A study just released comparing actual window stickers to federal mpg regulations has found automakers are exceeding Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goals.
According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, for model years 2012, 2013, and 2014, the trend has been a mild improvement over mandated results.
The study’s authors Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak project if this trend continues, goals for improved fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions should be met or exceeded over the next decade.
In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the present standard. This is for model years 2017-2025 and calls for targeted decreases for light-duty cars, SUVs, pickups and vans of about 5 percent CO2 output per mile annually, with improvements in mpg.
As the Europeans have been mindful of as well, CO2 is mandated in the U.S. rules as of 2012.
CAFE was however a measured compromise. Initially advocates pushed for greater decreases and a higher mpg target in 2025 and the government has given some wiggle room for manufacturers to comply. One is they may use alternative credits to pad their score.
CAFE also makes it possible for automakers to achieve their targets with only 1-3-percent plug-in electric vehicles spliced into their fleet.
The EPA allows for realities and makes provision for two standards: a targeted actual performance and a projected achieved with credits.
The actual average fleet-wide targets are 35.5 mpg (250 grams/mile of CO2) by model year 2016 and 54.5 mpg (163 grams/mile of CO2) by 2025.
These mpg projections will in any case deviate from what you read on actual window sticker values due to differences between agencies in how mpg is calculated, and the “54.5 mpg” is expected to be in the low 40s on 2025 stickers.
As it is, the study found automakers have rolled up their sleeves and are making the grade. Model years 2012, 2013, and 2014 – the first under the new standards – experienced progressive increases in average fleet-wide achieved performance of 1.0 mpg, 0.9 mpg, and 1.0 mpg, respectively.
Overall, the past seven model years, fleet-wide mpg has inched upwards by 5.3 mpg from 25.5 mpg to 30.8 mpg.
This is being taken as a measure of success, and in qualified terms, it is. It however is not the world’s most notable improvement, such as in off-the-charts Norway, where car buyers take home 30-times more EVs than Americans do on a percentage of market basis. Take rate there is 15 percent compared to America at 0.5 percent.
But the U.S. is vastly larger, its political structure different, and as it lumbers toward improvements, the upside is CAFE standards that have been called pretty tough are being met.
Looking again at model years 2012, 2013, and 2014, the achieved performance levels exceeded the anticipated levels by 0.2 mpg, 0.1 mpg, and 0.2 mpg, respectively.
The authors note achieved CAFE performance has consistently increased annually from model year 2008 through model year 2014, concluding as follows:
“If the current trends in annual improvements continue, future achieved CAFE performance is expected to continue meeting or exceeding the projected performance levels (and desired GHG reductions) contained in the latest CAFE standards.”
Not covered is any analysis as to how automakers are achieving these results, but the short answer is they are making complex decisions based on what they think they can do, and what will be profitable for them.
Internal combustion gasoline technologies continue to carry the day, and plug-in cars have been marketed as a minor sideline, or not at all. Several are in limited markets. Hybrids purchases are 3 percent or so. Diesels are below 1 percent.
But the automakers know they must meet a certain minimum, and they are at this point exceeding it. Whether they will continue to do so, or whether present exceeded targets are reflective of initial concerted efforts by automakers pushing extra hard is not clear.
It is possible that with new advances, standards can be exceeded even further. Or automakers can just keep making the grade and then a little bit more. Time will tell.