It's estimated that automakers will dish out more than $50 billion to meet CAFE standards that go into effect in 2016, but if consumers don't buy enough fuel-efficient vehicles, then automakers may fail to meet the required 35.5 miles-per-gallon average.
According to Ward's Auto, the average fuel economy rating of new vehicles sold in 2010 was 22.2 mpg. That's actually down from the 22.3 mpg average in 2009. In addition, hybrid cars shrunk from 2.9 percent of new vehicle sales in 2009 to 2.4 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, sales of trucks, SUVs, crossovers and minivans rose from 48 percent to 51 percent from 2009 to 2010.
With gasoline now averaging $3.56 a gallon nationally, you'd think that car buyers would transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles but, as Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers explains, "for consumers to really change their buying habits, they must believe higher gas prices are a long-term change, and by long-term, they mean five years or more." But automakers don't have that kind of time and if they don't meet looming CAFE standards, then stiff fines may be handed out.