Special Coverage

Making CAFE Work

U.S. Government regulators clearly had affordability and practicality in mind when they crafted the biggest change in corporate average fuel economy rules since they were created in 1975.

Improving the fuel efficiency of cars 37% and trucks 23% by 2016 will not be easy for most auto makers, but they should be able to do so without adding expensive technologies to their fleets that would tack on thousands of dollars to the price of a new car or truck.

For instance, officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., which oversees CAFE regulations, say plug-in hybrid-electric cars or a major shift to diesel powertrains in light-duty trucks will not be required to meet the 2016 rules. Electric vehicles are not even mentioned.

Related document: Addition of Technologies to U.S. Car/Truck Fleet Under New CAFE

Related document: Addition of Technologies to U.S. Light Truck Fleet Under New CAFE

Related document: Technology Rollout to Meet New CAFE

Instead, regulators expect the majority of efficiency gains to come from the implementation of proven methods for enhancing mileage, such as chopping weight, improving aerodynamics, and adding dual-clutch transmissions.

Of course, direct gasoline injection, turbocharging combined with downsizing and advanced valvetrain technologies are expected to make a significant contribution, but so are low-cost common-sense strategies such as engine friction reduction, low-rolling resistance tires and introducing accessories that sap less horsepower.

NHTSA estimates all the technologies necessary to meet the 2016 standards will add $505-$907 and $322-$961, respectively, to the cost of a typical new car or truck during the ’11-’16 model years. It also says these additional costs will be more than offset by fuel savings over the life the vehicle.

Washington is not expecting rocket science, and that’s good because five years is not enough time for major change, says Joachim Wolschendorf, chief technical officer at FEV Inc., an independent automotive engineering services company.

“If you look at 2016, in the product-development cycle of the automotive world (three to four years) that’s just around the corner,” Wolschendorf says. “You don’t want to shoot for the moon in that timeframe.”

dwinter@wardsauto.com