much less charging stops.

So that end of the spectrum isn't likely to get much better anytime soon, which means the other end of the spectrum needs to compensate. That brings up another problem though - Americans don't buy small cars. This has been proven again and again, and is unlikely to change. How then, are we, as a nation, going to get to a 40 mpg fleet average? Your guess is as good as mine.

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