The Car Lot of the Future
Today the Prius gets 50 mpg. By 2025, federal rules will require all vehicles to average nearly 55 mpg. Is this the end of the SUV? We talked to experts to find out how the new standard will affect consumer choice and price.
When the Obama Administration and automakers announced agreement last week on a plan to make the U.S. car fleet average nearly 55 mpg by 2025, there was widespread applause from environmentalists. Surveys also show consumers largely in support of higher fuel efficiency standards, especially since gasoline prices remain at around $3.70 a gallon, on average, nearly $1 more than a year ago.
But wait. Other than the two new electric cars on the market, the most fuel-efficient car is Toyota's iconic hybrid, the Prius. It gets 50 mpg. Will the average car 15 years from now really be 10% more efficient than the most efficient car today?
Will car lots be packed only with tiny two-seaters? Is this the first sentence in the obituary of the internal combustion engine? Is the bell tolling for the SUV?
Probably not, as The Daily Green learned when it asked experts to help us understand, from a consumer perspective, what the car lot of the future will look like. The first thing we learned is that those fuel-economy numbers are deceiving, or at least confusing.
55 mpg is the new 40
Government uses at least two different sets of numbers to describe vehicle fuel economy, one based on a 1975 law passed by Congress, which measures fuel economy in a lab, and one recently refined by the Environmental Protection Agency, which attempts to estimate fuel economy in real-world driving conditions, according to Roland Hwang, the transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The stickers on car windows, like the one that says the Prius gets 50 mpg? Those are the EPA's real-world estimates.
The 2025 fleetwide average of 55 mpg that the Obama Administration and automakers just announced? That's a figure based on a laboratory certification.
The difference between the lab numbers and the real world numbers is about 20% (possibly as much as 30%), according to Hilary Sinnamon, a clean air consultant for Environmental Defense Fund.
The Prius actually gets about 70 mpg as measured in the lab, Hwang said. And he predicted the real-world average fuel economy in the year 2025 will be closer to 40 mpg. John O'Dell, a senior editor and green car advisor at Edmunds.com, said the figure might be closer to 38 mpg.
Lest we scoff at the grand pronouncements Obama and others have made about the environmental benefits of such a fuel economy upgrade, 40 mpg is still nearly double today's average of 22 mpg.
"It's a major step," Hwang said. "It's the biggest thing the president can do to simultaneously reduce oil dependency, save consumers at the pump and reduce carbon pollution."
The SUV vs the EV
Today, exactly one SUV gets better than 30 mpg — the hybrid Ford Escape (pictured here), so it's hard to imagine much room for sports utility vehicles in 2025, when the average vehicle must get 40 mpg.
Right? Not so fast, lead foot.
As we try to envision the car lot of the future, confounding devils come out in the details about vehicles on opposite ends of the fuel-economy spectrum, SUVs and EVs — sports utility vehicles and electric vehicles.
While the new rules mean that the average car must be 5% more fuel efficient each year, so-called "light trucks" - SUVs, minivans and pickups — could progress at a more leisurely 3.5% annual improvement rate, NRDC's Hwang said. Basically, that means more gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups will remain for sale in 2025 than would be the case without the loophole. And different automakers will achieve different levels of fuel economy, according to Edmunds.com's O'Dell. Today GM's fleet has more gas-guzzlers and a lower overall fuel economy than Honda's fleet, which is dominated by smaller cars; that type of discrepancy will remain.
And, Hwang added, robust sales of electric vehicles could, paradoxically, also lead to additional sales of SUVs. The new fuel-economy standards are designed to reduce pollution and gas consumption, and EVs do both extraordinarily well, since pure electric cars use no gas and emit no tailpipe emissions. As automakers average in zeroes for their fleets of EVs, then, they could also sell more gas-guzzling SUVs, pickups and minivans.
"The more electric vehicles they make, the more dirtier gasoline vehicles they can make," Hwang said. "What you gain in EVs you lose in less efficient and dirtier gasoline vehicles."
That's why NRDC is lobbying the EPA to put a cap on the number of zero-emissions electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf (pictured here) that automakers can claim. After all, the pollution from driving an electric vehicle isn't zero; it just comes out of the smokestack of the local power plant, rather than the tailpipe of the car.
Hybrid cars, including hybrid full-sized pickup trucks, will also qualify for credits, Sinnamon said. Those credits will allow automakers to double count hybrid vehicles when calculating average mpg, leaving them plenty of room on the lot for bigger vehicles. Plus, because the 55 mpg fuel economy standard is based on the efficiency needed to achieve greenhouse gas emission goals, automakers can also take advantage of additional credits for things like swapping air conditioning refrigerants for climate-friendly options.
Bottom line: Loopholes, credits and fuel-economy accounting will ensure that SUVs, pickups and minivans will still be on the market in 2025, despite the new tighter fuel-economy standards.
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Electric my butt,
go plug yourself in the wall and see if you live longer............
the Green mongers have yet to figure what to do with all those batteries.........
it will pollute like Nuke Waste...........................
the only guy who will have all electric would be Al Gore, he will be hiding his gaz toys behind his polluting house............
switch to algea based biodiesel and we could have SUVs that get 40-50 mpg
BMW 640d and the Audi have a V6 3.0L 313 hp twin turbo diesel that is rated at 5.7L/100KM which is 42 mpg US
The Landrover with the new 4.4L turbo diesel has a combined 25.1 mpg US the current US gasoline version is 14 mpg combined.
The. Peugot 3008 hydrid4 is a diesel hydrid small SUV and gets 61 mpg US
Wake up america and embrace the new Diesel tech
Continued improvements over the years and taking some of the suggestions above may get the average mileage of the overall U.S. fleet of passenger cars and trucks closer to 40 mpg, but I think that 55 is just wishful thinking. Too much driving in this country is commuting and for local business causing a lot of slow speeds and idling which detracts from the goal.
I have a 2001 Toyota Corolla that still runs like a top that gives me the acceleration, speed, and the economy I desire. I loved the BIG old land boats with V-8's with their abysmal mileage and heaters that drove you out of the car once they finally warmed up. Except for the hobbyist and collectors, such cars are impractical today. I say let the market decide and keep the government out of it. I am happy with my small sedan, but many people desire to use pickups and SUV's, which are essentially a type of truck.
Electric cars and hybrids are much too expensive and then there is the little problem of battery disposal and reclamation of toxic metals. Perhaps some way can be found to utilize hydrogen, the most abundant element and develop a practical engine using it.
President 0bama accomplished almost NOTHING with the new CAFE rules. It was another opportunity to score political points with that sliver of society that badly thinks more government is the answer to everything, when the polar opposite is closer to the truth.
Thankfully your article disclosed the loopholes and ethanol credits giving the bulk of the new vehicle fleet a pass. Think about it; a car that actually gets an EPA registered 30 mpg on conventional gasoline (and 18 or less mpg on E85) will get credit for 60 mpg (!). With a tiny bit more smoke, mirrors and force-pleasing, 0bama can make it look like he actually accomplished something.
Would you like to see the economy improve? Do you not yet realize the government is central to the ailments in our economy today? Do you appreciate the real origin of oil versus the myth? How 'bout an article championing individual freedom, liberty, a right to choose your mode of of transport, unabrogated by the belligerence of socialist do-gooders?