Savings May Come Soon Under New Fuel Economy Standard

Consumer group says 54.5 mpg by 2025 a win for drivers & car makers

Mark Blinch / Reuters

The new fuel economy standard gives automakers credits for using electric power and cleaner air conditioning systems.

Gasoline prices hit record highs in 2011 and for the first time last year, the cost of gas equaled or exceeded even the cost of owning a vehicle: on average, the roughly $2,800 dollars that a household spent at the pump was more than a year’s worth of car payments.

Crunching the numbers on a hypothetical new car purchase 13 years from now, the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) says what we’ll save in gas will more than cover the extra spent on new fuel-saving technologies — an $800 savings even at the end of a five-year loan.

What’s  different about this new fleet standard standard — 54.5 MPG by 2025, proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California’s Air Resources Board (ARB) — is what it means for the auto makers as well. Cooper says that by setting the standard far enough in the future, it gives car makers a reliable goal and enough time to work things out.

And it’s an “attribute-based” approach: it doesn’t tell carmakers to build smaller vehicles or different types of vehicles (like electric or alt-fuels), it just mandates the mileage standard itself and allows the manufacturers to come up with an individualized mix of vehicles and features to accomplish it. This is part of the reason you’re seeing more large hybrid SUV’s on the road, and why one of the most touted vehicles at the Detroit Auto Show this week was a V6 “eco-boost” Ford F-150 truck. The first five pages of this report from the Congressional Research Service has a good explanation and the back story.

The automakers get credits or allowances for attributes like electric power and cleaner air conditioning systems, so that 54.5 number works out to just under 40 MPG across a given manufacturer’s fleet. But CFA’s Cooper acknowledges that and still sees the new standard as “a landmark in U.S. Energy policy. They will be making fewer trips to the gas station when they get these vehicles,” he told reporters in a conference call today.

Now I’m just waiting to hear about the woman suing Honda in Small Claims Court down here in Torrance, California. She claims the automaker told her that the hybrid Civic she bought would get 50 miles per gallon. Not so, says the woman. An L.A. County Superior Court judge wants more info. Stay tuned.