The Obama administration set tougher gas mileage standards for new cars and trucks Thursday, spurring the next generation of fuel-sipping gas-electric hybrids, efficient engines and electric cars.
The heads of the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency signed final rules setting fuel efficiency standards for model years 2012-2016, with a goal of achieving by 2016 the equivalent of 35.5 miles per gallon combined for cars and trucks, an increase of nearly 10 mpg over current standards set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The EPA set a tailpipe emissions standard of 250 grams (8.75 ounces) of carbon dioxide per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, equal to what would be emitted by vehicles meeting the mileage standard. The EPA issued its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.
"These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air."
Each auto company will have a different fuel-efficiency target, based on its mix of vehicles. Automakers that build more small cars will have a higher target than car companies that manufacture a broad range of cars and trucks. The standard could be as low as 34.1 mpg by 2016 because automakers are expected to receive credits for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in other ways, including preventing the leaking of coolant from air conditioners.
"This is a significant step towards cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand-in-hand," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.
Dave McCurdy, a former congressman from Oklahoma who leads the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing 11 automakers, said the industry supports a single national standard for future vehicles, saying the program "makes sense for consumers, for government policymakers and for automakers."
LaHood and Jackson said the new requirements will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program. The new standards move up goals set in a 2007 energy law, which required the auto industry to meet a 35 mpg average by 2020.
The rules should add costs to new cars and trucks. The government said the requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016 but would save more than $3,000 over the life of the vehicle through better gas mileage.
EPA and the Transportation Department said the requirements would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 960 million metric tons over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated, or the equivalent of taking 50 million cars and light trucks off the road in 2030.
Environmental groups have sought curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, and challenged the Bush administration for blocking a waiver request from California to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than required by the federal government. The request was granted by the Obama administration last year.
"The standards forthcoming under the 'clean car peace treaty' are a good deal for consumers, for companies, for the country and for the planet," said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Automakers have been working on an assortment of fuel-efficient technologies, including hybrids, electric cars and technologies that shut off an engine's cylinders when full power isn't needed.
Nissan is releasing its electric car, the Leaf, later this year, while General Motors is introducing the Chevrolet Volt, which can go 40 miles on battery power before an engine kicks in to generate power. Ford is bringing its "EcoBoost" line of direct-injection turbocharged engines, which provide a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency, to 90 percent of its models by 2013.