According to an official White House press release, the 13 automakers represent together more than 90 percent of the vehicles sold in the U.S.
'Diesel fuel only' caution on Audi Q7 TDIEnlarge Photo
And while a number of automakers released statements supporting the new regulations, several German automakers said otherwise. "The proposal encourages manufacturers and customers to shift toward larger, less efficient vehicles, defeating the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions," said Volkswagen Group of America communications chief Tony Cervone, who also remarked that the new rules have no consideration for the impact of clean diesels.
Some other analysts and experts pointed to gains in fuel-efficiency and questioned whether diesels are a better way to accomplish these gains. Diesel car sales are definitely up, several automakers have recently announced plans to offer new diesel models (such as in the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze as well as some 2013 Mazda models. And J.D. Power forecasts that diesels will make up 7.4 percent of the vehicle market by 2017.
After the U.S. cleaned up its passenger-car diesel fuel (by greatly reducing sulfur content) several years ago, many insiders expected the market for diesels to open up rapidly. It hasn't, and some automakers (like Honda and Subaru) have actually reversed plans to put diesels in the mix.
CAFE bell curve yet to be announced
While the EPA has set a trajectory for fuel economy, it hasn't yet set the specifics of how the fleet-average numbers will be calculated. To help level the playing ground for full-line manufacturers who still might want to offer bigger vehicles, pickups, and sports cars, current incentives give automakers a significant boost from vehicles that run on ethanol blends. With those incentives almost certainly going to the wayside, new incentives are expected for more efficient air conditioners, electric vehicles, and perhaps hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Automakers would also be allowed to bank CAFE credits that they've earned under the 2010 through 2016 regulations all the way through model-year 2021.
2011 Nissan Leaf window sticker showing 99-MPGEnlarge Photo
The other issue is that the new regulations are likely to equate even less to real-world fuel efficiency than they do now. An analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists suggests that we might be paddling backwards in allowing so many credits and incentives—and in counting electric vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf, the way we do. Their calculations find that by 2025, the true average on-the-road fuel economy (when they anticipared a 62-mpg CAFE) would only be about 39 mpg—making the promised 54.5-mpg feel a little bit like vaporware.