The Votes Are in: America Doesn’t Care About Fuel Efficiency

Start/stop button
Start/stop button | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

In what can best be described as unsurprising, America has voiced its opinion and openly admits that it isn’t exactly concerned about fuel efficiency requirements. According to Automotive News, even though automakers are on track to meet the required 54.5 MPG average fuel economy targets by 2025, “buyer preferences for SUVs and trucks make it likely that the industry will fall short of that number.” Excuse us while we wipe away these tears of lack of surprise.

U.S. regulators said in a report Monday that despite significant pressure from the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the California Air Resources Board, things aren’t looking promising for targeted efficiency scores. Everything seemed to be going great for these groups too, especially after a Technical Assessment Report released details on the costs, technology, and a slew of other considerations required to bolster the industry’s push toward reducing vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel gains by the 2025 model year.

2016 Veloster Rally
2016 Veloster Rally | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

According to a statement from the government on July 18, the auto industry is “adopting fuel economy technologies at unprecedented rates, [meaning that] car makers and suppliers have developed far more innovative technologies to improve fuel economy and reduce GHG emissions than anticipated just a few years ago.” It’s promising to finally see some confirmation, especially since scientists agree that the earth’s air quality isn’t going to get any better over the upcoming decade.

The report also supports automakers’ claims that they will be able to meet the current efficiency regulations for around the same cost or less than what the government first projected back in 2012. This basically means that modern advancements in gasoline engine technology have made it possible for manufacturers to not rely so heavily on sales of hybrids or electric cars in order to meet these goals.

Fuel economy tracker
Fuel economy tracker | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Nevertheless, despite all of the pressure from environmental groups and politicians and the amazing advancements in combustion engine technologies, government officials now say that the 54.5 MPG efficiency goal is officially off the table. This is partially due to the fact that lower fuel costs have bolstered SUV, crossover, and truck sales far more than previously predicted, which means that the advancements in fuel economy gains won’t be factored into fleet averages, all of which are sales-weighted.

Automotive News says that senior administration officials told reporters that the 54.5 MPG goal was “never a mandate but more of an estimate of where the industry could be by the 2025 model year.” The entire estimate was based on an assumption that 67% of the market would be cars and 33% would be larger vehicles by that time, a prediction that has been blown out by the surprisingly low fuel costs America has been blessed with in recent years.

Low fuel
Low fuel | Micah Wright/ Autos Cheat Sheet

Even with things like clever turbo technology allowing buyers the ability to get power bands that rival V6 and V8 variants, America’s love affair with big-ass engines still stands strong, especially since technologies like cylinder deactivation have now come into play. While this certainly doesn’t give much support to mileage goals, it still helps more than it hurts, as the government reassesses the overall fleet average fuel economy objectives, and predicts that averages will instead land somewhere between 50-52.6 by the 2025 model year.

Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, argues that the auto industry has the ability to shape consumer preferences via marketing campaigns and could easily meet the 54.5 MPG target if it simply stopped pushing SUVs and trucks so much. “There is no excuse not to improve efficiency and strengthen the standards,” Becker says, “We can’t accept backsliding or loopholes that undermine their success just to put more gas-guzzlers on the road.”

However, trucks and SUVs are a crucial component in the DNA that makes up today’s American economy. These vehicles have become so closely intertwined with our daily existence that the thought of opting for something smaller or less powerful sounds unreasonable to many — most, even — of whom don’t even use these vehicles for their intended purpose. We want big trucks like the rugged Nissan Titan PRO-4X purely because we like the way they look, and how superior they make us feel to everyone else on the highway. It doesn’t matter that most buyers won’t ever haul anything heavier than a couch on the weekend, or put it in 4-Low in order to conquer a quagmire.

Our rekindled flame for performance cars alone showcases what really matters to America, and since the EPA won’t make a final decision on what’s required for the 2022-2025 model year until April 1, 2018, we have time to keep buying and driving what we want. Let’s just hope that when the EPA does finally announce its decision on efficiency in a couple years, that a balance can be found, and that it doesn’t just get thrown in our face as an April Fool’s joke.