Energy & Environment

Car efficiency unlikely to reach Obama's goal, feds say

Automakers are unlikely to hit the 54.5 mile per gallon average fuel efficiency level that President Obama trumpeted for years, federal officials said Monday.

Blaming it on higher-than-expected sales of large vehicles like SUVs, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) said automakers will probably miss the mark that the Obama administration touted in its historic 2012 regulation regarding vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The forecast was part of a 1,000 page draft technical report from the two agencies, the first step in evaluating whether to strengthen the efficiency rules for the 2022 to 2025 model-year period.

The report itself does not constitute a decision to tighten the rules or even a proposal to do so, but the finalized version of it is likely to weigh heavily on the evaluation.

Speaking with reporters about the projections, Obama administration officials stressed that despite the high profile of the 54.5 figure, it was never a standard in and of itself.

"54.5 isn't a standard, never was a standard and isn't a standard now. 54.5 is what we predicted, in 2012, the fleet-wide average could get to, based on assumptions that were live back then about the mix of the fleet," a senior administration official said.

"That depended a lot on a variety of factors, including gasoline prices," the official said. "We're recognizing the fact that gasoline prices are lower now."

The EPA and the DOT are jointly responsible for developing vehicle efficiency standards, which assign each company an average corporate standard based on their expected sales each year. Monday's report was written alongside the California Air Resources Board, which sets specific standards for cars in the Golden State.

Sales of light trucks, a category that includes SUVs, pickup trucks and other big vehicles, have been increasing by double digit year-over-year percentages for more than a year.

The sales increases have followed a dramatic drop in oil, gasoline and diesel prices that started in 2014.

The report from the agencies estimated that 50.8 miles per gallon is the most likely efficiency average in 2025. But even if fuel prices increase, spurring more sales of small and efficient cars, the figure is only likely to reach 52.6.

Administration officials sought to stress the Monday report's conclusion that the full 54.5 level is attainable, from a technological standpoint.

"Our new analysis confirms that the standards can be met, largely with more efficient gasoline-powered cars," an official said.

The auto industry welcomed the report, saying it shows the difficulties in reaching the standards that automakers have been warning about for years.

"The midterm review of the 2022-2025 light-duty vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards is a critical reality check to reexamine the initial assumptions and their impact on the feasibility of the national program," Global Automakers, which represents companies based outside the United States, said in a statement.

"As we continue to work with the agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must ensure that the standards take into account what consumers are likely to buy," the group said.

"The fuel economy/greenhouse gas targets for 2025 now reflect how the fleet mix has changed, largely due to low gas prices," said Wade Newton, spokesman for the Auto Alliance. "The government is acknowledging the effect of factors like low gas prices on consumer sales, and the impact of consumer sales on the targets."

But environmental groups said automakers need to step up their game.

"All signs show that the standards that drive clean cars to market are getting stronger, not weaker," said Roland Hwang, director of the energy and transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's time for U.S. automakers to put their clean car programs into high gear."

Outbrain
View desktop version