The midterm assessment was baked into the process at the request of automakers as perhaps an “off-ramp” in the event the program wasn’t working, says UMTRI’s Bruce Belzowski, who hosted this week’s conference.

Olechiw says the midterm evaluation could affect CAFE standards in one of three ways: “They could stay exactly the same as what we’ve promulgated or they could become less stringent or more stringent.”

The midterm assessment also is crossing international boundaries. EPA staffers have visited Japan and Germany to meet with domestic automakers and discuss technologies coming in the future.

“We plan to continue this level of stakeholder outreach going forward,” Olechiw says.

The EPA also is collaborating with Environment Canada and Transport Canada, two agencies working on similar programs to reduce fuel consumption. Certain test vehicles are being shared between the neighbor countries for research purposes.

In Ann Arbor, the EPA is actively testing the ’13 Chevrolet Malibu Eco (2.4L 4-cyl. with 6-speed auto and belted alternator starter), ’13 Chrysler 300 (3.0L V-6 with 8-speed auto), ’12 Mercedes E350 BlueTec (3.0L turbodiesel V-6 with 7-speed auto) and the ’13 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid (1.4L I-4 with 7-speed DCT).

Olechiw says the EPA has been impressed by the Malibu’s stop/start system and the Jetta Hybrid’s “amazing fuel-economy numbers.”

The agency is considering testing the ’15 Acura TLX (2.4L I-4 with 8-speed DCT), ’14 BMW 3-Series (2.0L turbocharged I-4 with 8-speed auto) and ’14 Jeep Cherokee Sport 4x4 (2.4L I-4 with 9-speed auto).

Olechiw says the EPA will publish its detailed findings on tested vehicles and powertrains.

“A few weeks ago, a manufacturer approached me and said, ‘Are you really going to put our engine maps into the public domain?’” he says.

“The answer is yes. After we’ve spent all these taxpayer dollars and have gone through all this effort to try to figure out how these engines operate, the information will be available publicly because it’s critical to the foundation for our future analysis.”

tmurphy@wardsauto.com