Automakers would be required to nearly double fleet efficiency to 62 miles per gallon by 2025 under the most ambitious scenario of a U.S. government outlook on fuel economy and emissions released yesterday.
Gasoline and electric hybrid vehicles and electric cars would play a crucial role in meeting the top range targets, according to the preliminary assessment presented to the industry as a starting point for developing fuel standards for 2017 cars and light trucks, including SUVs, pickups, and vans.
"We must, and we will, keep the momentum going to make sure that all motor vehicles sold in America are realizing the best fuel economy and greenhouse gas reductions possible," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The auto industry is wary of any mandates to reduce gasoline use and carbon emissions output that would increase costs or adversely affect vehicle design and production schedules.
A trade group representing the biggest auto companies, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the proposal was based on "very preliminary and incomplete data."
The group's chief executive, Dave McCurdy, said the biggest carmakers, including government-owned General Motors, Ford Motor, Toyota Motor, and Volkswagen would closely review the administration's assumptions on technology, gas prices, and alternative fuels.
Investors want certainty in automaker business plans and cost calculations. To ensure car companies have enough time to make adjustments, the plan by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out a range of efficiency gains to see what would be feasible.
The options presented would boost fuel efficiency by 3 percent to 6 percent annually from 2017 to 2025. Those percentage gains translate into a mileage requirement range of 47mpg to 62mpg.
The top standard would save 45 billion gallons of oil, equal to almost 1.1 billion barrels, and reduce carbon pollution by 450 million tons by 2030, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Energy Department forecasts U.S. gasoline demand will total 3.3 billion barrels this year.
U.S. passenger vehicles emit about 20 percent of the nation's carbon emissions and consume about 44 percent of its oil, figures show.
Standards imposed last year require automakers to achieve 35.5mpg by 2016, up 42 percent from current levels.
Automakers would rely on numerous conventional engine, transmission, and component technologies and lighter vehicle designs to meet new targets. These would include gasoline and diesel power. More than half of all cars in Europe run on diesel fuel.
Gasoline-electric hybrids, a fractional segment of the market now, would play a prominent role in meeting 62mpg. Plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles would also be a component of the fleet mix.
Automakers do not have detailed product plans extending to 2025, but most have them through 2020 and are planning for greater electrication. The degree to which automakers turn out more hybrids and embrace electric vehicles depends on gas prices, battery costs, consumer charging infrastructure, future requirements to reduce emissions, the analysis said.
The government's plan was put together with the help of California state officials. California is a leader in aggressive steps for reducing carbon emissions blamed for global warming, and will play a role in determining the federal approach because of its sizable sales market.
Some vehicles would already meet the lower-range goal, including the 2011 Toyota Prius, which is a hybrid that averages 50mpg for highway and city driving.
Consumers could realize fuel savings of between $4,900 to $7,400 under the plan that environmental and scientific groups called a good step so long as the final product resulted in higher-end fuel savings.
"The auto industry has 15 years to meet these new standards--that's plenty of time to use innovation and technology to reach 60 miles per gallon," said Brendan Bell, the top lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The administration will review comments from industry and the environmental and scientific community before proceeding with a formal proposal. A final rule is not expected until 2012.