Most automakers have come out to support the new 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy target of 54.5 miles per gallon. Engineers, however, aren't so sure we're ready to hit that number. Despite a stamp of approval from the Union of Concerned Scientists, the folks that design and build the actual products evidentlyfeel that the CAFE target will not be hit without serious changes to vehicle size and cost.
This seems to be a case of government officials and automakers wanting to focus on three areas; cost, efficiency and safety, yet engineers believe you can only pick two. As safety demands continue to rise, cars get heavier and larger (at least until technology allows to vehicles become basically crashproof). In order to meet rising fuel economy demands, engineers would prefer to go in the opposite direction with respect to size.

Ward's Auto surveyed nearly 1,100 engineers who work for automakers and suppliers. Part of the survey involved a question regarding the ability to hit the 2025 CAFE target using the current portfolio of available materials. This question offered participants to answer using a one to five rating scale, with one being "Not at all confident" and five "Very confident." Seventy-five percent of responders answered with a three or lower.

From the engineer's point of view, it's clear that one of three parts of this triangle will need to give. We know it won't be safety, and fuel economy is a huge part of our future. Start saving now, then, because if the engineers are right, cars are about to get much more expensive.

What do you think, will automakers manage to meet CAFE 2025 goals, or will there be new legislation or penalties dished out down the road? Have your say in Comments.


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  • 139 Comments
      tkosoccer03
      • 3 Years Ago
      people forget that CAFE mpg standards are set based on a chassis on a rolling dyno.. not like the EPA standards which are real world.. so 55 mpg (CAFE) is more like 35 - 40 mpg (EPA), which is perfectly reasonable. Edmunds did an article years ago on this to settle the confusion. http://www.autoobserver.com//2009/05/when-cafe-meets-epa-a-tale-of-two-fuel-economy-standards.html
        lne937s
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tkosoccer03
        And you have to add in all the credits automakers get for things like AC refrigerants and flex fuel capacity. And the exemptions they get for trucks... Add it all up, and it is not as ambitious as it seems in headlines. It is absolutely feasible for automakers to meet the CAFE rating-- the automakers got enough loopholes in there to support it. And remember that if an automaker falls short of the standard, then they just have to pay $55 per mpg under average per car. Many automakers that sell powerful cars and fall under the standard currently just opt to pay the penalty. The current fleet average for CAFE mileage (which exceeds the standard) is a little over 33 mpg. If automakers do nothing else to improve their fuel efficiency from where they are today over the next 14 years (forgetting about the exemptions and credits) and just opt to pay the penalty, it will cost $1,155 per car on average. I have a feeling that the engineers may know about engineering, but aren't familiar with the intricacies of the policy that their employers are supporting.
          tkosoccer03
          • 3 Years Ago
          @lne937s
          very well said. i wondered about things like that, but i simply didn't know enough about it. that's why people need to just relax. technology is improving as such a rapid rate, we'll hit this goal without a problem and still have our 200 mpg cars. corvette hybrid with 600 hp??? bring it.. if it means meeting CAFE standards, so be it.
        bobmarley
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tkosoccer03
        I did not know that. Good to know. This makes it much more reasonable....Why didnt AB mention this??????
      VVhistler
      • 3 Years Ago
      Prius meets Geo Metro. I can't wait...
      Sgt Beavis
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm not skeptical at all. The current standards have loopholes that you can drive a semi through. The new regs will have similar loopholes, as a competing blog has already pointed out. Cars can get smaller and lighter. Engines can get less powerful. I want a great 0-60 time for my next Mustang but I don't need it in a Fusion, Focus, or Fiesta.
        soundbargaming
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Sgt Beavis
        Electric motors are so small, yet powerful. So you don't NEED to have the great 0-60 time, but when you want it, it should be there. And with electric motors you have that, get's the daily commute done and the warp speed acceleration when you want it.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Sgt Beavis
        [blocked]
          • 3 Years Ago
          [blocked]
          macland21
          • 3 Years Ago
          Agreed. The only question is who decides what soccer mom drives? A different question is who falls under the definition of a smuck? Who would decide that? The issue of bad driving could be resolved by requiring much more extensive new driver training. Current 6 hours does not teach much. But this is a different topic unless you believe that we can use the new CAFE to limit the apparent bad driving habits of some.
      QAZZY
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's about lighter and better shaped. Cut SUVs, move towards hatches and station wagons. I doesn't have to be safer, when everything on the road is lightweight. So now, instead of slapping on more steel to protect a possible crash involving a Tahoe, we can reduce the amount of material needed, because the other car will most likely be lightweight.
        RJC
        • 3 Years Ago
        @QAZZY
        Ding ding ding. A winner. Motor vehicles are no different than people. Being overweight creates nasty secondary issues, not to mention, the primary ones we have to deal with on a daily basis.
      guyverfanboy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Applying start-stop & KERS type systems across the board on all vehicles will get vehicles closer to the 54.5 CAFE rating. :)
        TruthHertz
        • 3 Years Ago
        @guyverfanboy
        Yeah.... And how much will that cost? Will the driver every recoup the added cost and maintenance of such a thing over the life of the vehicle. It's already been shown that the average Prius owner would have to drive 100,000+ miles before BREAKING EVEN versus just buying a less expensive Corolla. That also doesn't consider if that the owner of the Prius also has had to pay more in Sales Tax, Ad Velour-um, Interest on Financing, and possibly a battery in the future.
        Lemon
        • 3 Years Ago
        @guyverfanboy
        Sounds like more weight. Hybrids are silly... just go full electric (easier said than done considering it will require the infrastructure to support it)
      Vien Huynh
      • 3 Years Ago
      just focus on the road without texting and making fone call, there go, we can have less safety standard?
      Geekengineer
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'm a mechanical engineer whose "bogey triangle" consists of cost, schedule, and performance. You want something that's kick-ass but cheap? You're gonna wait for it. You want it right now, with a low, low price? Then it'll be useless, even as a paperweight. You want it quick but awesome? Empty your pockets, then. Reducing vehicle weight is the only truly guaranteed method of really improving fuel efficiency. Or limiting everyone to 1/4 hp 2-strokes. No, the "gubmint" isn't holding back some magic technology that'll let everyone's car get 95 mpg burning TV Guides. Insane legislation like tire pressure monitors (just look at your damn tires once in a while!) and pedestrian safety features (which ruin aerodynamics) are surefire ways to add cost and complexity to vehicles. If people would actually drive in an intelligent manner, we could all drive reasonably safe, lightweight cars that aren't saddled with all sorts of nanny doo-dads. But no, people are idiots and don't take driving seriously and we end up with super duper complex cars that you can't fix without a freakin' supercomputer. /rant
        sebster718
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Geekengineer
        "If people would actually drive in an intelligent manner." Better education = Better drivers = Less traffic jams = Getting closer to maximizing your current vehicles MPG (w/o Hypermilling). Better education = Better drivers = Less safety equipment/Less convenience tech (TPMS, Auto wiper/headlights, blind spot detection, rear view cameras, parking sensors...) = Lighter Cars = Better MPG's. Better education = Better drivers = Cheaper insurance.
          Geekengineer
          • 3 Years Ago
          @sebster718
          Yes, indeed, sebster - you've got the math right. It's painfully obvious that smarter drivers are critical to this equation. And that's where it all falls apart... the average driver has the IQ of a piece of paper :(
      Hazdaz
      • 3 Years Ago
      Its an ambitious goal ON PURPOSE. For the same reason that real fuel economy didn't improve at all for 20 some odd years in the 80s and 90s because the CAFE was never raised, is why this is purposefully an optimistic target to push competition and move the industry forward. In under 5 years we have gone from having cars that would have been heralded in having just 30 MPG on the highway, to now almost expecting smaller cars to get 40 MPG on the highway. Percentage wise, that was an even BIGGER increase than this new 2025 CAFE standard, and its only taken 5 years to accomplish. This new CAFE won't hit for some FOURTEEN years... and there is even a check-up point half way in 2018 where the standard can get re-evaluated. We didn't land on the moon because we said "oh, we'll get there when we get there"... we got there because we set purposefully very difficult targets to achieve that goal. The defeatist attitude in this country is getting pathetic - its always "can't be done!", "we can't do it", "no way, no how". Grow an f'en pair, because this "sky is falling" mentality is pathetic.
        macland21
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        If you believe that through a government mandate you can "fix" what's "wrong" by imposing fuel taxes in this example, then you might be missing the economic effect of such regulation. Most people don't drive to kill the time, they drive because they must get from point A to point B. There are many lower income folks out there that if forced by an extra fuel tax would be forced to limit other expenses, effectively shifting the money flow from economy to the government. If the money flow stops, the economy sags. Many great ideas sound great and exciting, but they all cost money which somebody gotta pay. If you are willing to pay extra, then send a check to the government but do not force others to do the same, as their money is their money to spend as they please. If you do not want to pay the check to the government, then join a charity, just don't impose "good" ideas that others are forced to pay for without being asked in the first place.
          Hazdaz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @macland21
          You mean "good" ideas like having bridges that don't fall down due to them being in service for 30 years past the point of obsolescence. And highway systems that can actually support a modern 21st century society as opposed to one based on 1950's era road-use and populations. Yeah, I mean god forbid we actually collect the money we need for those things, and instead lets just pretend that that stuff is free! Hurray, fuzzy math fixes everything! Some of us realize that at some point this charade needs to ends, and *GOSH* we'll have to actually charge the customers - i.e. citizens - what it really costs to support the infrastructure that a modern country needs. Others it appears either rather bury their heads in the sand and think everything can be had for nothing, or try regressive policies that turn back the clock of progress... the sad thing is that as much as those folks want to throw the boat anchor out and stop progress for the US, that's not going to stop other countries from zooming right past us if we do that.
        Jim
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Hazdaz
        if the wonks in DC would "grow an f'en pair" and institute a progressive fuel tax, then there would be no need for CAFE because consumers would be incentivized to buy more economical vehicles. But no, those d!ckheads only worry about getting re-elected so they won't do that lest they raise the Tea Party's ire, so instead they do something totally the wrong way round like CAFE.
          Jim
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          "I am not disagreeing with you that a true fuel tax would be the better option, but you are failing to understand that in effect, you get the same thing with the CAFE as you do with higher gas tax. " well, maybe not exactly. I admit I haven't gone through the details of this deal, but let's say gas stays around $4 a gallon (not likely, but bear with me here.) How stiff are the fines? are they enough to prevent someone from saying "hey, F**k it, let's just make trucks and SUVs! Even with the fines we'll still make billions!"
          Hazdaz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          I am not disagreeing with you that a true fuel tax would be the better option, but you are failing to understand that in effect, you get the same thing with the CAFE as you do with higher gas tax. Also the political reality is that no one wants to pay their fair share, so trying to raise gas taxes to what they should be is just not going to happen with such an illogical and rhetoric-driven voting environment. We can't even get the disastrous Bush tax cuts on billionaires to get eliminated, what chance do you really think there is to INCREASE gas taxes to a realistic amount? At some point you have to deal with the situation you are given. So what's the solution? Doing nothing - and then leave us as vulnerable to oil fluctuation as we were in the 70s. Leave the CAFE be set ridiculously low like it was in the 80s and 90s and again leave us extremely vulnerable to the spikes we saw a few years ago. OR push the industry to make more efficient cars so the price of oil becomes a near non-issue. If your car gets 50 MPG you are spending HALF as much on it than you would if it only got 25.... OR to put it another way, the price of gas would basically DOUBLE and you'd end up spending the same amount. Look at other industries - the EnergyStar program has been very successful in showing people how much they can save by going with one appliance over another. At the same time, because you need to set a certain criteria to get a "Star" rating, that pushes appliance makers to make their stuff more efficient than the competition. The price of electricity hasn't tripled in the last few years, and yet (responsible) people still tend to choose the more efficient brand, so to me that proves that even without forcing the price of the fuel (gasoline or electricity) up, having a program in place to push manufacturers still gets people to pick the more efficient option.
          mylexicon
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          Here is the thinking behind CAFE: As fuel prices rise it is the rural poor and the elderly on fixed income who are the hardest hit. As they suffer, government subsidies and COLAS adjustments to those demographics also increase the burden on government. Fuel taxes compound the negative economic effects of high fuel prices on rural poor and fixed income. Fuel taxes also cause cost-push inflation as transportation costs rise, and all Americans worse off. Cost-push inflation destabilizes our shipping infrastructure. For those reasons and many more, I'm sure, politicians didn't not want to use fuel taxes. CAFE is what they came up with b/c it avoids many of the problems with the rural poor, fixed income elderly, and the shipping industry. Unfortunately, CAFE is not terribly effective, and most of the risk is borne by the auto manufacturers. I would prefer a feebate system which is a tiered system of taxes and credits based upon vehicle economy, but Uncle Sam can't even get point of sale rebates right so maybe I'm dreaming. Another option is the "x-prize" system in which you effectively pay manufacturers to meet certain sales quotas for fuel efficient vehicles. For example, every 10,000 vehicles sold with combined mpg in excess of 40 would generate a federal prize of $20M (or some such). If Toyota sell 200,000 Prii (like they did in 2007) the government pays them $400M. Sounds crazy, but performance-based producer subsidies are quite efficient, and they modify the demand curve by putting downward pressure on the price of efficient vehicles.
          Hazdaz
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          @ Jim OK, according to the NHTSA website (which deals with the old CAFE standard): "The current penalty for failing to meet CAFE standards is $5.50 per tenth of a MPG under the target value times the total volume of those vehicles manufactured for a given model year. " "Since 1983, manufacturers have paid more than $590 million in CAFE civil penalties. Most European manufacturers regularly pay CAFE civil penalties ranging from less than $1 million to more than $20 million annually. Asian and most of the big domestic manufacturers have never paid a civil penalty." So there is a corporate fine, which honestly is chump-change, but then there is also the gas guzzler tax which has to play into this somehow. And really that is how it should be - there should be some type of fine on the company for not pushing hard enough to be efficient, but then on an individual level there should also be a fine for those folks that just absolutely have to have the most inefficient vehicle to own... they can still own it, but they'll have to pay extra.
          Jim
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          @Hazdaz "I honestly don't know what the fines are, but I presume they are similar to what they were before. You could (and still can) sell a car that gets 2 MPG, but it will get fined with a gas guzzler tax." yeah, but that's still clear as mud. The "gas guzzler tax' goes on the sticker, so the customer pays it. CAFE fines are paid by the automaker. we're not talking about the same things, man.
      rastaD
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is America! The namby pamby scientists and engineers, along with their fancy incontrovertible laws of physics, need to shut their pie holes when the government snaps its fingers. If they expect to shrink our cars for the god given right to an affordable 55mpg Cadillac, well they can move to socialism where such things are tolerated. Hopefully popular opinion and two-faced political pandering will give these ridiculous engineers what for, else we end up with tiny, expensive cars they decided to force upon us. We all know the Oil&Car Consortium fat cats are hiding cold fusion and junk anyway.
      Svartorn
      • 3 Years Ago
      Oil companies will never let it happen. We could have had fuel efficient cars decades ago.
        Jim
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Svartorn
        we DID have economical cars decades ago! My first car was a 1987 Plymouth Turismo. It got 25 city/35 hwy. In the early '90s, we had the Suzuki Swift/Geo Metro which was rated at 53 city/58 hwy and the Honda Civic VX which got 48 city/ 55 hwy. The dirty little secret is the cars I just mention had 84, 55, and 92 hp respectively. History didn't start the day you were born, kid.
          ryan
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          hey jim what about all the people that dont like to drive small cars. i mean if you have 95hp car, you mighty as well have a lawn mower insted of a car, espically with many 4 banger getting close to 200hp
          James FF
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Jim
          It is too bad none of those cars would pass today's emission and crash safety standards.
        tkosoccer03
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Svartorn
        you do realize that energy companies (oil companies as you describe them) are responsible for more than 3/4 of alternative fuels and alternative fuel research?!? they are the ones pushing for the new standards. why? because more grants for them to do new research on alternative fuel. and the reason our cars aren't more fuel efficient is because of the government placing more and more strict emission standards on our cars every year. question of the day: how is it in europe the same cars return 50 - 75% better fuel economy, and yet they emit fewer emissions on a per capita basis? it's because they're using less fuel... sure, strict standards reduces emissions, but so does using less fuel. europe has found a perfect medium between fuel efficiency and emissions regulations.. we should follow their model.
      • 3 Years Ago
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        Jim
        • 3 Years Ago
        yeah, 'cos that's why they spend $0 on R&D. why don't you just go away?
        soundbargaming
        • 3 Years Ago
        I disagree. Ford has spent a lot on improving efficiency. I do however believe if they want to ATTRACT buyers they need to make their full electrics more powerful and faster. Hell I like the old TransAm commercials with the TransAm eating the car in front of it. They should do more commercials like that with electrics and not concentrate so much on the "eco" side of things because obviously its better than gas, now just make it exciting!
        ryan
        • 3 Years Ago
        damn dan you mighty wanna change your screen name, ur hated on this site. Well maybe not as much vwfailsagain
          Krishan Mistry
          • 3 Years Ago
          @ryan
          No I hate him much more than vwfailsagain, and they are both idiots. Reading Dan Frederiksen's comments drops IQ levels and hope in good reasonable comments on the internet. He is depressing.
      • 3 Years Ago
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        Lemon
        • 3 Years Ago
        Not sure why this comment is getting down-ranked. Who better understands how to make a car fuel efficient than an automotive engineer?? oh! maybe if we make it a law and throw pixie dust at it fuel mileage will magically improve!!
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