A highly anticipated report by U.S. regulators buttresses calls for staying the course on fuel economy targets that automakers say are unworkable and want eased.
Based on current trends, the average car would get between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon by 2025, falling short of the original projection of 54.5, according to the draft technical assessment released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board.
However, the report said automakers can draw on an array of technologies to satisfy the target and it will cost less than expected.
“The draft report supports that the administration’s fuel economy program can continue to incentivize innovation and reduce fuel consumption while also ensuring that consumers can continue to choose the vehicles they want to drive," National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a news release.
Regulators used the assessment to reiterate their view that automakers can meet fuel-economy goals primarily by equipping a higher percentage of gasoline engines with gasoline-saving features like direct-injection and turbo-charging, and by making vehicles lighter.
The report projects that the 2022-2025 standards will be met mostly with improved conventional gasoline engines and “modest levels” of hybrid sales and “very low levels” of full electric sales. "A wider range of technologies exist for manufacturers to use" to meet the standards, "and at costs that are similar or lower than those projected in the 2012 rule."
The document shows slight differences between EPA, which is estimating lower costs of at least $894 and NHTSA, which projects at least $1,245.
Although the draft analysis focuses on model years 2022-2025, it concludes manufacturers exceeded the standards for each of the first three years of the program, and in 2014 outperformed the standards by 1.4 miles per gallon, according to an EPA news release describing the document.
In 2012, the EPA and NHTSA projected that the new standards would lower tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide by 35% by 2025, to 163 grams per mile. But on Monday, the agencies said that if U.S. gasoline prices remain low, tailpipe CO2 emissions may only fall by 29%, to 178 grams per mile. The smaller improvement means that preventing the release of each gram of carbon dioxide would be more expensive.
"Today’s report shows that gas-saving technology may even be cheaper than the government projected in 2012, and that additional cost-effective technologies have come on line since then," said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign.
In private meetings starting last year, automakers have been pleading not just for more time to meet the targets, but also for an expanded list of credits for eco-friendly technologies like efficient air conditioners, people familiar with the situation have said.
A Critical Reality Check
The Association of Global Automakers, whose members include Toyota and Honda Motor Co., responded that the midterm review presents "a critical reality check."
"Automakers are committed to the goals of the national greenhouse gas program, and continue to offer more fuel-efficient vehicle choices than ever before,” the group said in an e-mailed statement. "Yet, market conditions today are very different from when the standards were developed five years ago."
By John Lippert, Jeff Plungis and Jennifer A. Dlouhy