This morning President Bush put pen to paper (no doubt one of those really cool American President pens) and signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, all 822 pages of it. As we all know by now, the pillar of the law is an increase in Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards to 35 mpg by 2020. The increases will be built up over time beginning with the 2011 model year, which really isn't that far away. The measures regarding CAFE also don't apply fleetwide as one single standard, but will be adjusted based on the type of car or truck being measured. Nevertheless, after decades of nary a budge in this country's CAFE standards, an increase of some 40% is monumental and will likely begin immediately affecting the cars and trucks we buy.
We mustn't forget the path fraught with peril that this bill took to reach the President's desk. After being passed by the House of Representatives thanks to a compromise between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the bill moved to the Senate where it was voted on twice and failed before a large $21.8 billion tax provision was removed. Until that point, the President had promised to veto the bill. Without the tax provision, however, the bill was finally passed by the Senate, and then reapproved by the House just yesterday.
In order to meet the standards, we expect automakers to begin producing more mild hybrids in the near future, with full-on parallel hybrids being at least an option on most vehicles after that. The use of modern clean-diesel engines will also proliferate, especially in light-duty half-ton trucks like the Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado that would have trouble meeting their own CAFE targets with traditional V8 engines. Then there's more exotic technology, like the series hybrid system being developed by GM for the Chevy Volt. If successful, expect other automakers to very quickly follow suit with their own series hybrid drivetrains. There's lots of simple and more complex technologies on the table that automakers will utilize to increase their CAFE rating, and no doubt the cost of developing these systems will be passed on to the consumer to some degree, as well. Supporters of the bill, however, remind us that reducing our dependance on foreign oil is a very good thing, and in the end, we only get one Earth on which to live.
[Source: The Detroit News, Photo by Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty]