Two of the largest consumer organizations, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), insist that the answer to both of those questions is no. The groups today (in advance of hearings next week) together voiced their support of the pending regulations, and emphasized that they will have a positive net affect for consumers without overtly limiting the types of vehicles on the market.
Consumers Union argues that the regulations will assure steady improvement in the mileage of the fleet, even if gasoline-price fluctuations push prices down for a time. “Consumers are in a very vulnerable position,” said Champion, referring to the pump-price fluctuations of recent years. “It's very difficult for them to know what to buy.”
Gas prices hitting household budgets hard
And even normalizing the effects of several significant price spikes, prices sit higher than they were just a few years ago, with a much greater impact on U.S. households. According to CFA data, a decade ago gasoline expenditures were 13 percent below household energy costs; now they're 13 percent above. And a decade ago, vehicle ownership was the largest single expense related to motoring. Now it's gasoline.
While the regulations sound daunting, a number of incentives (for modern A/C units, electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cells) will make those standards much easier to achieve for automakers. They'll also be able to bank, trade, and even carry over CAFE credits.
54.5 mpg is closer than it sounds
Another matter that makes them in closer reach than it sounds is that over the years, the numbers you see on EPA fuel economy stickers (for new cars) and those used in Corporate Fuel Economy calculations (CAFE) for fleets have diverged, and there's now a vast difference—nearly 30 percent for some vehicles—between the two. That's because while CAFE numbers use a test cycle that was developed in the 1970s, modern EPA window-sticker numbers are based on more modern cycles.
The standards apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles for model years 2017 through 2025, and aim to dramatically lower carbon-dioxide emissions by the end of the phase-in—to an industry-average 54.5 mpg.
For this second phase of the program, from 2017 through 2025, the federal government has estimated that we'll save four million barrels of oil and two billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions over the lifetimes of the vehicles sold in that period. Fuel savings will far outweigh somewhat higher vehicle costs, says the EPA, with a new benefit to society in the range of $311 billion to $421 billion. Consumers who drive model-year 2025 vehicles (estimated to cost about $1,500 more than they would have otherwise) over their entire lifetime are estimated to save $3,000 to $4,400—and that's net, considering the additional costs of the vehicles.
Mark Cooper, the Consumer Federation of America's director of research, said that the 15-year time frame gives automakers the time to “environmentally achievable as well as technologically achievable.”
Positive effects on the economy, our place in the oil market
“If we can affect our consumption, we'll change the dynamic of the entire global oil market,” added Cooper.
David Champion, the director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, said that these fuel economy regulations provide a baseline and a manageable timeframe for accommodating these changes, and that the organization supports the policy, “not only for the consumer, but also for the economy.”
According to Champion, we'll also see plenty of improvements outside of going hybrid or plug-in. He pointed to the EcoBoost (turbocharged V-6) version of the Ford F-150 pickup as one successes.
2011 Ford F-150 EcoBoost burnout
“Rarely has there been such an important public policy change embraced by so many – and for good reason, the proposed standard is a ‘win-win-win’ proposition that needs to be adopted.”
How you can participate: The proposed rules were formally completed by the NHTSA and EPA only this past November, and are currently in a comment period through February 13, 2012.
They come in advance of official EPA hearings to be held in Detroit next week (January 17), then in Philadelphia on January 19 and San Francisco on January 24. For all of those hearings, the public is welcome to listen in remotely at 866-299-3188 (conference access code 7342144423#).