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February 05, 2013

Automakers Back Call for Fuel Economy Standards

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Electric Vehicle Technology on Display at the Washington Auto Show (Photo: Kristen Elmore)

During his first term as President, Barack Obama took historic steps to mitigate the climate crisis our planet is facing. One significant action came last fall, when the President  finalized new standards that will double the average efficiency of new vehicles to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon and cut vehicle carbon emissions in half by 2025. That means half the fill-ups for consumers and half the climate-disrupting pollution in our atmosphere. 

Last week, at this year’s National Journal policy summit on affordable mobility and the coinciding Washington Auto Showpanelists dove deep into the ways motorists will save dollars on transportation, and why that makes a difference for both consumers and the American auto industry.

Despite some intransigence in Washington, Tom Stricker of Toyota Motor North America believes improving fuel economy is a bipartisan issue.  

“There is a broad national consensus across parties, generations, certainly in the industry to move forward; and making progress on fuel economy is vitally important,” said Stricker.  

Automakers noted that broad support for fuel economy allows them to focus on improvements that will go beyond helping the environment by helping them be more competitive.

“Regulations have spurred innovation,” said Robert Bienenfeld, senior environment and energy strategy manager of the American Honda Motor Corporation, referring to the industry-wide embrace of carbon-reducing standards to meet the challenge of higher fuel efficiency and matching consumer demand for more efficient vehicles. Fuel economy is already rated as the most important factor for consumers shopping for a new car. That demand is integral to studies noting that President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards will help create more than 500,000 new jobs by 2030.

Beyond increasing fuel economy, panels of experts and automakers alike agreed that President Obama must adopt a new set of clean fuel and vehicle standards, known as “Tier 3.” These Tier 3 standards require refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline and automakers to use technologies that reduce smog-forming pollution.  According to the EPA, removing sulfur will “immediately enhance the performance of emission reduction technologies in the existing passenger fleet.” That's not to mention the health benefits -- Tier 3 standards will significantly reduce tailpipe emissions from passenger vehicles, which contribute to asthma, cancer, heart attacks, and premature death.

Still, the recently finalized fuel efficiency standards are on track to reduce carbon pollution by 6 billion metric tons and cut our country's oil consumption by 12 billion barrels, according to panelist and Assistant Administrator at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy. Thanks to hybrid electric and electric-powered vehicles, we could see even greater reductions in emissions and oil use.

Beyond that, consumers are driving an organic change in transportation behavior by simply driving less. The Information Handling Services lowered the forecast for automobile purchases for 2014 as the growing popularity of car sharing programs, well-planned communities, and public transportation systems means fewer cars are on the road - and less carbon pollution is in the air.

--Kristen Elmore, Sierra Club Media Team Intern

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