42-MPG Standard: Does Obama's Rule Make Family Cars Better?

May 18, 2009

 Let's face it: SUVs are fabulous family vehicles. They fit car seats well, and it's easy to get kids in and out of them. They haul stuff. They haul even more stuff overhead. SUVs tow stuff. Families, after all, seem to have a lot of stuff. Of course, the drawback to SUVs is that they don't get great gas mileage. And they've often been accused of being ozone layer destroyers.

President Obama has a plan to merge California's expectations with existing CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or the average MPG of all products made by a car company) standards*. I frankly don't care about the argument between the State of California and the EPA under either former President Bush or current President Obama. I do like the fact that maybe we don't have to listen to these arguments again for... a few months.

Very few people are asking the question Marty asks:  "...how the new standards won't send buyers back into the trucks and SUVs that fueled the new vehicle market in the early 2000s."

Why is this an important question? Well, Americans like their SUVs! I certainly tend toward the more compact and space-efficient Pontiac Vibe or Opel Astra, but I do understand how well SUVs do in the family category. If gas prices stay reasonable, and SUVs can still be made within the new CAFE standards, why not?? All these rules take effect in 2016... maybe the year to check out that new HUMMER. Oh, wait, it's only 2009. That's still seven years off.

Just as we got to the crazy gas prices last summer, people were starting to figure out that many SUVs, like the Ford Escape Hybrid, are available as hybrid. And others are "flex fuel," meaning you can use either E-85 or regular gasoline, like the 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe. (HowStuffWorks.com has a list of all flex fuel-capable vehicles for 2009.) And, of course, everyone is still asking whether all-electric cars like the Chevy Volt will figure in to CAFE calculations. Wait. How do you average in "no gas used"?

It may be too early to tell how this will work, but I have to know: If MPG were not an issue, which vehicle would you buy that you haven't?

* Source: Wall Street Journal

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