Last year, when the federal government set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards at roughly 35 miles per gallon by 2015, automakers squirmed uncomfortably. Though that should be an achievable target, it won't be easy. It means Americans will have to buy several million more small cars a year, they'll have to buy fewer trucks and SUVs, and they'll have to pay thousands of dollars more for the technology needed to meet those standards.
But now it sure looks like the government is getting ready to set a new fuel economy standard of 60 mpg by 2025. According to Ward's, both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will release the new standard next month. Is it at all realistic to think that we can double the fuel economy standard in a decade?

Remember, that 60 mpg target is a fleet average. That means all of the cars and trucks and SUVs and crossovers and vans that an automaker sells will need their fuel economy to average out at 60 mpg. That's not going to be easy. It's not just a matter of building the right kinds of cars, it's about getting people to buy them.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as a Detroit insider to Autoblog readers.

No doubt you heard the CEO of Hyundai Motor America, John Krafcik, recently announce that they'll hit a 50-mpg fleet average by 2025. That really impressed a lot of people. But Hyundai doesn't make any full-size trucks or SUVs. So not only will the new regs surpass Hyundai's lofty goal, they'll be especially hard on full-line manufacturers.

The internal combustion engine is proving mighty hard to kill off.
Of course, regulators are famous for rigging the rules to drive the kind of technological outcome they prefer. No doubt we're going to see generous CAFE credits for automakers that build hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles. There is a decided bias that wants our future to be electric no matter how clean or efficient the internal combustion engine becomes. So it's entirely possible that the real-world average will be below 60 mpg, at the same time the paperwork the automakers file shows they're hitting the target.

And yet, this 19th-century technology known as the internal combustion engine is proving mighty hard to kill off. In fact there are two new technologies coming along that could easily carry it deep into the 21st century. Eco Motors has developed a new kind of engine that it's calling the opposed piston, opposed cylinder motor. It could potentially boost fuel economy of a car by 50%. Transonic Combustion is a company that's coming out with a new kind of fuel injection system that can boost the fuel economy of the gasoline engine by 25 to 30%.

CAFE... is the slowest and least efficient mechanism for getting this country to reduce its dependence on oil.
You cannot add the 50% number with the 25-30% number and end up with a 75-80% improvement. It doesn't work that way. Yet, these technologies can clearly provide a significant boost in fuel economy to today's cars. And when you couple that with PZEV technology, where gasoline-fueled engines match the emissions of an EV, the case gets pretty compelling. We can make substantial improvements in fuel economy and reductions in emissions with conventional technology that most people can afford.

I'm not against new technology coming to market. But when it requires massive subsidies to be viable, and needs the regulations rigged in its favor, you have to question if it's truly sustainable.

The same goes for CAFE. It has got to be the slowest and least efficient way for getting this country to reduce its dependence on oil. And while most of the country will beam in admiration when the government announces the 60 mpg CAFE standard next month, the rest of us will know better. The benefits will not show up for decades, and we'll pay a hefty price to achieve them.


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