Major Increases in Car and Light Truck Fuel Economy Standards Take Shape, but Some Provisions Could Undermine Economic and Environmental Benefits

July 29, 2011

Media Contact(s):

Therese Langer, 202-507-4013, Transportation Program Director

Washington, D.C.—President Obama today presented a plan to increase fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks in 2017-2025 that would  raise fuel economy to 75 percent above 2010 levels. “This is a major step in reducing our oil dependence and consumers’ vulnerability to high gasoline costs,” said ACEEE Transportation Program Director Therese Langer. “By 2030, this round of standards could save more oil than we currently import from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, combined.”

The proposal does not drive advanced technology to its maximum potential, however, and includes provisions that could undermine the program’s economic and environmental benefits. “There’s a possibility of further erosion before the standards are finalized, so the next several months will be crucial to ensuring that the benefits this program promises are realized,” said Langer.

Fuel economy requirements vary by vehicle size, with smaller vehicles having higher targets than larger ones. But the percentage efficiency improvement for large trucks will be much below what will be required of cars and smaller trucks. “Letting U.S. manufacturers return to the pre-bailout mode of foot-dragging on fuel efficiency for large pickups goes against the interests of the consumer and, in the longer term, the industry itself,” said Langer. “We’d like to see safeguards against manufacturers’ gaming the standards by making more trucks, and bigger trucks, to lower the fuel efficiency requirements for their products.

While the level of the standards in 2025 will be near 50 miles per gallon once air conditioning credits are accounted for, the resulting average vehicle window label value will be about 36 miles per gallon. That’s because the standards are based on laboratory testing, while the labels factor in adjustments for actual performance on the road.

By 2025, the program could cut greenhouse gas emissions from new cars and trucks nearly in two from today’s levels. The proposal aims to accelerate production of electric vehicles by allowing manufacturers to count them as zero emissions vehicles. While this could be an effective incentive, it will increase gasoline vehicles’ emissions by more than the electric vehicles will reduce them. “Electric vehicles are oil-free and typically quite efficient,” said Langer. “But as these vehicles reach the market in greater numbers, we cannot afford to ignore the power plant emissions associated with vehicle charging.”

A full proposal from the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency is expected in early fall, with a final rule to follow in the summer of 2012. 

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing energy efficiency as a means of promoting economic prosperity, energy security, and environmental protection.