2010 Toyota Prius ad comparing its emissions to those of a sheep (cropped)Enlarge Photo
The past couple of years, auto industry headlines have focused on 2025 and its high benchmarks for corporate average fuel economy.
But there's a nearer-term deadline that's fast approaching, and it comes with its own set of emissions and fuel-economy standards. The good news is that many cars on the road already meet those goals, and those that don't may have a fairly easy time reaching the finish line.
Speaking to Detroit News, the EPA's Jeff Alson said that 25% of new vehicles sold in the U.S. either meet the upcoming 2016 standards for emissions, or could do so with some modification of the vehicles' air-conditioning systems. None would require adjustment of its powertrain, which is typically the most complicated and expensive part of the redesign process.
These emissions gains have been achieved largely through improvements in fuel economy, which as of 2016, will be set at a fleet-wide minimum average of 35.5 mpg. Alson credits the those improvements to unprecedented technological advancements in the powertrain field.
In fact, Honda's senior manager of environment and energy strategy, Robert Bienenfeld, thinks that such improvements will allow automakers to continue relying on conventional combustion engines -- downsized and augmented with turbochargers and other tweaks -- for much of the coming decade.
But the news isn't all good.
Of the 90 models that could hit 2016 benchmarks, most fall well short of the even-higher standards set for 2025, which require a fleet-wide CAFE average of 54.5 mpg.
In fact, only 25 models currently on sale in the U.S. could hit those goals. Worse, many of those 25 -- all of which are electric vehicles, hybrids, and fuel-cell vehicles -- are in extremely limited production. Today, they make up just 3% of the U.S. market.
And although improvements to the combustion engine will move automakers closer to the goal of 54.5 mpg, to cross that line, most will have to shift to more expensive technology. On the short list: hybrid engines, more efficient batteries, and lighter materials like magnesium and carbon fiber.
As you might expect, those improvements will come at a cost to automakers -- a cost that will ultimately be passed on to consumers. Bienenfeld expects to see such price hikes in full swing by 2021.
But let's not end on a down note: just as we've witnessed a national trend of declining CO2 emissions, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has announced that the rate of emissions per driver in the U.S. has fallen to a record low. It's now 20% below where it was in October 2007 first began tracking such statistics -- and that's after corrections made for the Hyundai/Kia fuel-economy flubs. So, for the moment at least, it appears we're on the right track.