Riding the New CAFE Standards To 35 mpg, and Beyond?

Buzz Lightyear would have put an exclamation point on the end, but the new fuel economy targets approved by Congress last month are not quite so dramatic. For sure, bumping up from roughly 25mpg today to 35mpg in 2020 –the first meaningful increase in the CAFE standards since 1984– will make a difference. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates the higher standard will eliminate greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 28 million of today’s cars and trucks off the road and save consumers at least $22 billion/year (if gasoline at the pump stays above $2.55/gallon).

Greater use of biofuels encouraged by the energy law containining the new CAFE standard could deliver similar energy savings.

But as my story today on TechReview.com and ABC News.com shows, these savings will be largely negated in 2020 by increased driving. Nor will a 40% CAFE boost, on its own, deliver the changes in technology and behavior needed to deliver a truly sustainable transportation system after 2020.

Provisions in the energy law supporting electrification of the automobile could, however, make a difference. Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, in Washington, DC, promises that her group will be pushing for more. Their top priority now is to secure a  tax credit for buyers of plug-in hybrid vehicles that would be similar to those available to buyers of the current hybrids and vehicles that can run on alternative fuels.

Supporters of the oil industry stripped out a plug-in tax credit in last month’s legislation along with provisions that would have eliminated tax breaks for oil and gas producers. “The unbelievable state that we’re in right now is that there are absolutely no consumer incentives for battery electric vehicles-the zero petroleum, zero emissions vehicles,” says Cullen.

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