The CAFE Catch-22

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The pending (2016)  35.5 MPG CAFE requirements – which for the first time apply to trucks as well as passenger cars – are going to make it very difficult for any automaker to sell trucks in volume this country. Ford has has just dropped the compact-sized Ranger from its U.S. model lineup – making it the first CAFE casualty –  and I predict that  larger trucks are on the endangered species list now, too. Just as large V-8/RWD sedans were almost completely killed off as mass market vehicles by the original – and far less punitive – CAFE requirements that went into effect a quarter century ago.

Even a small truck with a four cylinder engine will have a hard time averaging 35.5 MPG. To get there, the truck would need to be capable of 40 MPG on the highway and 30 MPG in city driving. There are only a handful of economy cars that achieve 40 MPG on the highway right now. Trucks do worse, MPG-wise, because they’re heavier (to be able to do work such as pull a trailer or carry a pallet of bricks in the bed), less aerodynamic, in part because they need to ride higher off the ground than a car – and often, ride on M/S-rated tires that have higher rolling resistance than standard passenger car radials. Fuel efficiency takes a back seat to capability.

The just-cancelled Ranger managed 23 city, 27 highway – so, about 25 MPG average. For a truck, that’s not bad. But Ford would have had to get another 10 MPG out of Ranger to make the CAFE cut – and avoid CAFE fines. I suspect Ford dropped the Ranger from its U.S. product portfolio because it realizes that getting a truck (any truck) to achieve 40 on the highway and 30 in city-type driving will probably – almost certainly – require:

* A dramatic reduction in weight via the use of composites rather than steel while maintaining the same level of crashworthiness.
* Very high-efficiency turbodiesel engines or other advanced technology, such as a hybrid powertrain.
* Significant reduction in power/capability.

All of which will significantly increase the cost of the vehicle, perhaps to the extent that it is no longer economically viable to manufacturer. The Ranger got nixed first in part because it’s a lower-on-the-totem-pole model than the best-selling F-Series. But CAFE is gunning for the F-truck, too. It gets considerably poorer fuel economy than the Ranger, which will make it that much harder (read, economically untenable) to achieve compliance with the 35.5 MPG CAFE diktat.

Even the government’s own estimates of the costs imposed by CAFE so far are startling high: $2.4 billion – and that was back in 2003, when the Congressional Budget Office issued its report, The Economic Costs of Fuel Economy Standards Versus a Gasoline Tax
(See here  ). Mind, the $2.4 billion referenced by CBO assumed the old CAFE standard of 27.5 MPGs, not the recently enacted 35.5 MPG standard – which also for the first time applies to trucks. The old CAFE standard was much more lenient, with a separate – and higher – CAFE peg for “light trucks.” The CBO study also noted, presciently, that “unit sales of light trucks would ultimately decline about twice as much as would those of cars.”

So what will the new 35.5 MPG standard cost us?

Automotive Fleet Magazine, an industry journal, estimates it will add at least another $1,000 to the sticker price of every new vehicle sold and $52 billion cumulatively.

And don’t forget : CAFE does not stop at 35.5 MPG by 2016. Chief Engineer Obama pushed for – and got – a further bump to between 47 and 62 MPG by 2025.

Want to take a guess what that will cost?

The Chevy Volt sort-of electric car gives us a clue.

It is capable of operating on electricity alone for 20 or 30 miles at a stretch and so uses very little gas. It also has a sticker price of $40,000. Even with a massive federal subsidy of $7,500 the thing still costs about as much to buy as a new BMW 3 series or similar entry luxury-vehicle. It’s thus a toy, or at best, an engineering concept. Whatever you’d like to call it, it’s not economical – and few people, other than than affluent people, can afford to buy one. It is doubtful GM would have even produced the Volt for retail sale absent the PR value – and, of course,  government subsidies.

With trucks, it’s even worse, because to a great extent the market for such vehicles is middle and working class. There are people in San Francisco and Washington with $200k annually incomes who will buy the Volt. But how many $40k-per-year electricians will be willing or even able to plunk down $30,000 for a “high efficiency” compact truck, as outlined above? Hence Ford’s decision to pull the Ranger from its U.S. model lineup – while continuing to sell it in other countries where there is no CAFE law.

It’s an impossible situation for the car companies. You can’t have both very high fuel economy and the capability people expect at a reasonable cost, while also meeting all the government’s existing crashworthiness standards, too.

The latter is especially interesting because, for the first time, two mutually exclusive government edicts – one relating to fuel economy, the other relating to crashworthiness – are coming into obvious conflict. It would be relatively easy to chop a few hundred pounds off the typical truck and without doing anything else, score a significant increase in fuel economy. It would also be possible, with a lower curb weight, to use a smaller (or less powerful) engine and still maintain approximately the same performance while further increasing fuel economy (by dint of the fact that a smaller, less powerful engine would use less fuel). This would also have the happy effect of lowering the price of the vehicle since it costs nothing to remove weight, or equipment that adds weight, such as the now-mandatory multiple air bags that all vehicles come equipped with.

But maintaining the vehicle’s compliance with existing and pending federal crashworthiness requirements while also significantly reducing its curb weight won’t be easily or cheaply done. It will probably require wholesale re-engineering of the vehicle, not merely replacing steel with high-strength, lightweight (and very expensive) composites. Major R&D will be involved and the end result, though possibly both “safe” and “efficient” will also cost a small fortune, just like the Chevy Volt.

The people on the top floor of the Ford building are not idiots. They’ve crunched the numbers. They see the future. There is none for the Ranger – and soon, bigger trucks, too. Bet your bippie GM and Chrysler are hip, too.

I predict it’s all over for trucks as mass-market vehicles.

We just don’t realize it yet.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. These CAFE standards are company-wide right? So car companies that don’t make a whole range of cars are at a distinct disadvantage. I mean if you make a car that can do 45 MPG and you want to sell it, the company that makes a similar car, but also makes gas-guzzlers, will sell even at a loss to enable the guzzlers sales.? Meanwhile a company with one car design that’s a guzzlers can’t sell it. So how is that not a massive subsidy to the big car companies and a tax on potential little ones.

    • Exactly, Michael.

      CAFE is much more injurious to companies that do not have small/high-economy models to compensate for the “gas hogs” it also sells.

      But even the companies that do (e.g., GM, Ford) are also under a lot of pressure to winnow down the number of vehicles they sell that are in the “gas hog” category.

      This, incidentally, explains why V8s (and lately, V6s) are becoming rare in even mid-priced vehicles.

      In a few years, for the most part, only high-end/expensive vehicles will offer more than six-cylinder power.

  2. I suspect some industrious company will essentially sell “kits”. You buy everything but the engine at location X and next door at location Y you can buy the engine – we’ll even put it in for you.

  3. Remember how proud of themselves the thugs in Congress were when they passed this latest CAFE requirement? They really believe that through a stroke of their legislative pen, they’ve bestowed huge benefits upon us lowly citizens. IDIOTS! By their logic, if they next mandate 100 MPG average, then magically it’ll somehow happen.

    What do we need to do to get these thugs off our backs?

    • The only way this is going to be fixed is if, somehow, we can de-Cloverize the country. Meaning: No more collective/proxy decision making. Each of us is sovereign, subject to interference in our actions only when we cause harm or damage to someone else. No more “help” at gunpoint. No more presumptive criminality.

      There are probably millions who’d agree to live this way. But unfortunately, there are millions more who not only wouldn’t agree, they will actively try to interfere with your life, seize your property and deprive you of your liberty – always in the name of some collective greater good. As they define it.

  4. I hadn’t considered the BMW approach. Good point.

    As for trailers, I generally agree, but around here I’ve seen minivans forced into work duty pulling trailers and hauling material in the back. I’m talking landscaping stuff, roofing stuff, etc. it’s not common but is becoming more so. They typically seem to be overloaded, pulling loads much heavier than they’re designed to while also hauling 5+ laborers and more crap in the back, usually with the rear doors open. This does a few things. It means you kill the gas mileage. You wear our the vehicle not built for this use. And you get a van-trailer assembly moving along at inordinately slow speeds on the highway weaving side to side as the suspension and engine try to cope.

    Whatever happens, I see no good coming from these regs.

  5. For sure, we don’t “need” high performance cars. And it would be a drab world indeed if we couldn’t have or aspire to more than just what we “need.”

    On the other hand CAFE requirements will not undermine the sports car market as much as they will trucks. Performance cars do not have to be as heavy, high off the ground or as un-aerodynamic as trucks do.

    The new Camaros and Mustangs, in light of their performance capabilities, get remarkably good MPG. So we’re not talking about exactly the same scenario.

    • True, but same principle (i.e, “need” becoming the basis for what people “ought” to be driving).

      The tragedy (as I see it) is that we could have 30-plus MPG trucks right now, if only they could be built without all the government-mandated “safety” equipment and so on. Imagine something along the lines of a current small-medium sized truck like the Ranger or Dakota, but 300-400 pounds lighter and powered by a diesel four or five-cylinder engine. It’d have the strength/pulling power for serious work, accelerate adequately and also get reasonable fuel economy, too.

      Unfortunately, the government over-ruled consumers and decided it knows best what people ought to be driving; that “safety” (among other things) is worth almost any cost, including much-lower-than-necessary MPGs.

      • Yep, government over-ruling consumers is bad. But there is another side to this coin….namely “dictatorship by the majority” of consumers. For instance, I am a libertarian who happens to like having airbags. And I would gladly pay more (within reason) for a car with even more crash worthiness.

        But back in the day, the gov had to “force” Detroit to install seat belts in cars, because the manufacturers claimed that consumers wouldn’t willingly pay for them. If I were driving back then, I sure would have wanted seat belts, and would have resented the builders refusal to offer an option that a significant minority would have purchased.

        So I don’t believe we have manufacturers who are actually responsive to the true needs of the market.

        In a perfect world, the government would not mandate safety or fuel economy standards. In the real world, without those standards, we might still be driving 13 mpg cars with no airbags……….because the builders claimed that’s “what we wanted.”

        • The reason why auto manufacturers claimed people weren’t willing to pay for seat belts, is because they had first-hand knowledge of this, as seat belts were optional equipment for a number of years in many cars before Mordor made them required equipment.

          Detroit didn’t install seat belts in every car because not everyone wanted them, so why add to the cost of every vehicle? Hell I know quite a few people who still don’t use them today, Click It Or Ticket be damned. As far as I know they were optional equipment in every manufacturer’s stable by the mid 50s, and if your car was built before January 1, 1964 you are still not required to have them.

          Growing up my old man had a 1956 Pontiac Chieftain and then a 1957 Bel Air, neither of which had seat belts and in which I rode many hundreds of miles. I’m not dead.

          As far as manufacturers responding to what consumers want, and your claim that it would be 13 mpg cars without Big Brother, a tale for you…

          Once upon a time, Chevrolet realized that it was missing out on a huge market segment that was eating up smaller more fuel-efficient cars, most notably the VW Beetle. So they rolled up their sleeves and got to work developing a car to fill this neglected niche. They spent more money developing this car than they did the Corvette. When released it received rave reviews and sold like hotcakes.

          But like any new design it experienced some teething problems and a few people not used to driving a rear-engined car with different handling dynamics than most domestic offerings, and who didn’t heed the manufacturer’s warnings about tire pressure, stacked these cars up in ditches and killed themselves. Along came Ralph Nader and the rest is history.

          So it’s a little unfair to suggest that domestic manufacturers don’t respond to trends. The Corvair is the best example I can think of where you find domestic auto manufacturers going in a completely different direction than American automotive engineering was heading at the time. Maybe the 60s horsepower craze would have killed the Corvair anyway, who can say? But people wanted a product and Chevrolet initially hit a home run. Who knows what we’d have today had all those forces not gotten together in the 60s to kill it.

          • I don’t wear a seat belt. Not because I don’t acknowledge that wearing one would likely (though not necessarily) be helpful in the event I wreck. But simply because I prefer not to – and it’s my business, no one else’s, whether I do or not. What infuriates me is that this concept – MYOB – is one so many Ahhhhhhhmmmmerrrrikuns (like Clover) cannot comprehend. This omnipresent busybodyness at gunpoint that characterizes modern America is just insufferable.

        • I am so sick of these myths that I am going to post even though That One Guy already addressed much of it.

          Airbags were initially offered by Ford and GM in the early 1970s. That’s not a typo, the early 1970s. These systems are covered in a 1975 repair manual I own. This is where automakers discovered the problems with them. That didn’t stop our overlords from forcing them upon us. And not only forcing them on us, but forcing on us the ones automakers KNEW were dangerous. The automakers made a point of this and it was just dismissed as them trying to make more money by endangering their customers.

          The government employees and office holders do not think and develop safety systems that we know of today. The people at the automakers (and those selling to automakers) do and offer them on at least some models and then control freaks think that everyone must have them. Everyone must choose as they have.

          Automakers made a number of attempts to sell safety prior to the start of regulations. It largely did not work. But once safety successfully sold automakers have had little trouble selling safety systems above and beyond the regulations. The new requirements have been systems control freaks, our fellow citizens, and government overlords decided to force upon everyone because of their desire to make everyone choose as they do. Essentially through their basic dislike of a free society.

          Nobody is stopping anyone from educating the car buying public, that is convincing them to buy these things. But that’s too difficult so the concepts of a free society are thrown under the bus without concern of the door that is opened up by doing so. Imagine for a moment I could get the power of government and I was someone who would force his preferences on others. The first thing I would do is ban the automatic transmission without prescription. Only people with a demonstrated medical need could drive one. Why? Because the automatic transmission enables so many to drive so badly and as a government control freak educating people is too hard, so simply ban the product they are mis-using. There’s no reason that couldn’t be done if people of like mind had the current power of government.

          As to what we would be driving today if there wasn’t CAFE and other regulations? Probably something much better. First of all the SUV craze would have *NEVER* happened. People would be driving modern versions of the full size sedans and wagons and not these enclosed trucks. Pickups would still be something almost entirely sold to people with a business need. SUVs would be the same plus outdoorsmen. Fleet fuel economy would be HIGHER than it is today because of this.

          Airbags would probably be common but not universal. Why? Because chrysler finally was successful selling safety in the 1980s after all the previous failures. Automakers have always led government in safety, it’s just that people weren’t buying. Once people were buying automakers have bent over backwards offering everything they could come up with. But what would a free market airbag look like? First it would likely be safe to put children in the front seat. Airbags would not be designed for unbelted passengers. They would operate at much lower or variable power and would be truly safety devices instead of the dangerous things they are today.

          Lastly, if the government really wanted to encourage fuel economy it would have used a tax on fuel. CAFE attacks vehicle choice. CAFE is an expression of control freaks who can’t stand that people might choose differently than they do.

        • I understand, but I’d argue you’re turning things upside down. You should be free to to buy whatever type of car (and feature) you wish – but if something you want isn’t available, your recourse ought to be to either let the manufacturer know you’d like it and try to convince them to offer it, or offer it yourself. Using the police power of the government to impose your personal wants on others is something I very much oppose. Because once you go down that road, you get to where we are now – unlimited government and endless busybody-ism.

          On seat belts and air bags:

          To a very great extent, these are unnecessary if you are a good driver. “Accidents” are the result of driver error and driver error can be avoided. True accidents ( tree falling on your car, etc.) are rare. There are people (me included) who manage to drive for decades or even their entire lives without ever having a major accident. Thus, air bags (and seat belts) are items that such a person can reasonably and rationally decide to skip, since (especially with regard to air bags) the cost of these items is considerable. Why should the cost-benefit analysis – the choice – be anyone’s to make but mine?

          Let me go a little farther, just to make a point (and with no intent on my part to be insulting; just bear with me):

          Why should I be forced to buy air bags you think I need? What if I think you need “x” and then start up an annoying “public citizen” group that petitions the government to pass a law to force you to have “x”?

          Once you start this process, it has no limit – no end.

          Instead, if the market is left to provide what people freely choose, then either people get what they want or, if they can’t get it, they’re free to seek it by either making it themselves or convincing someone else to provide it. No use of coercion is involved this way. People get to live – and let live. Free exchange, mutually beneficial cooperation.

          Wouldn’t that be preferable to the almost-Soviet America we have today?

          • True accidents may be rare but having experienced one and been the victim of other people’s idiotcy behind the wheel a number of times (typically rear-ended) I will always be wearing a seatbelt or better. The airbags, I’d rather do without.

            Which brings something to mind, Ferrari was to intending offer the F40 in the USA with a harness. far superior than the 3 point belt. US federal government said no, three point belt only. Score another one for our regulators!

            It’s one of many examples where safety through racing technology is opposed because the government/clover types not only cannot think beyond their regulations, they see it in a bad light because it came from racing. An example of automakers dealing with this problem is the “Brembo Brake Package” on mustangs. There is what the advertising and ordering copy says it includes and then what it really includes. The clovers at the insurance companies just see ‘safety’ of improved braking rather than irresponsibility of a ‘track pack’.

  6. I think the car manufacturers need to hire some competent engineers.
    I would bet money that the Toyota and Honda line of cars can compete at the new gas mileage standards if necessary.
    For instance, gasoline is temperature sensitive. The higher the temperature, the more gasoline explodes in the engine. That means that gasoline entering the engine at say 120 degrees will generally explode more efficiently than gas at 20 degrees. This is in fahrenheit not stupid European Centigrade.
    The question is taking the engine back to the drawing board and altering the existing design to work more efficiently. A lot of gasoline goes out the tail pipe in today’s models.
    Octane has something to do with it as well. The higher the gasoline rate of explosion, the lower the octane. In other words, High octane is a slower explosion in the engine.
    I feel that we have cosmetic engineers over at Ford, and most of the other manufacturers. Cosmetic engineers are trained to make minor changes, not a complete overhaul of the idea of a car.
    And that is what it is going to take. We need a complete makeover of the engine to take advantage of engineering to meet the standards.
    I suggest that the ranger is a nice little 4 cylinder truck. As such its main claim to fame is it is workable. I suggest that the existing used lineup of Rangers will become more valuable as time goes on and Ford falls on its face, again. The next target is probably the Taurus as it is also a good working vehicle. You see the pattern? Ford wants a series of failures so people have to go buy something different. Never mind that buying new every few years is really not economically sound for most families these days.
    Government needs to step away from the car industry not get more involved. I think the entire EPA regulation is illegal. Not their fault that Congress wrote about 3 semi truck loads of conflicting regulations because it was popular to write new EPA rules. I suggest we simply do away with the entire agency and let the market rule the marketplace for awhile.
    But then these parasites would be without a job.

    • I agree it’s technical feasible. The issue, as I see it, is: At what cost?

      One of the simplest, easiest and least expensive ways to improve fuel economy would be to cut several hundred pounds of weight per car. This would be doable if the car companies did not have to comply with federal bumper-impact and “safety” requirements, which have added, on average, several hundred pounds of weight to the average current-year car relative to what a similar type of car weighed 20 years ago.

      I’ve long argued it ought to be up to consumers to choose whether they want such things as air bags – and also whether they’d prefer a theoretically less “safe” car (theoretical, because accidents do not necessarily happen and good drivers can usually avoid having them) in favor of the everyday certainty of higher fuel efficiency and lower cost.

      Example: If you took a car like the current Ford Fiesta and cut its weight by 400 pounds, it would likely deliver 50 MPG rather than 40 MPG (highway). If you made things like air bags optional for those who want to buy them, you could bring the cost of the car down by several thousand dollars. Instead of $15k to start, it would (or could) cost $11k.

      And so on.

    • CAFE is largely supported by the same kind of people who run corporations. People who are good at working their way up in institutions but incapable of doing the actual work or even understanding the complexity and difficulty of it. In other words much like the post I am replying to demonstrates. This applies to both US and Japanese companies these days.

      The fact that something cannot be willed into being by someone who doesn’t even understand delta-T in the thermal efficiency of a thermodynamic cycle is not a condemnation of the engineers tasked with doing the tasks. However willing something into existence is often the first step at creating a crappy product.

      WRT Ford Motor Company: Ford has launched a fair number new engines in the last couple-three years. This includes their eco-boost DI engines. DI is way more than just “cosmetic” although it would appear so to those that sit on high telling the technical people that they don’t know enough and don’t work hard enough.

      Which leads into a basic problem (it’s a design feature really) with american education and corporate culture and the economy as a whole. Technical competence, making product, is often considered to be a fungible skill set. What’s valued by our institutionalized culture are people who can work the institutions politically and socially, not the people who can do the work.

      Technically competent engineers never seem to advance in their careers. They get stuck. Why? Because they are too busy making the products work instead of advancing their careers playing politics and building relationships. So any lament about a lack of engineers who can do more than “cosmetic” changes or why kids aren’t choosing that career path tends to put me into a ranting mood.

      Why do hard work that requires obtaining knowledge and learning things when one can just play social games? Why bother doing the hard work? Just be well liked, make the right friends, say the right things. When you want to know who at the automakers agreed to Obama’s outrageous CAFE numbers, that’s who did it. Not the engineers who will be working to meet them, but the people who go along to get along. Who care more about relationships and perceptions. Institutionalized people who couldn’t even understand how a distributor works even if they hold an engineering degree. A degree they have because they were good at the institution of school, not because they had any knack for it. Then again why get an engineering degree at all? It’s way too hard compared to finance or some other business degree where there is actual reward in this economy.

  7. Please don’t brand me a “clover” for making the following statement…….. 😉
    A LOT of people who really don’t “need” trucks are driving trucks at this time. My guess is at least 25%.
    They are driving them for image…or perceived safety…or because they like “riding up high.” Or because they have cargo or off road needs that could alternatively be met by a lighter vehicle than a truck.
    So increasing the price of trucks to meet fed regs will cause those folks to switch to other vehicles.
    This will mean less trucks will be sold…thus it will be a little easier for manufacturers to meet CAFE requirements. Less volume means builders probably will need to increase their per truck profit margin. Hopefully, the higher price point will enable them to make the trucks better in other ways too.
    Granted, it sucks that feds are dictating to the market.
    But once again, I don’t think it’s going to be “the end of the world.” 🙂

    • True – but the same reasoning can also be applied to, say, sports cars. Who really needs 300 or 400 hp? The capability to run 150? (or even 100?) The maximum lawful speed limit in this country is 80 in a few places in Texas.

      I’d rather leave the what to buy up to the individuals who buy – and let the car companies rather than Washington build vehicles to suit the needs and wants of buyers.

      • My guess is probably closer to 90%. In fact, from what I observed, after living and working throughout the State of Nevada for 30 years, it’s probably higher. I’m not saying no one needs a pickup but , with the exception of a Lineman, a Wyoming Rancher or someone else who needs to haul things but cannot pull a trailer, nearly everyone buys a one of these things purchases because of a perceived need which never comes about or because of an irrational want. Advertising agencies have created the idea driving off-road is something trucks do best. In reality, driving off-road means traveling on a dirt or gravel road – something a 40 year old VW Beatle can do. There is a relative handful of owners who actually use these vehicles to ford streams or climb hills. As one writer put it, The only off road duty most four-wheel-drive vehicles see is when their owners pull them onto the front lawn to wash them.
        There is practically nothing a Pickup can do which a car pulling a trailer cannot – except pay lower taxes – which is why a friend of mine purchased pickups for his employees instead of Golf Diesels. Not only were the initial costs lower, but (as in some States) the taxes were cheaper. Even after factoring in the fuel costs (cheap compared to other Oil Importing Countries), it was less expensive overall to buy these fuel swilling pigs than something more logical. While I was living in Carson City, my neighbor (an accountant who owned pickups since high school) purchased a new Chevrolet truck. His vehicle taxes were less than I was paying on my 5 year old Porsche. And I would have paid $1 more each year had I been honest and told the DMV I had a 5 Speed gearbox and not a 4. Great! My 911 burned half the fuel, had nearly half the weight and about 2/3 the footprint. The following year, I register the car in Oregon. A flat $10 a year. Piss on them.
        This conversation would not be taking place though if those corrupt, self-serving hypocrites in Washington would simply raise the tax on gasoline and let buyers decide what vehicle they want to drive. I’m certain they would love to raise taxes but returning a freedom US Citizens had before 1967? – only in a dream. Instead, those DC ballsacks will squawk about how they are fighting to keep America’s gasoline prices low by passing tougher CAFE Standards and the American Public will cheer them on. It seems America really does like anal sex.

    • Most of those who drive trucks (including SUVs) but don’t “need” to do so because of the previous distortions of CAFE.

      One of government’s favorite things is to justify new power and new meddling because of the result of its previous meddling.

      • Indeed!

        It’s not well-known (and of course, Clover will never acknowledge it, even when it’s made known to him) but the main reason SUVs are now half the market (vs. being niche vehicles previously) is the orginal round of CAFE regs., which had the effect of killing off the formerly common large sedan/wagon – which had been an American family staple for decades. So, people who wanted something big and powerful moved into SUVs, which at the time were not subject to quite as stringent CAFE regs. This “loophole” made it feasible for the automakers to build them in quantity. So, while Clovers whine about “gas guzzling” SUVs and trucks, they have only themselves to blame.

        Another irony: With all the updates of the past 25 years, it is not hard to produce a large sedan that gets reasonable fuel economy, even when it still has to meet all existing federal “safety” and emissions regulations. But instead of people driving 30 MPG large sedans, thanks to CAFE, they are driving 20 MPG SUVs!

      • I like that word “need” in this discussion. In the Land of Liberty (cough) one shouldn’t “need” to worry about whether or not they “need” a truck or an SUV. The simple fact that I “want” one and I’m willing to for it in a competitive market should be all I “need”.

        I had a 16 y.o. kid t-bone my ’83 Dodge 4X4 some years ago. I was trying to work with his mom and dad to keep the accident off his insurance. His dad (a clover) was sitting in my living room lamenting how expensive even older 4X4 pickups were (he was driving a new Chevy 4X4). He had the audacity to ask me if I really “needed” four wheel drive. His insurance company “needed” to pick up the bill at that point.

        What we really “need” is for government to get out of the way of the free market and let us buy any truck, SUV or car with the features that we want. We also “need” the government clovers that come up with these regulations to move to North Korea. They “need” to experience, first hand, what bureaucratic meddling in the market ultimately leads to.

        • The problem is that SUV and pickup truck owners defend their vehicle choice by saying how they “need” it. This stupid idea that they need to justify their choice. Naturally when presenting it as a need it is open to attack. The critic merely needs to put forth alternatives or belittle how rare the need is. All the owners needed to say is that they wanted it. Now what’s the critic going to do? The critic has to attack free choice head on and that’s still an uphill battle even in cloverite america.

  8. I imagine that the only complaint the Clovers will have is that this isn’t happening fast enough. I think they won’t be happy until the privately owned automobile–of any size or configuration–is a thing of the past. They’ve never liked the freedom of movement that the automobile gives to the average citizen.

    They’re much, much happier with collectivized forms of transport so that people can’t travel except when and where the government allows.

  9. Some speculation:

    1. The manufacturers will have to figure out how to build a “truck equivalent” that can meet these standards, and I suspect they’ll want to introduce them in their model lineups before the cutoff. Thus while 2016 may be the target date, we may start seeing some of the solutions in the next few years. My point is that it may be approaching the best time to buy a real truck in the next 3 years before they are all killed off by the manufacturers who can’t figure out a viable way to build a 35.5 mpg real truck. If you’ll be in the market for a truck in the next 4-5 years, keep that in mind.

    2. I’m not familiar with the precise divisions in the CAFE classes, but I believe 2016’s rules apply to light trucks. I’m guessing they don’t apply to heavy trucks. This those who can will probably step up to heavy duty trucks due to costs (think 2-ton rated trucks such as big delivery trucks an up). These get worse gas mileage than current light trucks and are over-built for the needs of typical light truck based businesses. This you’ll see an actual drop in real world has mileage as businesses are forced to use bigger and less fuel efficient trucks to do the same job. Not to mention these trucks use more material and energy to build, this are less environmentally friendly to produce at a factory.

    3. Those that can’t escape by moving up on size may start to use trailers to haul more material. These will be matched with lesser vehicles not capable of pulling heavy loads and either they will be a) overloaded to make fewer trips, or b) kept at a reasonable load but with more back and forth trips. The latter will clearly result in more gas being burned. However, in both cases, the heavier the weight, the worse the gas mileage. Smaller engines suffer even more than large ones. Thus mileage will plummet from EPA ratings, especially on the overloaded ones, and more wear and tear will be placed on more delicate vehicles less suited to hard work. Either way it’s a loss for the environment and the consumers.

    4. We may slowly turn to the Cuban solution of just continually repairing old model vehicles rather than ever buying anything new due to prohibitive costs of new cara and trucks. And auto journalists may be unemployed.

    • There are three ways the market will likely react to this meddling IMO.

      1) Trucks will get bigger. Those who can afford and put up with it will get bigger trucks than they need. This way they retain the desired capabilities. Same way people moved to enclosed trucks (aka SUVs) shortly after the great CAFE extinction of 1985.

      2) The rebuilding of vehicles no longer available. Expect this practice to be made illegal or regulated into being uneconomical / unviable. The US government is way too control freakish to allow what Cuba does for very long. The new laws will be based on “safety” and “consumer protection”. Oh and of course, protecting the environment.

      3) All manufacturers will adopt BMW’s CAFE plan, build what buyers want and pass the cost of the fines on to the buyers. Government’s reaction if it doesn’t love all the new revenue will be to drastically increase the fines. Inflation has really made the fines to where people will pay to get what they want instead of some CAFEmobile.

      I suspect a combination of all three will be put into play. That is if we are driving at all in a few years time.

      As to other stop-gap solutions: Trailers are unlikely because most vehicles made since the mid 1980s have very limited towing capability. I do think we may see a return of the Ranchero and El Camino. Unit body passenger car platforms serving as light duty trucks.

  10. I got a new work truck this year, an F-150. It gets about 20-22MPG on the highway, not bad for a basic V8 engine. But all the body panels are thin plastic, so I’d better not bump anything.

    I’m sure it could get better mileage by shutting down cylinders when they aren’t necessary, but that adds cost and hits performance. They already have 2 overdrive gears on the thing, so that’s not going to get much better. The only other solution would be to go with a diesel engine, but I don’t know of any good fits from the US. Most (or all) of the US truck diesels are all about power, not efficiency.

    If the US were really interested in getting the most of a gallon of gas, there’s a lot that could be done in building more fuel-efficient roads. Longer highway entrance ramps (so you don’t need to “punch it” to get to highway speeds, lower friction road surfaces, etc could make a difference to everyone, no matter what they drive. And lower fuel taxes on diesel fuel (and offer tax breaks for refineries who increase their diesel production). But that would require the King to take action, and we all know that’s not going to happen.

    • Eric G,

      Longer highway entrance ramps are not always possible.

      Would lower friction road surfaces lead to slipperier road conditions? I would think yes, but I am not sure on that point.


      I think you summed it up well:
      less weight, more efficient engine, less capability/power

      Can it be done? I think it is possible, but at what cost?
      For a basic truck, I think that over $15,000 is too much. I think that about $10,000 is about right.

      If composite metals and other more pricey methods are done, I could see the price for a basic truck starting around $30,000.

      At that price, I might as well get a trailer. It might not be as user friendly as a light truck or easy to control, but it would be cheaper. Although in NJ, I would need to have the trailer registered.

      • I’m just throwing out an idea. But keep in mind most of the pavement in the country is of one type, whatever was specified by the winning bidder. I’m not recommending slick track for mountain highways, but on a long desert stretch it may make some sense to work on pavement drag as a factor in improving fuel economy. After all, steel wheels on a steel rail is a huge factor in why railroads are more efficient than trucks. And a large amount of the fuel efficiency of a Prius is in the low rolling resistance tires.

        I guess my main point is that there’s a lot that goes into fuel economy ratings, and rethinking road material, grade and other factors should be considered along with beating up manufacturers over their fleet efficiency.

        Until then, I’ll be waiting for my turbine-generator driven hybrid.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here