One of the first moves made by newly inaugurated Pres. Donald Trump was to re-open the “mid-term” review of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard set to reach 54.5 mpg by 2025.
But if that review were to curtail the fuel economy target it could face strong resistance from the American motoring public, according to a new study by Consumers Union. According to the non-profit group, nearly nine in 10 Americans believe the auto industry should continue to drive towards more fuel efficient vehicles.
“Consumers see the value in fuel efficiency, and the technology more than pays for itself through fuel savings,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, the policy counsel for Consumers Union. “As automakers increase vehicle efficiency, consumers benefit from greater savings.”
(Despite cheaper gas, American motorists still check the mileage numbers when comparing vehicles to buy. Click Here for the story.)
According to CU, the policy arm of Consumer Reports magazine, more than a third of consumers listed the need to improve the mileage of their current vehicle as their area of biggest concern – that’s far and away more than the number of motorists who listed such things as horsepower or connectivity.
At a time when some proponents of smaller government have advocated eliminated mileage standards entirely, 73% of those surveyed by Consumers Union agree that government should be responsible for setting higher fuel efficiency standards. And 79% said that is important to boost mileage for even larger vehicles, such as SUVs and pickups.
An equal number, said a summary of the CU survey, “agree that increasing fuel economy from a real-world average of 25 MPG today to 40 MPG in 2025 is a worthwhile goal.” The figure for 2025 isn’t a random number. While the official EPA target for that year is 54.5 mpg, once various credits and adjustments are made, the real-world goal for that year actually comes down to somewhere in the low-40 mpg range.
Despite frequent statements by the auto industry that manufacturers are working to boost mileage and lower owners’ fuel bills, only 30% of those surveyed actually agreed that “automakers care about lowering fuel costs for their customers.”
The numbers are so lopsided as to leave little room for interpretation; Americans clearly want the government and the auto industry to continue to have their foot to the floor when it comes to improving fuel efficiency. And that’s despite the fact that fuel prices have again dipped to about their lowest level – adjusted for inflation – in decades.
“With summer driving season underway, consumers don’t want to spend more on gas than they have to,” said Baker-Branstetter. “Even with low gas prices, consumers still want fuel economy to improve, including in larger vehicles. Automakers should pay attention to these findings and develop more efficient vehicles to give consumers what they want.”
(A reason to celebrate: fuel prices fall ahead of July 4 holiday. Click Here for the story.)
There has been little word from the EPA since Pres. Trump signed an executive order requiring the agency to reopen its CAFE review. Meanwhile, automakers have been largely quiet want or expect the Trump Administration to do, notably those manufacturers, such as Ford, that supported a rollback of the 2025 mileage mandate. If anything, a number of foreign manufacturers, including Honda and Nissan, have said they expect to make little to no changes to their product plans for 2025, even if the CAFE standard were to be abandoned entirely.
Even if the White House were to retain the targets set during the Obama Administration, a Senate bill could offer retroactive credits that would effectively reduce the numbers automakers would have to aim for.
But the new CU study suggests that consumers might not be receptive and could steer away from brands that slacken off in favor of marques that manage to deliver better mileage — especially if their products were otherwise equal.
(To see why Americans are likely to set new driving records this holiday, Click Here.)