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Does Increasing the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act’s CAFE standard of 35 mpg by 2020 make sense?

The futility in exceeding their ever-changing expectations.

Andy Bolig - October 10, 2011 10:00 AM

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We are living in an amazing time for the auto enthusiast. Sure, the glory days of horsepower might have been in the ’60s and ’70s, but if you look at the amount of horsepower that is available today, straight from the showroom floor, you could make an argument that today is the best day to be an enthusiast.

Today, 400-plus horsepower is simply the cost of admission if you want to really establish yourself into the power wars. Couple that with A/C, excellent driveability, a power options list for every taste and fuel mileage that would make those performance cars of yesteryear green with envy – even the red ones!

Ever since 1990, the limbo bar of fuel mileage has been set for passenger cars at 27.5 mpg, with a combined (cars and light trucks) fuel mileage of more than 20 mpg. Being an average means that companies like GM can sell Corvettes (26 mpg) without paying a fine for being under the standard, because all of the Malibus and other smaller cars (even the Volt) help keep the average above the standard. You can make a case that the auto companies have had it good for a long time, and the benefits of power and comfort that we enjoy are partly due to the fact that they’ve been able to focus on coaxing more power out of their cars instead of major increases in mileage. I feel that is all about to change.

The numbers recently increased in 2007, when President Bush signed in the Energy Independence and Security Act, mandating a CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standard of 35 mpg by 2020. Now, talk is centered around increasing that number up to 54.5 mpg only five years after that! While fuel mileage might have been a neglected topic in the past, it certainly isn’t on any sidelines today!

Interestingly, the 54.5 mpg number is a compromise from the 62 mpg that many environmentalists were pushing to legislate. Even more interesting is that one of those entities, www.40mpg.org, who was content with reaching 40 mpg (according to its name) is now still unhappy, even with a number that is over 14 mpg more than they were rallying for just a little more than a year ago! To top that, folks are grousing about the way that the testing is held. Remember in the early ’70s when horsepower ratings were changed from gross to net (difference between testing an engine with or without accessories bolted to it) and the numbers dropped significantly? Well, not only do some want a more than 130-percent increase in fuel mileage from 2010, but they also want to stack the deck in the way they do the testing by changing how the cars are tested! It’s amusing how, in some cases, their goals change faster than they can change their names.

There are some who feel we won’t have arrived until “flux capacitors” have replaced fuel injection entirely. Face it, we like having cars that are fun to drive! These folks have things that they enjoy (besides regulating others), and we’re content to let them do those things – all we’re asking for is the same courtesy. There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve, but let’s do it with some sense of reality instead of trying to make up for lost time. If those intent on being a driving force (pun intended) are striving to continually lead us to better fuel mileage, when we are forced to drive anemic cars that hit 50 with one, I propose they resort to bicycles! That’s leading the way to zero emissions, definite independence from foreign oil and even health benefits! Who could argue with that? By the way, go out in the showrooms of America and look at any car, then look at the only fully gas-powered car available today that has a hope of reaching over 50 miles per gallon, even by today’s standards – the Tata Nano. Powered by its 600cc twin-cylinder engine, it blazes past the 37-mph barrier in a zingy eight seconds, over halfway to its top speed of 66 mph. If anyone’s got a great idea on multiplying the mileage of today’s automobiles, I’m sure there is at least one modern-day OEM that would be interested in hearing from you.

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