The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) posted new, higher fuel economy standards for model year (MY) 2011 cars and light trucks last week. The new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are expected to raise the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks to 27.3 miles per gallon (mpg), an increase of 2 mpg from MY 2010.
Throughout the life of the new vehicles, the change will save about 887 million gallons of fuel, cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 8.3 million metric tons.
The new standards mark the first step in achieving the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which requires the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks to be at least 35 mpg by MY 2020.
The new standards reclassify more than a million two-wheel-drive vehicles as passenger cars rather than trucks, a change that tended to pull down the average fuel economy of passenger cars. Despite that change, the standards are expected to increase the average fuel economy of MY 2011 passenger cars to 30.2 mpg — up from 27.5 mpg — while raising the average fuel economy of light trucks (vans, pickups and sport utility vehicles) to 24.1 mpg.
While the new standards impose a range of fuel economies based on the size of the vehicles, each manufacturer’s domestic passenger cars also must achieve a minimum average fuel economy of 27.8 mpg or greater.
The standards were published in the Federal Register on March 30 and will take effect May 29.
To allow automakers sufficient time to meet the new standard, the DOT had to issue the new CAFE standards by March 30, which forced the agency to rely on analyses generated under the Bush administration. The DOT is now formulating CAFE standards for the 2012 model year and beyond, which are based on an updated analysis of fuel-saving technologies, market conditions and automaker plans for new vehicles.
The DOT also plans to draw on the results of an analysis of fuel-saving technologies performed by the National Academy of Science. The committee formed to produce that report generated a 28-page “letter report” in February 2008 but has fallen behind schedule in its production of a final report, which is now planned for completion by September.