The move is controversial, especially in an election year. Democrats have feared that Republicans will use the new rule to bludgeon the President and Democratic members of Congress running for re-election for green-lighting a new rule that will increase the cost of new cars beyond the rate of inflation, as well as curtail what many Americans like to drive -- big SUVs.
President Barack Obama said the new fuel standards ''represent the single most important step'' his administration has taken to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The administration says the latest changes will save families more than $1.7 trillion in fuel costs and bring an average savings of $8,000 over the lifetime of a new vehicle sold in 2025.
But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has, to no one's surprise, opposed the standards, and his campaign on Tuesday called them "extreme" and said they would drive up the price of new cars. Any savings at the pump, says the Romney camp, would be wiped out by rising costs of cars.
"Governor Romney opposes the extreme standards that President Obama has imposed, which will limit the choices available to American families," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul in a statement.
Like most debates in a political season, though, the rhetoric by both sides obscures facts, submerges truths and the result is that consumers get confused.
AOL Autos will try to simplify the issues for you.
-The gas mileage requirements will be phased in gradually and get tougher starting in 2017. They build on a 2009 deal between the Obama administration and automakers that committed cars and trucks to average 35.5 mpg by model year 2016. Note, the auto companies agreed to the new standards, so they have little room to complain now.
-In the world of government regulations, the rules don't mean that cars and trucks will actually average 54.5 mpg in 13 years. It's actually closer to 40 mpg in real-world driving. And let's remember that cars as large as the Buick LaCrosse can now get close to 40 mpg via a high-performance 4-cylinder engine. Forty miles-per-gallon is also nothing for a hybrid vehicle to achieve.
-The Romney camp, nor the White House, can know if savings at the pump will offset the higher prices of vehicles attributed to fuel saving technology. That's because neither side knows what the price of gasoline will be a decade from now. But the higher the price of gasoline, the more people will save with a vehicle that gets 50 mpg over one that gets 25 mpg.
-There is no question that V8 engines in anything but work trucks and SUVs, as well as for small-volume luxury cars, are going away. But automakers say that the interest in gas-thirsty, high-performance V8 engines has been trending downward anyway. No big loss.
-Does it seem impossible that the average fuel economy of some 15 million new cars sold would be a whopping 54.5 mpg in just 13 years? Yes. Well, besides the fact that the rules are written in such a way that automakers will only have to achieve an average of around 40 mpg in real world driving, they will earn credits toward meeting the new standard by selling electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles and even changing to air conditioning fluid that pollutes less.
-Is the government ramming cars down the throats of Americans that they don't want to buy? No. Consider that J.D. Power and Associates reports that fuel economy is the number-one thing people say they are looking for when buying a new vehicle. Ford Motor Co.'s research says the same thing.
-Is this shift going to cost American jobs? No. Actually, it's the opposite. A report issued this month by www.drivinggrowth.org -- a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Wildlife Federation and the League of Conservation Voters -- shows that 236,000 new jobs have been added in and related to the auto industry's development and production of more fuel efficient vehicles. That consortium has an obvious interest in promoting the production of greener cars and trucks, but AOL Autos has investigated the group's numbers, and finds them sound.
Bottom Line: The automakers know how to do this. And while prices of vehicles will go up a bit, consumers will have several years to get used to the change and adjust their spending and choices of vehicles accordingly. Most energy analysts believe that oil prices, and thus gas prices at the pump, will re-set several times over the next thirteen years as the rule is implemented and enforced. But the "new normal" by then will likely exceed $5.00 per gallon because if increased demand for oil by developing countries like China and India, making more fuel efficient vehicles just what U.S. consumers will want and need.