Op Ed: Voters Say They Want 60 MPG, Feds Should Listen

Voter opinion dovetails with consumer and investor support for 60 mpg fuel economy standards

A decision of vital importance to voters and the auto industry is being made in Washington right now, and policymakers would be wise to listen to what people in the historic heart of America's car industry have to say about it.

Over the next few months, the Obama Administration will decide on new fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles for the years 2017-2025. Voters in Michigan and Ohio have spoken. They want a strong 60 mpg fuel economy standard by 2025 for new cars, pickup trucks, minivans and SUVs.

That's the conclusion of two new polls commissioned by Ceres, a national coalition of investors and public interest organizations. Polls of 800 likely Michigan and 800 likely Ohio voters find 78% of likely Michigan voters, and 79% of likely Ohio voters support 60 mpg. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, people in union households and people who own SUVs and trucks - all these groups support 60 mpg.

And although respondents believe better gas mileage will save them money, it isn't just $4-a-gallon fatigue that's driving their thinking. They also recognize that using less gas boosts America's economic and national security - and lessens our dependence on oil-producing countries that don't always have our best interest in mind.

It's important to point out that a 60 mpg standard does not mean everybody will have to drive small cars. Today's fuel economy rules set different standards for vehicles of different sizes. So, for example, consumers favoring SUVs will like them even more when they're getting 45 mpg, the approximate target for these larger vehicles.

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And as for arguments that higher standards are bad for car sales, profits and job creation, voters in the auto belt know better. Our polls found that 80% of likely Ohio voters and 76% of likely Michigan voters believe a national 60 mpg standard will encourage American car makers to innovate and be globally competitive, boosting sales, protecting existing American auto jobs and creating new ones.

Those who live in households where someone works in the auto industry are on board, with over two-thirds favoring the 60 mpg standard. In Michigan 74 percent of voters in United Auto Worker (UAW) households favor 60 mpg.

For US automakers, better mileage will mean higher profits. A new report by Citi Investment Research, working with the University of Michigan Transportation Research institute, shows that higher fuel standards would benefit the auto industry, including key suppliers, as a whole, with the Detroit Three seeing even greater profits.

If you think 60 mpg is a technological stretch, think again. Studies show that it is an ambitious but reachable goal. For example, John DeCicco, a faculty fellow at the University of Michigan's Energy Institute, found that optimal use of currently available and affordable technologies can push new fleet average efficiency as high as 74 mpg over the next 25 years – and that's without even including any electric cars in the mix.

Keep in mind, a 60 mpg average fuel economy by 2025 would mean increasing fuel economy by 6 percent a year over the current 2016 standard of 35 mpg. That is an achievable rate of change.

Everyone knows that new technologies cost money, and that prices tend to fall over time - just as they have with flat screen TVs and iPhones. And most of those who responded to our poll believe that any costs attached to increasing vehicle fuel efficiency will more than pay for themselves. They believe higher fuel economy standards will save American families money, and analysis by DOT and EPA backs that up, showing that net savings for families under a 60 mpg average standard would range from $5,700 to $7,379.

That echoes a recent Consumer Reports poll that found 62% of consumers expect their next car to have a "much better" or "somewhat better" fuel economy. And more than half said they would be willing to pay extra up front if, in return, they get a significantly more efficient vehicle.

People in Michigan and Ohio get this. Their overwhelming support for these standards cuts across traditional demographic, political and industrial boundaries. This is an urgent and serious issue to voters in the auto belt. Our poll found that 87% of likely voters in Michigan and 90% of likely voters in Ohio say it is "important" or "very important" to take action now to increase fuel efficiency.

People used to say, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." When it comes to getting more miles per gallon, that's still true today.

A 60 mpg standard will spur innovation, boost sales and profits and create jobs. It will lessen our dependence on oil, which often comes from countries that don't like us very much. Spiking fuel prices are driving consumer demand toward fuel-efficient cars, and recent polls reflect that consumers want fuel-efficient cars. As oil becomes increasingly scarce and expensive, consumers will continue to want fuel-efficient cars of all sizes. A 60 mpg standard will help ensure that the Detroit Three will be able to meet that demand, and be globally competitive in the 21st century.

Mindy Lubber is president of Ceres, a national coalition of investors, environmental groups and other public interest organizations working with companies to address sustainability challenges such as global climate change.

This column is in response to an AOL Autos opinion piece published last week.

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