New Study: 74 MPG by 2035 Is Feasible, Without Plugging In

A University of Michigan Auto Researcher says it’s possible to triple fuel economy of cars—without plugging them in.

In a new study released today, John DeCicco (who has been a contributor to this site) shows that optimizing internal combustion engines plus rising adoption of “grid-free hybrids” will enable new fleet efficiency to reach 52 MPG by 2025 and 74 MPG by 2035.

“To push efficiency really far, it means a lot more hybrids than previous studies have indicated,” DeCicco said, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “Hybrids are going to rule the world, that is, if we want to be serious about reducing oil use and greenhouse gases.”

DeCicco questions the prevailing wisdom of public support for cars that use energy from the grid. DeCicco, a senior lecturer at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, is apparently referring to plug-in cars when he advocates for avoiding “politically trendy breakthrough technologies” that will remain too expensive for most consumers. “If we really prioritize efficiency, we can get just as far with less sticker shock,” he said, in a press release issued by University of Michigan.

It’s a Policy Thing

“I’m not opposed to plugging in, but there’s no justification for massive subsidies,” DeCicco told us. “Let automakers and willing customers explore this on their own nickel. We ought to have policies that give us the biggest bang for the buck, and most efficiency can occur without plugging in.

DeCicco believes that electric cars have a role in play in the long run and perhaps in emerging markets—but they are not ideally suited to the U.S. landscape and marketplace.
His methodology was to model costs of various possible scenarios, drawing on work from M.I.T. and others. “My scenarios can be seen as pulling the rug out from the business case for plug-in cars.”

Again, the study is not a market forecast, but an assessment of realistic scenarios to cost-effectively achieve a tripling of fleet fuel economy by 2035. DeCicco points to the rise of fuel economy by nearly 70 percent after the 1970s energy crises as a precedent for potential change without revolutionary technology changes. In the study, he writes, “A tripling of new fleet fuel economy is an ambitious but defensible horizon for 2035.”

90-Percent Hybrid Scenario Is Feasible

The key, according to DeCicco, is cost effectiveness over the entire fleet. DeCicco calls for a “revolution by evolution” in cars that rely on internal combustion engines. He points to a range of technologies, including turbocharging, gasoline direct-injection engines, low-emissions diesels, lightweight steel, and most of all hybrids. Looking at historical adoption rates for technologies such as front-wheel-drive or fuel injection—which zoomed from introduction to dominance in a couple of decades, DeCicco believes it’s realistic for hybrids to make up as much as 90 percent of our cars in about 20 years.

It’s not surprising that DeCicco also calls for automakers to keep horsepower flat in the coming decades. “The fleet I’ve modeled for 2025 does not give up any of the performance and creature comforts consumers already enjoy,” he said. “You don’t have to go back to being Fred Flintstone, but you will see lower fuel costs instead of ever more mass and muscle.”

Download the study, “A Fuel Efficiency Horizon for U.S. Automobiles,” which was prepared for The Energy Foundation.


  • TD

    Can you please add a link to the actual study?

  • Site Editor

    The final paragraph of this article now has a link to download the study.

  • JamesDavis

    DeCicco talks like fossil fuel is going to be around for ever. By 2035, with the Earth’s population that is of driving age…there may not be any fossil fuel left; if there is, you will not be able to extract it because there will be a couple of million people living on top of it.

    We need to get rid of these old idiots and move forward to clean energy and clean vehicles that will give us more clean land to live and grow on.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    I’ve converted my home so it produces surplus electricity to power my future plug-in car…I made a video showing how my family is weaning off of oil….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHmXhgBhtWk

  • Electric Car

    I would say it is to early to say if they can achieve that MPG or more than that MPG. By the increase in production the engineer will gocus more on this thing until then it is just a prediction? For me.

  • Jennifer Langan

    MrEnergyCzar: that’s the ticket! Good for you!

    Seriously, why waste the next 25 years making a car more efficient at using a fuel that is limited and hurts our environment? This makes no sense at all.

  • DC

    While the author may be techinically correct in one aspect, that is to say, its more than possible to produce high effiency ICE’s, diesels etc, in fact, they exist now(just not in america of course) or have existed in the past and have been droped by the auto-makers, his entire study seems to miss a pretty obvous conclusion. The only way out of the ICE-trap is NOT to produce marginally more efficent gas-burners, or waste time building a fleet of complex hybrids, but to reduce the # of ICE’s on the road in absolute terms. The solution(only) to the pollution and economic problems created by gas burning cars, is simply to get rid of them all-together. Reports like this have to take into consideration that the oil-auto cartels could have produced fleets of high-efficency, lower emission vehicles decades ago, yet have deliberately chosen NOT to, in order to maintain high gas consumption. Secondly, if this report is to be taken at face value, the author merely seeks to continue happy motoring BAU, but with slightly better mileage.

  • jmd

    It’s true that this study doesn’t dig into the question of how to get off fossil fuels and so, as JamesDavis points out, might seem to “talk like fossil fuel is going to be around for ever.” But it doesn’t presume that. Although not highlighted in news coverage of the study, the second paragraph of the report says, “Fuel efficiency is only one element of a complete transportation sector climate policy, which must also address travel demand and the net carbon balance of fuel supply.”

    So yes, we do need to “move forward to clean energy” — something this study didn’t take on. It may seem modest — but it’s not idiotic — to much more efficiently use the fossil fuels we’re still stuck with while waiting for whatever it takes to “simply to get rid of them all-together,” as DC puts it.

  • BJE

    *sighs*

    I regularly get over 74MPG in my 2000 Honda Insight. The fact it’s 10 years later and there aren’t ANY cars on the market today that can match that efficiency shows just little the industry cares about fuel efficiency.

  • YourHealthyPlanet.com

    Imagine paying $5 million a gallon for petrol … evidently that’s approximately how much it would cost to produce “oil”, if you could.

    Oil has amazing properties that are being used in carbon-fiber technologies, ultra lightweight and strong.

    There is nothing wrong with hybrids, but really when we get all this FREE energy from the sun and the wind it sure makes sense to be using it fully.

    Buckminster Fuller produced a V8 aluminum bodied Dymaxion Car back in 1933 that got 22mpg and did 120mph and carried eleven passengers. See it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlLZE23EJKs

    Fuller said “You can’t make money and sense at the same time, they are mutually exclusive” … and of course we’ve been focused on trying to make money ever since. We’re now starting to move towards “making sense” … and our survival depends on it.

  • Tsvieps

    Natural Gas supply is increasing, not decreasing. There will be enough for 100 years or more at reasonable prices. Similar technology–horizontal drilling and rock fracturing is also likely to increase oil supply at prices around $80/barrel. So having cost effective technology in place that increases oil efficiency by a factor of 3 is the best way to limit oil usage. A few of us, perhaps the majority of the readers of this site, will be able and willing to pay a lot extra to not burn any oil. But do not expect the bulk of the world to be such idealogical purists. This is not a religion for everyone…only for a few of us early adopters.

    Increasing fuel economy for the world by x3 is enough to change the geo-politics of world and reduce the clot of many dictators who run oil based economies. A great accomplishment if the trends predicted by this article indeed take place.

    CO2 would also be reduced in this article’s scenario. But I expect that the CO2 warming religion will lose a lot of members in a few years and the majority of the world will not be willing to severely hamper the gross output of the world over this issue. The science behind it has been severely distorted by politics. The models of CO2 warming are not really so good because the world is much more complicated than the models we can make…and this is becoming evident. So the jury is still out…even if the warming is real. But the world will rebel against zealous purists who edict over expensive solutions when the rest of the world has reason to be skeptical of the edict’s effectiveness. People will be willing to pay some extra for insurance in case CO2 warming is correct. But an all or nothing condescending attitude as expressed here and elsewhere will drive people toward the nothing.

  • laslo sass

    train not truck .. in the city electric car

  • tapra1

    His methodology was to model costs of various possible scenarios, drawing on work from M.I.T. and others. “My scenarios can be seen as pulling the rug out from the business case for plug-in cars.” Tech Follow

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