DENNIS SEID: Higher fuel standards in the works

Everyone would agree that less dependence on foreign oil is critical.
Some say it’s an economic, as well as national security issue. So how do we use less of it?
Well, there’s always increased domestic drilling, but with the BP Gulf disaster still fresh on the minds of many, that’s not going to get much momentum for now.
And according to a presentation at last week’s Southern Automotive Conference, oil prices are expected to remain $75 to $85 per barrel, with gas prices staying between $2.50 and $3.50 a gallon for the foreseeable future.
So, using less foreign oil would require driving vehicles getting vastly better gas mileage.
Imagine getting 60 miles per gallon with your car. We may get that in another 15 years. The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation want to adopt new rules that would require vehicles sold in the U.S. to average anywhere between 47 mpg to 62 mpg by 2025.
By 2017, mileage would improve by 30 percent to average 34.1 mpg “fleetwide” for automakers.
Three years ago, the Bush administration pushed through a plan that would have required automakers to average 35 mpg by 2020. But with Obama and the Democrats in charge, it was generally assumed that they would push for even higher standards – and they did. In Europe and Japan, vehicles already average 35 mpg.
In the U.S., vehicles are averaging about 25 mpg. At the auto conference, consultant Kim Korth said the proposed standard will be tough to accomplish. Automakers are struggling to meet the 2007 standard.
So what will it take for companies to reach those new standards? Building – and selling – more small cars, hybrids and electrics, plus other vehicles with advanced powertrains that make vehicles more fuel efficient.
But while automakers can make those vehicles all day long, convincing the public is another story.
Smaller cars, for example, “are not for everyone,” Korth said. “Consumers like choice. And Americans are bigger.
They like to have room.” Look around. How many trucks and SUVs do you see on the roads? Their sales have picked up nicely, even as the auto industry tries to regain sales traction.
The EPA and DOT want better gas mileage, while another federal agency, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency, has long pushed for safer vehicles – which sometimes means building bigger, heavier vehicles.
In a battle between federal agencies, there’s no telling who would win. Using lighter, high-strength aluminum instead of steel is an option for improving mileage. And using more advanced technologies would help, of course. But all these choices also could add $3,000 or more to the price of a vehicle.
Whether consumers would be willing to pay a premium up front to save money over the long run is the ultimate question.
Contact Dennis Seid at (662)678-1578 or
at dennis.seid@djournal.com.

DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal