5 Myths About the Federal ‘54.5’ MPG Standard

The 54.5 mpg corporate fleet average, scheduled for 2025, is not a number already carved in stone.

This clarification came from Chris Grundler, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of transportation and air quality, who spoke last week at the CARS Management Briefing Seminars.

“There is a perception out here that the decision is already made,” Grundler told the audience. “That is wrong. The EPA administrator makes the final decision, and he will work for the next president.”

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards were created in 2011, but an added stipulation allows for a re-evaluation of the goal in 2017 during the midterm review. At this time, analysts, auto companies and government agencies will assess the country’s progress towards 54.5 mpg and can adjust the standard if necessary.

The idea that “54.5 mpg” – actually low 40s on window sticker – is unchangeable isn’t the only misconception surrounding the fuel economy and emissions regulations. We clear up 5 other myths about the 2025 CAFE standards.

Myth 1: MPG Standards Don’t Start Until 2025

Though 2025 is the year most often quoted in relation to CAFE standards, the auto industry isn’t on hold until then. The fuel efficiency requirements for the U.S. will actually begin in 2017, ratcheting up by 5 percent each year. By following this plan, the industry will achieve an average fleetwide economy of 54.5 mpg for passenger vehicles by 2025.

Myth 2: It’s Impossible to Reach 54.5 MPG In 10 Years

Though many automakers say the cost to reach the 54.5 mpg standard is too high, numerous studies support the EPA’s statements that this goal is both achievable and affordable for the auto industry. According to a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), per vehicle costs for fuel-saving technologies have decreased from $3,000 to about $1,400.

“This is a good early indication that things are on track to meet the fuel efficiency goals on time and at a reasonable cost. There were lots of claims flying back and forth early on about how much this would cost, and now we know it’s going to be very affordable by comparison,” said Roland Hwang, director of the energy and transportation program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

SEE ALSO: Reaching 2025 CAFE Standards Will Be Easier Than Predicted

Myth 3: Electrified Powertrains Are The Only Way To Save Fuel

When the CAFE rules were first written, most government planners thought the auto industry would actually reach the goals “by using everyday technologies,” not through electrified vehicle (EV) sales, said Margo Ogo, a former EPA executive that help create the 2025 standards.

Examples of these technologies include “downsized turbocharged engines, stop-start, enhanced transmissions,” listed Ogo.

In its study, NHTSA looked at dozens of systems outside of electrified powertrains, analyzing their ability to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

The report “shows that you can achieve these fuel economy targets with a conventional vehicle, using normal engines, and to do so cost effectively,” said Dan Becker with Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy organization.

Additionally, the EPA will also consider if other technologies that don’t affect emissions tests can also count towards CAFE standards. Features such as automated braking, adaptive cruise control, high-efficiency lights and reflexive paint could potentially be part of the midterm review.

SEE ALSO: Automakers Request CARB Credits For Solar Reflecting Glass, Paint

Myth 4: Automakers And Consumers Will Be Forced Into EVs

Many fear that carmakers will be forced to sell battery electric (BEVs), plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) and fuel cell vehicles against their will. But experts don’t believe that will be the case.

“The industry keeps saying we need to change the rules at the midterm review because no one wants to buy an electric car,” Becker said. “But the rules don’t require selling electric cars, and [the NHTSA] report shows you really don’t need them to get there.”

Similarly, consumers will also still be able to buy larger SUVs and trucks, if they prefer.

“The standards adjust with sales mix,” the EPA’s Grundler explained. “We are not forcing everyone into small cars. Americans can still chose vehicles that meet most of their needs.”

Myth 5: Higher Gasoline Prices Will Boost EV Sales

As gasoline prices dipped to record lows in recent months, alongside a slowdown of EV sales, the two were often connected in the media. However, the data shows another story.

“There is zero correlation between gas prices and [BEV and PHEV] sales,” said Plug-In America, publishing numerous charts to support this. BEVs and PHEVs “in general have been selling how they’re selling with apparently no regard for gasoline prices.”

Instead, many experts say that policies set by national and regional agencies will be one of the strongest ways to boost EV sales.

“The role of strong climate policy, such as carbon pricing or regulations such as a Zero-Emissions Vehicle mandate (as implemented in California and several other U.S. states)” is the most important way to encourage widespread adoption of PEVs, said John Axsen, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who studies sustainable energy systems.