Good till the last drop: New study highlights dangers of DOT and EPA rollbacks

6d ago


A study by Consumer Reports was released last week highlighting the importance of keeping the 2017-2025 fuel economy standards in place.

The current proposal from the EPA and NHTSA, referred to as the Safe Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicle Rules, would halt the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) increases after 2021. The 2021 CAFE target is 37 miles per gallon.

2012-2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy Estimates / Photo Sourced from the US Department of Energy

The SAFE proposal is based on the idea that the fuel economy standards "impose significant costs on American consumers and eliminate jobs." Consumer Reports states that the current 2017-2025 CAFE projections will save Americans $660 billion. If SAFE is enacted, Consumer Reports states that new vehicles in 2026 will use an additional $3,300 in fuel over the life of the vehicle. Current estimates in the study say that the rollbacks would use an additional 320 billion gallons of oil, which is 20 per cent of the US's proven oil reserves.

What does this mean for you?

The idea proposed by the DOT and EPA would halt fuel economy increases, and drive down new vehicle costs, by increasing cost of ownership through the amount of money spent at the pump. It doesn't necessarily mean that gas prices are going to increase, but the amount of times you'll fill up will make up for that. Based on the study, owners of 2026 vehicles will see a $3,300 increase in fuel costs over the life of the vehicle. That trickles down into the used market over time as well.

While this sounds like a good idea, considering the average MSRP of a new car today is nearly $40,000 and will only increase as the technology improves, the cost of ownership will go down as vehicles achieve better fuel economy.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV / Photo Sourced from Car and Driver

Where do the automakers come into play?

It's difficult to see what the stance is on SAFE from the automaker's perspective. While Ford and GM just unveiled massive V8s for their heavy-duty pickup trucks, Ford is teaming up with Volkswagen to produce electric vehicles, and Ford invested $500 million into Rivian. FCA on the other hand has presented their eTorque mild hybrid system that comes standard on V6 equipped models, the eTorque system is a start-stop system that can also be called upon to deliver additional torque when needed. Mercedes-Benz has their EQ-Boost system, which operates in a similar fashion to the eTorque system.

Then there are the all-electric cars, such as the Hyundai Kona EV, Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Mercedes EQC, Audi E-Tron, etc. It's not like its just Tesla in the game anymore. More importantly, if Ford's F-150 or Tesla's proposed pickup, or Rivian's R1T wind up being really good EVs, we could see a massive difference in the largest market segment in the US. Clean municipal vehicles that don't need to be idling their big engines just to keep the AC cold.

Ford Escapes on a Dealership Lot / Photo Sourced from the Houston Chronicle

Where are we in terms of fuel economy today?

It depends on where you look, but fuel economy has sort of plateaued as of recently, and it has to do with the big push to SUVs. I drive a 2003 Buick Century, a big ol' land-yacht with an underpowered V6 that can trace its roots back to 1990. That being said, the car gets 20 MPG city/29 MPG highway, and I've even seen it do 32 MPG when I took it down to South Carolina for Spring Break. A four-cylinder 2019 Impala gets 22/29. I used the four-cylinder because it produces similar power figures to the V6 in my car. With the 3.6-liter V6, the Impala gets 19/28.

Sure you can say that the direct-injection, double-overhead cams, and increased displacement are to blame here, and the engine makes about 100 more horsepower, but in terms of just fuel efficiency, we haven't really gone that much further forward.

For a more modern comparison, let's take a similarly sized SUV, As that is what most people are buying instead of sedans. We'll keep it in the GM family, so use the Blazer as an example, since the comparison is between mid-size models. The 2.5-liter four cylinder Blazer gets 22/27. The V6 Blazer 18/25.

Tesla Model 3 / Photo Sourced from Tesla

The Takeaway

The proposed rollbacks would lower new car prices, but drive up fuel costs over the life of the car. With every automaker trying to, quite literally, capture lightning in a bottle, it doesn't make sense for the automakers to give up on technology that they're already in the process of developing. Companies like Tesla, Rimac, and NIO have shown us that electric cars can be incredibly powerful and fast, and now with used Model 3 prices falling below $40,000, EVs are quickly becoming more obtainable than ever before.

I think that we should leave the CAFE standards in place, and focus on developing mild hybrid and EV technology so that it will drive the costs down and ultimately bring us to a world of oil-free EVs that are affordable and safe to drive.

What do you think of the EPA and DOT rollbacks on fuel economy? Do you think that SAFE's plan would actually lower the cost of new cars? Comment Below!