The Trump administration's proposed fuel economy regulation rollbacks could cost U.S. consumers as much as $300 billion, a new analysis suggests, calling into question EPA chief Andrew Wheeler's claims that the new proposals would save buyers money, prompting them to purchase newer, safer cars. 

Consumer Reports analyzed the proposed rule changes from a consumer-savings perspective, factoring in the suggested decrease in new-vehicle price tags (or, rather a slower pace of their natural increase), and found that fuel costs will outweigh any savings even with the rumored 1.5-percent increase. 

"In every scenario in which fuel-economy standards are weakened, however, the resulting increase in fuel spending dramatically outweighs the reduced technology costs—by a factor of three in all scenarios," a previous CR report says. 

Projecting fuel costs and price increases out to 2026, CR found that whether fuel efficiency standards are frozen at the 2020 level or increased at the hypothetical 1.5-percent rate rather than the previous administration's mandate of 5 percent, consumers will end up paying more at the pump than they'll save at the dealership. 

With a "full freeze," consumers will end up paying $5,200 more per year on average to fuel their 2026-model-year cars than they would have under the Obama administration's fuel efficiency rules; the 1.5-percent rate plan would result in a $3,200 annual fuel increase. The former would cost consumers $460 billion; the latter, only $300 billion. 

Even EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has walked back promises of a full freeze, saying that the final proposal will likely be similar (but not identical) to the administration's original plan. 

Consumer Reports analysis of potential EPA plans

Consumer Reports analysis of potential EPA plans

"The analysis shows that a 1.5-percent-per-year increases would throw us in reverse," says CR senior policy analyst and study co-author Chris Harto, "The current standards are designed to give automakers a benchmark to reach for, but this rollback would lower the bar for laggard automakers and fail to move the market forward."

Moving in the other direction, CR's analysis suggests that strengthening standards (up to 5.5-6.0 percent annual reduction rather than the existing 5 percent per year) would net consumers an additional savings of $40 billion in 2026, debunking the EPA theory that customers would eventually realize savings.