The Environmental Protection Agency revealed slight gains in overall U.S. fuel economy for another record high in 2017. Yet the EPA’s main focus going forward seems to be cost-effectiveness.
Fuel economy rose 0.2 mpg to 24.9 mpg overall from model year 2016 to model year 2017. During that time, estimated CO2 emissions had an equally slight fall, dropping 3 grams per mile (g/mi) to 357 g/mi — a record low.
The EPA’s release notes that “the report shows that auto manufacturers continue increasing fuel economy and reducing pollution through innovation.” Yet EPA Administrator and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler turned the focus in a different direction. Wheeler said,
“Today’s report shows that while the auto industry continues to increase fuel economy, there are legitimate concerns about the ability to cost-effectively achieve the Obama Administration’s standards in the near future.”
Wheeler pushes the Safe Affordable Fuel Efficient Vehicles rule in the release. In his words, it “would allow the industry to meet aggressive yet attainable standards, reduce the price of new vehicles, and help more Americans purchase cleaner, safer, and more efficient vehicles.”
What the SAFE Vehicles rule would actually do is freeze fuel economy standards from model year 2020 through 2026. During the Obama administration, automakers agreed to a 54.5 mpg fleet wide average by 2025. The proposed rule would drop that average to about 37 mpg through 2026. Automakers and the oil industry were the only groups that sought lower standards.
A closer look at the EPA’s Automotive Trends Report reveals progress by a number of carmakers — and it doesn’t look good for Toyota.
Toyota is the only carmaker listed that actually saw a decrease in average fuel economy from 2012 to 2017, dropping from 25.5 to 25.3 mpg. Accordingly, Toyota also saw the only estimated CO2 emissions increase during that time.
Among carmakers listed, Honda had the best fuel economy (29.4 mpg) and lowest emissions output (302 g/mi). Subaru made the biggest gain in fuel economy (+3.5 mpg to 28.5) and had the biggest drop in emissions (355 to 312 g/mi) during the five-year period.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brought up the rear on both lists with an average of 21.2 mpg and 420 g/mi in emissions output.
Wheeler’s attempt to immediately turn an announced increase in fuel economy into a statement on cost concerns comes off as disjointed and bizarre in the press release. But it’s unsurprising.
It’s clear that considering the current fuel economy trends — increasing, but slowly — automakers would have to make even more EVs to hit their marks under the Obama administration’s rules. But a group of Republican senators want to push in the opposite direction, as they look to kill off the federal EV tax credit completely.
The EPA itself even notes that automakers are “reducing pollution through innovation.” Yet it aims to stifle that innovation?
Just like Wheeler’s statement, it’s all sadly predictable.