Hallelujah, we’ve been saved! The new 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) fuel-economy standard is the miracle cure that will get the U.S. rolling again.

That’s the message we got recently from a very smart group of environmentalists and labor leaders who came to public hearings in Detroit.

According to them, the new corporate average fuel-economy standard will finally get the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil. It will create thousands of new jobs, produce mountains of profits, solve global warming. And, best of all, it will not cost consumers a dime.

In fact, just the opposite. Thanks to the new CAFE standard, drivers will find themselves with thousands of extra dollars in their pockets. Why didn’t we think of this sooner?

Actually, we did. Using the exact same arguments, the CAFE standard first was enacted way back in 1975. The only problem was none of the promised benefits materialized. So the regulators went back to work.

  • In the 1980s they added trucks to the regulations. Still no miracle results.
  • In the 1990s they made the standards tougher for both cars and trucks. Still no miracle results.
  • In the 2000s they eliminated the exemption for heavy SUVs and raised the standards, but still no miracle results.

Finally, last year, after decades of tweaking and tightening the standards, they picked 54.5 mpg as the magic number that finally would deliver everything they’d been promising for nearly 40 years.

Wasn’t it Einstein who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

After 40 years of CAFE, the U.S. uses more oil than it did 40 years ago. Carbon-dioxide emissions are higher, not lower. And the price of the average car has increased six-fold.

The real energy policy in this country runs something like this: We don’t want you to use oil, but we’re going to do everything we can to make it as cheap and available as possible.

And so we keep using it. Lots of it.

Environmental advocates claim we’ve already saved millions of barrels and billions of dollars thanks to CAFE. But that comparison is based on the fantasy that if it weren’t for CAFE we’d still be driving 1975-era cars that get 13 mpg (18 L/100 km).

They also claim that polls show consumers support higher fuel-economy standards and will pay higher prices for fuel-efficient cars. But don’t listen to what the American people tell the pollsters; watch what they buy. And they don’t buy many hybrid or electric cars, which account for little more than 2% of (new-vehicle) sales.

Here’s the real bottom line: CAFE is a regulatory morass that has not produced any of the results that were promised over the last 40 years. Until the price of fuel rises far higher than now, don’t expect any change in the market’s behavior.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit and “Autoline Daily,” the online video newscast.