Since the average fuel savings over five years was larger than the overall price increase of cars on average, the fuel savings not only covered the added price of the fuel-saving technology, Gillis notes, it also covers the cost of the additional safety features added to cars over that time period. The additional safety features are essentially free.
At the same time, according to Automotive News sales data, sales of those models increased 40 percent from the first quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2018 despite the $2,127 average price increase. While automakers fret and complain about price increases hurting sales, the first quarter of 2018 also saw record sales in the industry despite the price increases.
Last year, when he agreed to revisit fuel economy standards, Trump also said that vehicle price increases would prevent low income buyers from purchasing new cars, and would relegate them to older cars that lack the latest safety features. Yet older cars are being retired from American roads at a relatively constant rate of about 13 million a year, Gillis says, meaning that, with sales of 17 million new cars a year, about 4.5 million new cars are being added to the roads every year that have the latest safety features.
CFA sales data from Automotive News
The safety improvements noted in the study are spread widely across different types of vehicles, including pickup trucks, big SUVs, and small cars.
Fuel economy standards are designed to do the same thing, encourage the adoption of fuel-saving technology such as hybrid systems across a wide variety of vehicles. Yet because of the way increases in the standards are structured, most of the technology has been added to cars and small SUVs so far, while most of the big improvements for trucks were set aside for later years in the program, which may now be phased out. That is likely to hit buyers hardest who need trucks for work.
In surveys that the CFA conducts every year, Gillis says most consumers want high fuel economy standards, even if they have to pay for them. The respondents say they believe that gas prices are volatile and that they will go up, even if they're low right now, Gillis says.
Current fuel economy standards are written within size classes, so rising standards no longer require automakers to sell more small cars to offset larger ones, Gillis says.
CFA released the study Thursday to preempt an argument from automakers or the EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt that higher fuel economy standards could result in cars that are less safe. While that once may have been true, the latest data indicates that it no longer is.