National Academy Of Sciences Issues Final Report On Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: The National Academy of Sciences issued its report on the fuel efficiency standards of cars and light-duty trucks, noting that there are trade-offs in tightening the fuel standards. Currently automakers must achieve an average of 27.5 mpg for their fleet of passenger cars and 20.7 mpg for their fleet of light-duty trucks, which includes vans, pickups and SUVs. To improve fuel economy, the study notes that either new technologies must be introduced at increased cost to the consumer or each car’s size and weight must be decreased. Reducing car size and weight can contribute to more fatalities, according to the study.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The study shows that, while greater fuel efficiency is attainable, the trade-off is an increase in highway deaths and injuries or higher vehicle prices.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: While more fuel efficiency may be attainable, we must ask: At what cost? Are we willing to mandate higher fuel standards to force consumers into smaller cars, which results in a greater number of traffic deaths and injuries? Or do we require them to pay significantly more for their vehicles when the need for greater fuel economy isn’t clear?

DISCUSSION: While acknowledging that some existing technologies could reduce the fuel consumption of new cars in the next 10-15 years, the study noted that these would increase the cost of the cars and trucks and it would take decades before all the current 200 million cars on the road are replaced. It also noted that downsizing of vehicles in the 1970s and 1980s “may have contributed to an additional 1,300-2,600 fatalities in 1993 [alone].”

The study admits past CAFE standards had “unintended consequences” when consumers began buying more SUVs and vans because of their size, roominess and weight, regardless of them being less efficient. However, the study claims that gas consumption “is down 2.8 million barrels per day from where it would be in the absence of CAFE standards.”

The report declined to make recommendations on what the CAFE standards should be, leaving that to Congress, but recommended the following:

1. eliminate the two separate efficiency standards for domestic and imported vehicles
2. eliminate credits for vehicles that burn ethanol
3. set standards based on vehicle weight
4. allow automakers to sell credits to other manufacturers
5. continue funding research of fuel-efficient technologies

For more of the study:

The U.S. House of Representatives will be considering the administration’s energy bill this week and amendments are expected on increasing the CAFE standards.

The Detroit News reports in its July 31 edition that Rick Wagoner, president and chief executive of General Motors Corporation, warns that raising fuel standards would have a severe impact on full-line manufacturers, including production cuts at plants that build large trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: For more information on how CAFE standards cost lives, read National Policy Analysis #256, “Raising Sports Utility Vehicle Fuel Efficiency Standards Would Kill Americans,” by David Ridenour, at

Or read: “Ten Second Response: CAFE Standards Increase Would be a Lose-Lose Proposition for People and the Environment” by Pearse Frazier at

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.