The fuel efficiency standards championed by President Barack Obama in 2012 will fall short of the 54.5-miles-per-gallon 2025 target the administration set because consumers are buying more pickup trucks, vans and sports utility vehicles than expected, according to a new technical assessment report by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The shift could slightly undercut one of Obama's signature climate initiatives, trimming the greenhouse gas benefits as cheaper-than-expected oil prices - and large ad campaigns - have lured car buyers toward bigger vehicles than anticipated. The two agencies said that based on current trends, the average vehicle in 2025 would consume between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon. That measurement, used by the Transportation Department, would translate into a real world fuel economy of 36 miles a gallon.
But the executive summary of the report issued Monday also said that there is no economic or technological barrier preventing automakers from continuing to boost fuel efficiency and to hit the standards for vehicles based on their size and footprints. It said that "a wider range of technologies exist" for manufacturers to meet targets "and at costs that are similar or lower" than those used to set the standards. The report said that so far automakers had "overcomplied" in each of three model years under the new rules, exceeding the targets by 1.4 miles per gallon in 2014.
The report marks the start of a so-called mid-term review of fuel efficiency standards that were designed to reshape the motor vehicle fleet and more than double fuel efficiency by 2025. In setting the standards, the Obama administration in 2012 agreed to auto industry demands that the targets be reexamined for technological and economic feasibility and possibly reset in 2017. But the administration said the possibility meant the regulations could be tightened as well as loosened.
Push and pull
The Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers has been pressing for a loosening of the standards, while experts concerned about climate change have sought to protect the gains Obama promised in what was seen as one of his biggest steps to contain greenhouse gas emissions while bolstering U.S. energy security.
"Rather than weaken its projections, the administration must strengthen the rules, to make sure we hit the president's goals for slashing oil use and global warming pollution," said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign. "President Obama's program is the biggest single step any nation has taken to fight global warming. Based on the plethora of low-cost gas-saving technologies the report documents, there is no excuse not to improve efficiency and strengthen the standards."
"The fuel economy/greenhouse gas targets for 2025 now reflect how the fleet mix has changed, largely due to low gas prices," the automobile alliance said in a statement. "The government is acknowledging the effect of factors like low gas."