Is CAFE the Right Way?
when cafe legislation was introduced it had two primary objectives. the first was to reduce us gasoline consumption and the second was to reduce us imports of petroleum.
Despite a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency CAFE has not accomplished these objectives:
- U.S. consumption of gasoline has increased by 60% since CAFE standards were introduced.
- U.S. imports of petroleum have increased from 35% of our supplies to over 70% of our supplies since CAFE standards were enacted.
- Passenger car fuel economy has doubled and light trucks fuel economy is 60% higher than before CAFE standards; however, the number of miles driven by Americans and the number of vehicles on the road has overwhelmed these substantial improvements.
- Moreover, CAFE standards apply only to passenger cars and light trucks. The rest of the transportation sector- heavy duty trucks, rail, air transport, shipping, off highway, recreational vehicles and boats have no fuel economy standards.
There are four factors that drive U.S. gasoline consumption and CAFE only influences one of them:
- American consumer choice
- Total vehicle miles traveled
- Overall size of U.S. fleet
- Vehicle fuel economy
- An increase in miles traveled along with the size of the total fleet has moved the U.S. toward more oil consumption. Primarily focusing on CAFE standards as a means of addressing gasoline consumption will not result in desired oil import and consumption reductions.
CAFE deters innovation:
- When automakers are forced to focus their research and development on incremental improvements in fuel efficiency from higher CAFE standards only modest reductions in oil imports and pollution are possible. Engineering should focus on gasoline displacing technologies with the goal of accelerating these alternatives to market.
CAFE changes have no near term effect on oil consumption:
- There is a 2-3 year lead time to establish higher CAFE requirements.
- It takes 5-10 years of implementing new technology before the new requirements can accomplish their efficiency goals.
- It takes 15 years to replace the existing on the road vehicle fleet with the newer more efficient vehicles.
There are many unintended consequences with CAFE standards:
- These standards foster competitive disparities that discriminate against U.S. automakers.
- The easiest way to make vehicles more fuel efficient is decreasing their weight. This vehicle downsizing leads to increases in accident related serious injuries and fatalities.
- When driving costs are lowered more miles are driven. This leads to increased congestion, more idling of vehicles and more carbon dioxide emissions.
- Increased CAFE standards will lead to higher vehicles costs. This will force consumers who cannot afford these vehicles to purchase older, less fuel efficient vehicles or keep their own vehicles longer
U.S. energy policy should enable and promote the development of advanced technologies and alternative fuels not limit innovation through CAFE legislation.