Embracing the challenge
If you missed the Obama administration's recent announcement of much higher fuel efficiency standards, it's probably because that no longer is a controversial proposition.
The auto industry, which often has resisted the government's insistence on higher mileage because of cost and technology considerations, is on board this time. The rise of natural gas, development of alternative fuels and engine technology mesh with the standards, even though they would double efficiency standards and reduce auto greenhouse gas emissions by half.
Standards also comply with growing consumer demand and the auto makers' own response to that market. Ford, for example, has doubled the size of its team working on energy technology to about 1,000 engineers and technicians, and plans to double it again by 2015. Honda and Volkswagen plan to increase production of hybrids made in the United States. General Motors reported this week that its higher sales have been driven not only by big pickup trucks, but high-mileage Chevrolet Cruze, Volt and Malibu models.
The standards, already slated to rise to an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, under an earlier agreement with the industry, will rise to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
That doesn't mean that your sedan will be that efficient. It more likely would get about 40 mpg. But the standard is the average for fleets, and all automakers will produce more natural-gas, all-electric and alternative vehicles by then, driving up the fleet average. Automakers also will get credit for advances like low-emission air conditioning units and other advances.
The standard is expected to add an average of $2,800 to the price of a vehicle but save an average of more than $3,000 in fuel costs over its life.
New standards are good for fuel efficiency, energy security and the environment. Perhaps the greatest measure of progress, though, is the industry's embrace of the challenge.