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The 54.5 mpg target will deliver on both fronts.  Our calculations show it will net consumers an average $5,000 per vehicle, even if car prices rise, because fuel consumption will be lower. And it will cut American imports of oil by 1 billion barrels over the life of the vehicles covered by the new standards.
 
This year’s oil price spike gives consumers even more reason to support higher fuel-efficiency standards. CFA projects that household gasoline expenditures will reach a record level of about $2900 this year. And as a nation, we will spend about $400 billion importing oil—that’s the largest single expenditure contributing to our trade deficit. It’s also $400 billion that went overseas instead of being spent here at home, where those dollars could have helped boost economic activity.
 
Car company CEOs stood shoulder to shoulder with President Obama when he first proposed the 54.5 mpg proposal earlier this year, and the support of the automobile industry is heartening.   Lead by California, a dozen clean cars states have also been at the forefront of promoting higher standards for automobiles.
 
We have a lot of catching up to do. From 1985 to 2007, fuel economy standards for cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks stagnated. During more than two decades of incredible innovation on the technology front—a period that saw the rise of personal computers, the Internet, and cell phones—fuel efficiency technologies in America stagnated, while the nations we compete with in the global economy pushed their standards to much higher levels than we had.  Because energy consumptions is such an important part of the economy, being fuel efficient helped them compete against us across the board.  We have a lot of catching up to do.
 
But now we’re on a roll. President Bush and President Obama have both presided over gains in corporate fuel economy standards. The 54.5 mpg standard is the next big step.
 
Studies consistently suggest that 54.5 mpg is an ambitious but reasonable goal for carmakers to achieve by 2025. For example, University of Michigan researchers found that car manufacturers could hit an average 74 mpg by 2035 just by optimizing the combustion engine and maximizing the efficiency of conventional hybrid drive trains. And that calculation did not even include such emerging technologies as plug-in hybrids and fuel cells.
 
Doubters will suggest that higher mileage standards mean everybody has to drive tiny cars, but that’s not true. The proposed 54.5 mpg standard grades passenger vehicles on a curve. So there will be separate targets for every category of vehicle, from large SUV to family sedan to compact car. This gives car manufacturers incentives to create more fuel-efficient vehicles in every category. And that gives the car-buying public a better selection of efficient vehicles of every size and shape.
 
The 54.5 mpg standard will spur innovation, foster new technologies and new supply chains, and create new jobs. It will help American car companies compete in an increasingly competitive global market. And it will allow the United States to send fewer dollars overseas to buy oil, and to keep more of our money at home.

For American families, 54.5 mpg means a wider range of fuel-efficient, money-saving choices on the lot.  Especially in these challenging economic times, this is good news indeed.
 
Mark Cooper, PhD, is Research Director for the Consumer Federation of America, an association of nearly 300 nonprofit consumer organizations.