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When Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the first round of new CAFE rules last week, there was nary a peep from the automakers who had complained so vociferously about the the 35mpg standard in the first place. Now there is a clue as to why they have been so quiet. Until now, the fuel economy rules have always been pretty simple. There was a threshold for each model year (currently 27.5mpg for cars) and the sales weighted average for all cars sold by a manufacturer had to beat that level. All companies had the same threshold. If they fell short they paid fines and if they exceeded it they could earn credits towards future years.
Now it's much more complicated. There is a sliding scale based on the footprint of each individual vehicle. The footprint is defined as the wheelbase times the average of the track width or the area within the wheels. The larger the footprint, the lower the threshold that vehicle has to meet. Therefore for two cars of similar overall size but one with a longer wheelbase, the longer one would have a lower mileage requirement. Each automaker is then assigned an individual threshold to meet based on the sales weighted average footprint of the vehicles it sells. A company that sells more large footprint vehicles would have a lower hurdle to jump. One that sells predominantly smaller cars would have to get better mileage. As a result a company like Porsche or Ferrari who sell relatively small sports cars would have to meet a higher standard than Ford or General Motors who sell more large trucks. The entire premise of this rule is absurd. This rule will likely have the effect of giving manufacturers an incentive to maximize the wheelbase and track of new vehicles in order to minimize their CAFE requirement.

The only saving grace here is that, overall, as fuel prices continue to climb, buyers are likely to migrate to more efficient vehicles regardless of the footprint.

[Source: NHTSA, AutoWeek]


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  • 22 Comments
      • 6 Months Ago
      Remember the phrase from Ronald Reagan:
      "The most dangerous nine words in the English language are - "I'm from the government and I'm here to help" ".
      • 6 Months Ago
      bill -- You cant blame CAFE standards on Democrats. They were initiated in 1975, and Jimmy Carter wasnt in office until 1977. So Cafe standards were brought in by republicans, and "improved" by republicans. Nice work, bill.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Democrats, dumb rules for cafe, dumb rules for ethanol, dumb rules for fixing the gas prices. Democrats, just plain dumb.

      Democrats will have the rest of the fuel market pouched up faster than Democrat Jimmy Carter did ... Jimmy Carter would be proud.
      • 6 Months Ago
      I agree this is stupid but it does not matter. Gas is going to be $5 bucks as gallon in 6 months (when gas prices level out with crude oil prices, gas is still much less). The market will force more fuel effeciancy out of consumer demand - just as in Europe. Europeans would drive bigger cars if fuel was a cheap* as it is in the US. People wont run out and trade down (thats really a dumb way to save money) but when they need a new car they will be shopping for fuel efficiancy (unless they are a dumbass.) The fuel efficiant cars are already increasing in sales while the large SUVs are sitting on lots.
      • 6 Months Ago
      So no penalty for mass or height, and no bonus for effective packaging? Looks like the "light truck" boondoggle all over again: just take an existing car, jack it up six to eight inches and suddenly you can charge more, while not having to worry about CAFE.

      This rule was pretty much bought and paid for by truckmakers. It's also why I'll support California's methodology (emissions only) or Europe (displacement and taxation) eight days a week.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Just another way to dodge the bullet. I think you're right, Evan. The market is going to sort these things out anyway.
      • 6 Months Ago
      LOOKING AT HYBRIDS, AMERICAN MAKERS ALL STATE LIMITED AVAILABILITY; SALESPEOPLE HAVE THE INTELLIGENCE KNOWLEDGE OF EVEN LESS LIMITED. USA AUTOS CAN'T EVEN COMPARE WITH TOYOTA. WHEN WILL WE WAKE UP? MY INCOME IS TIGHT, I NEED TO SURVIVE BY MAKING THE BEST DEAL I CAN! GAS PRICES ARE KILLING MY BUDGET; I AM LUCKY TO GET A 3% INCREASE YEARLY; YET GAS TAKES EVERY BIT OF IT & MORE. USA DEALERS LEAD YOU TO A 4 CYCL. GAS ENGINE, AND ARE CLUELESS TO WHAT THEIR COMPETITION OFFERS.
      • 6 Months Ago
      "no - jacking up a car does not change its footprint - therefore it does not change the cafe requirements. This system isn't perfect - but the old system was flawed also."

      I think he was referring to the likes of the Subaru Legacy and PT Cruiser, cars which were slightly modified and lobbied to qualify as trucks.

      Yes California's system is looking better every day. Not as much incentive for diesels (due to the extra energy and CO2 byproduct per gallon) or ethanol. No class distinction and a higher standard overall. That system will bring about European class cars and substantial CO2 reductions.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Evan is right cheap gas isn't coming back. The buyoff of legislators by the big 3 won't save them if they can't come up with better mpg. The real tragedy was they also added a part where states can't regulate greenhouse gas's since the supreme court said they could under current laws.
      • 6 Months Ago
      time to bring back the Aston Martin Lagonda
      horvathp
      • 6 Months Ago
      psarhjinian,

      no - jacking up a car does not change its footprint - therefore it does not change the cafe requirements. This system isn't perfect - but the old system was flawed also.

      A company that specialized in small cars had to make no improvements at all. As a matter a fact - they were encouraged to make large trucks because the had "extra cafe" credits that they could use.

      • 6 Months Ago
      if we could get everyone that is in favor of these new rules to BUY a new car it would help solve the problem BUT they just talk not buy. most people understand that you can buy a lot of gasoline for what it cost you to trade down to a smaller fuel efficient car. most people could cut their fuel bill a lot just by doing things like not driving their kids a lot of miles just to play sports or even car pool.
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