The Senate’s Fuel Economy Standard: Incredibly Tough, Probably Impossible & Enormously Expensive

Gary Witzenburg, writing on The Car Connection, explains the difficulties car manufacturers and consumers will have if Congress adopts into law the Senate Energy Bill’s requirement that Corporate Everage Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards, reach 35 mpg by 2020 for both cars and light trucks:

How hard could it be to move from today’s long-established 27.5-mpg car CAFE to 35 miles per gallon, a mere 7.5-mpg (27-percent) increase?

Almost no one outside the fuel-economy business understands how incredibly tough, probably impossible, and enormously expensive that really would be. Even Toyota – whose hybrid-boosted 2006 car and truck CAFEs were 34.4 and 23.7 mpg, respectively – calls the 35-mpg standard “very aggressive” and “difficult to meet,” adding that, “the time frame is too soon.”

GM says that to bring all vehicles up to 35 mpg – a totally absurd 58-percent increase for light trucks, now at 22.2 mpg – represents a combined 40-percent boost that would cost more than $100 billion, “the greatest regulatory cost ever imposed on a single industry.”

The only way it could come even close to happening would be to dieselize and hybridize virtually everything – at an incremental cost (not retail price) of $5000-$8000 per vehicle -and downsize trucks to where they could barely haul the content of a homeless auto worker’s shopping cart. New emissions standards are making diesels way more expensive, and there’s not enough battery raw material on the planet for an all-hybrid fleet…

…One very knowledgeable engineer who has worked on CAFE for many years says that to meet a 35-mpg CAFE, cars will have to average 38-39 mpg and trucks 25-28 mpg, and achieving those levels will require virtually all of both to be either diesel or gas-electric hybrid. He also points out that EPA uses “harmonic” averaging to emphasize fuel consumption (gallons per mile) rather that fuel economy (mpg), which makes CAFE compliance near-impossible for most to understand. “In CAFE math,” he says, “to offset a 25-mpg vehicle to get a 35-mpg average, believe it or not, you need a car at 58.3 mpg, not 45.”

…There’s no question that we Americans need to consume less petroleum in everything we do (not just driving), for both balance of trade and energy security reasons, and higher fuel prices are already accelerating us down that path. But don’t try to sell me the absurd notion that vehicle-emitted CO2, which is directly proportional to fuel consumption, is destroying the planet. Harmless CO2 gas amounts to just 38 of 100,000 molecules of the Earth’s atmosphere and 5 percent of so-called “greenhouse” gases, just 3.3 percent of newly-generated CO2 is man-made, and only 14 percent of that comes from cars a

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