CAFE standards: 54.5 mpg cars exist, but public prefers gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks

[Passenger vehicles sold in 2025 in the United States are supposed to get 54.5 miles per gallon on average.  But they won’t.  It will be closer to 35.4 miles per gallon, as the Union of Concerned Scientists explains in Translating New Auto Standards into On-Road Fuel Efficiency.  

Peak fuel efficiency was reached in August 2014, when the average fuel economy of new vehicles sold was 25.8 miles per gallon in real-world driving. But the figure has steadily declined to 24.3 since then (Vlasic 2016).

Cars that meet the 54.5 mpg standard already exist, but Americans aren’t buying them, preferring comfort over the lost lives of American soldiers fighting in oil wars, according to former President Jimmy Carter and General Wald.

Cafe standards are dishonest, based on greenhouse gas emissions (ghg) rather than the actual miles per gallon.  A car that gets only 20 mpg, can be rated as 30 mpg if it emits low levels of ghg, or if the auto maker pays extra money for emissions credits. Cars are actually getting 24.3 mpg (down from 25.2 after gas prices went down), but are credited for 31 mpg overall because of this.

Paying more attention to greenhouse gases rather than energy efficiency means longer, bigger wars in the Middle East (where over two-thirds of remaining oil is) to keep gas guzzling SUVs and light trucks running, and brings the brick wall of civilization crashing from lack of transportation oil sooner.  If trucks stop running, civilization dies within a few weeks.

In July 2016 the government came out with a report that Americans are NOT buying efficient cars, they are buying gas guzzlers instead because gasoline is cheap.  Now auto maker lobbyists are trying to get congress to lower Cafe standards, even though they mainly advertise gas guzzling SUVs and trucks that give them a higher profit margin.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer]

There are too many loopholes in cafe standards. Senator FEINSTEIN. The Bush administration found that 99% of flexible-fuel vehicles on the road today never use a drop of E-85 ethanol. As a result, the administration found that this loophole actually increases America’s oil dependence by 14 to 17 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Ford uses its fuel economy credits for these flex-fuel vehicles to lower fuel economy standards for the rest of the automobiles so that we are not really doing much to increase vehicle economy (S. HRG. 109-412)

Plumer, B. September 12, 2012. Even with strict new rules, U.S. still lags on fuel economy. Washington Post.

Back in August, the Obama administration announced strict new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks.

So how does these rules stack up internationally?

The International Council on Clean Transportation* has put together a handy graph comparing the new U.S. standards to those in other countries. On paper, at least the Obama administration’s new rules don’t look quite as ambitious. Japan and the European Union have higher targets in place. China, meanwhile, has also proposed stricter standards, although they haven’t been enacted yet:

What makes these comparisons tricky, however, is that the official targets don’t always do a good job telling us what sort of mileage cars are actually getting on the road.

So how will U.S. automakers meet these stricter standards, anyway? A recent report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that car manufacturers will largely get there by ramping up the number of microhybrids, “which utilize start-stop technology to allow the battery to power accessories while the vehicle is stopped, enabling the engine to be automatically shut down.” Plug-in electric cars will also get more popular, but EIA doesn’t expect them to dominate. For the near term, microhybrids are the future

The big, overarching rationale for the fuel-economy standards is that they’ll reduce U.S. oil consumption and curb greenhouse gases. The EIA expects that the new fuel economy standards will save the United States 2.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2035. Indeed, as Citigroup and other analysts have noted, it would be nearly impossible to reach Mitt Romney’s dream of North American energy independence by 2020 without these rules in place. (Romney, for his part, has criticized the stricter standards as “extreme.”)

Yet not everyone thinks that far-reaching government regulations are the best way to reach that goal. In Wednesday’s New York Times, Eduardo Porter argues that simply raising the gas tax would be a much more economically elegant way of reducing our oil consumption. Other analysts, including the Congressional Budget Office, have basically agreed with that assessment.

The usual counter to this argument is that it’s much more difficult, politically, to raise the gas tax than it is to ratchet up fuel-economy standards. So inefficient regulations win out. But Felix Salmon actually goes a step further and offers a defense of fuel-economy rules on the merits. For one, he notes, U.S. automakers will have to figure out improvements in fuel economy no matter what if they want to be competitive internationally, given that Europe and Japan are ratcheting up their standards. Second, he notes, “Fuel-efficiency standards are a way of preventing car companies from being forced to hedge their bets by working on gas guzzlers as well as efficient runabouts. As a result, those companies can take the money they’d otherwise spend on developing six-ton monsters, and invest it instead in the efficient cars of the future.” So, he argues, standards are a useful complement to the gas tax.


Greene, D. L. February 9, 2005. Improving the nation’s energy security: can cars and trucks be made more fuel efficient? Committee on science, House of Representatives, Serial No. 109-3. 140 pages.

HRG. 109-412. March 7, 2006. Energy independence. U.S. SENATE Committee on energy & natural resources.

Vlasic, B. March 22, 2016. Low Gas Prices Create a Detour on the Road to Greater Fuel Economy. New York Times.

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