2011 CAFE Targets Drop Below Level of Today's Cars

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The Department of Transportation today announced new fuel economy standards requiring 2011 model-year cars to average 30.2 mpg, and light trucks to average 24.1 mpg. The combined average requirement will be 27.3 miles per gallon—a 2 mpg increase above the 2010 standard, but a mere 1 percent increase over the 27.0 mpg level already achieved last year for 2008 model year vehicles.

The car standard part of today’s new Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) rule—a 2011 average of 30.2 mpg—is 1.2 mpg less than the car fleet average already achieved for model year 2008 cars, according to DOT statistics.

Environmentalists and energy advocates were disappointed by the rule—and were uncertain about the motivations behind the decision. “The Administration apparently has the economic crisis in mind,” said John DeCicco, senior fellow, Environmental Defense Fund. “But it’s not clear that any extra cost would be required by automakers to achieve fuel economy levels they’ve already achieved.”

An energy bill mandating an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks by 2020 was signed by President Bush in late 2007, but specific figures and dates were not determined for the phase-in period between 2011 and 2015. President Bush passed the responsibility of determining specific timelines and rules to the Obama Administration. The new administration had only two months to develop the rule, which must be issued before April 1.

The pressure to meet higher fuel efficiency standards is one of the forces behind carmakers’ move toward smaller fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrids and eventually plug-in vehicles. It’s unlikely that the relatively easy targets for 2011 will affect those plans—especially considering the more critical dialogue taking place between automakers, federal regulators, and California regulators. All parties are working toward an aggressive but realistic single nationwide fuel efficiency standard.

The new rule did omit language attacking California’s right to set automobile greenhouse gas standards previously included in former President Bush’s proposals. On Jan. 26, President Obama fulfilled a campaign pledge by issuing an executive order telling the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its rejection of California’s rules to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The California regulations—considered by most to be tougher than federal rules—could require the rough equivalent of more than 40 mpg by 2020.


  • Ross Nicholson

    Detroit could easily meet higher fuel economy standards as if by magic, merely by bending the sheet metal and glass aerodynamically. If cd (coefficient of drag) could be mandated lower, then obvious aerodynamic improvements would appear at nearly no cost making vehicles more efficient. The room to improve is dramatic. More than half of the gasoline used by America’s fleet of vehicles is used just to push the air out of the way. Eco-modders regularly improve mpg dramatically with relatively simple tricks: enclosing open wheel wells, smoothing undersurfaces, and adding boat-tails.

  • RKRB

    If I understand this article correctly, it seems that rather than being doom-and-gloomish, we should be happy that consumers in 2008 have chosen fuel-efficient vehicles that almost meet Federal standards for 2011. We’re making progress. Hey, I enjoy unnecessary catastrophizing as much as anybody else, but it seems the blatant negativity of this article was out of keeping with the usual standards of this forum. Forgive me for not trading my hybrid for a Touareg last year so the 2008 mileage levels could have been lower and we wouldn’t need to worry about some good news.

  • astudent

    I am typing a paper and need help, how exactly does a hybrid work?

  • Anonymous

    also, what happens when you run out of gas, but go over 30 mph?

  • DJB

    To the previous poster: hybrids work by capturing energy that is usually lost when a car breaks or coasts and storing it in a battery. When the car accelerates the battery helps out the car’s gasoline engine, thus saving fuel. Regular hybrids can’t run very far when they run out of gas. However, a new generation of hybrids called “plug-in hybrids” have larger batteries and can be plugged in before driving to avoid using the gasoline engine for tens of miles.

  • DJB

    Why do we even bother with CAFE standards? It would be much simpler and more effective to tax carbon. Take a look at the European websites for major car companies. They offer up much more efficient fleets in Europe because of high fuel taxes there.

    We can’t pretend like we, as consumers, have no role in the pathetic fuel economy of the American fleet. As long as gas is cheap, too many people won’t do the responsible thing and buy an efficient car.

    Only by subjecting ourselves to higher gasoline prices can we hope to wean ourselves from foreign oil, and oil generally.

    No pain, no gain. The failure of CAFE stems from the fact that it doesn’t include meaningful incentives to conserve gasoline like a carbon tax would.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    astudent, there are three types of hybrids at this time: parallel hybrid, serial hybrid, and power split hybrid. A good description of each exists at Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Just follow these links;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_vehicle_drivetrain
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_electric_vehicle

    An example of each is as follows: parallel – Honda Civic, serial – Chevy Volt, power split – Toyota Prius

  • crut

    Taxing carbon sounds like a good idea but it is going to be a back door tax on every single thing you purchase. Inflation is already going to be out of control when this economy finally turns the corner. A carbon tax is just adding more gasoline to the fire. No thanks!

  • r-t

    I have often wonder about tunnels. A vehical in a tunnel has to push the air along and eventually
    creates a tunnel wind. What would be the efficency of a vehical traveling at the same wind speed?
    There should be no air to push out of the way, right?

    Could tunnels be created over major metro routes? How strong does such a tunnel have to be anyway? Thingss to consider.

    r-t