Detroit Auto Show Highlights Vanishing Gulf Between Carmakers and Environmentalists

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week, carmakers unveiled an array of new green concepts and future production models, including what could perhaps be the first major hybrid release from Volkswagen: a gas-electric version of the popular Jetta aimed at helping to boost the nameplate’s standing in the United States. At an estimated 45 mpg combined, a successful Jetta hybrid would help Volkswagen meet rising fuel economy standards here and keep pace with its competitors, most of whom are well on their way to establishing a market strategy for climate where all major automakers will be forced to average 54.5 mpg by 2025 for their lineups.

Meanwhile, in remarks to the Automotive News World Congress yesterday, Roland Hwang of the National Resources Defense Council celebrated the remarkable turnaround carmakers have made in embracing fuel efficiency regulations rather than fighting them. “No longer is there a huge gulf between environmentalists and the auto industry,” said Hwang. “The latest clean car agreement brought together unusual bedfellows in an unprecedented and diverse array of support… from automakers to environmentalists, Republicans to Democrats, consumer advocates to energy security advocates, business leaders to labor unions.”

In order to meet 54.5 mpg by 2025, the industry will have to increase the efficiency of its cars by an average of about 5 percent per year, but those improvements will initially come largely from the internal combustion engine rather than alternatives like hybrids and plug-ins. Hwang estimated that in gasoline-only vehicles will continue to represent approximately 80 percent of the market in 2025.

“Adding a simple turbocharger direct injection to engines and cutting cylinders can deliver the same power and dependable performance while burning less gas,” said Hwang. “Automatic and dual clutch automated 8-speed transmissions shift faster and allow the engine to run at its sweet spot longer… These innovations are already moving from limited applications in a handful of models to widespread use on assembly lines in every auto factory.”

New fuel-saving technologies―be they hybrid or ICE―come with an added cost, to both consumers and automakers. But Hwang said that the increased security in the face of a turbulent oil prices will be worth the extra cost.

“In a world of unpredictable fuel prices, it is the predictability of stronger fuel-efficiency standards that has allowed the auto industry to assert control over its own destiny. Thanks to the 2009 agreement to raise standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016, the industry is much better prepared, more resilient and indeed thriving in the face of this past year’s record high gasoline expenditures.”


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  • MrEnergyCzar

    Having a real gas tax will shift more people to these cars more than anything else. New cars being bought today are averaging under 22-23 mpg because gas is cheap again….

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  • Yegor

    I am very pessimistic about CAFE standards – there are three loopholes: Light truck loophole, low penalty loophole and now footprint loophole.

    For example DAIMLER is set to pay a record fines for 2010 and even bigger for 2011 year. They are 4 MPG under the standard in 2011:
    http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/cafe/October_2011_Public.pdf

    DAIMLER have hybrids and diesels but they still do not push them but rather choose to pay a fine. :(

    http://www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/rulemaking/pdf/cafe/CAFE_fines_collected_summary.pdf

  • Yegor

    The new stricter corporate average fuel economy standard (CAFE) kicks in 2012. I hoped that it would force automakers to sell more fuel efficient cars (including Hybrids and Electrics) but it looks like it is not going to happen :(

    “According to a new study from University of Michigan researchers Kate Whitefoot and Steven Skerlos, automakers probably will still have incentive to churn out bigger, hulking cars. And, once again, this footprint loophole could undermine the regulation’s effectiveness. What the researchers found was that, by and large, it would be more profitable for automakers to keep building larger and larger vehicles.”
    :(
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/post/cafe-loophole-could-lead-to-bigger-cars/2011/12/14/gIQA3bGLuO_blog.html

  • Bob KT

    In the real world: We work hard – we need big, hulking vehicles. Even for small family businesses.
    In the green world: Apparently there’s a prius that can haul 12,000 lbs of cargo.

    In the real world: Physics principles save lives: Bigger is better. Heavy wins. Steel beats plastic. Every time.
    In the green world: The little cars fold on impact, can’t be fixed, and are now disposable. You can just build another, and you can ignore its carbon footprint.

    In the real world: Taxes are levied for a defined purpose; something like road construction and maintenance.
    In the green world: Taxes are a means to coerce the little people to behave based on questionable science, unconfirmed studies, and the classic “you’re no better than a Holocaust denier”.

    There are so many examples of the “good ideas of government experts” completely tanking when they get to market – Solyndra, the incandescent lightbulb fiasco, the Government Motors bailout, stimulus & son-of-stimulus. Give it a rest already! Leave the rest of us alone and we’ll be just fine. We’re not going to destroy the planet, no matter what you think or how loudly you say it.

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  • James Monroe

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  • Elliott Bay

    See that’s what more companies need to be doing. Making a hybrid that doesn’t look like an embarrassment to all things with 4 wheels. I mean the Prius is the stupidest looking car I’ve ever seen.
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  • lastkingssnapbackss

    In the real world: Taxes are levied for a defined purpose; something like road construction and maintenance.
    In the green world: Taxes are a means to coerce the little people to behave based on questionable science, unconfirmed studies, and the classic “you’re no better than a Holocaust denier”.

  • Anonymous

    Making a hybrid that doesn’t look like an embarrassment to all things with 4 wheels.

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