DOT orders mpg increases for cars and light trucks

| 3/31/2009

The U.S. Department of Transportation has ordered automakers to increase fuel mileage in cars and light trucks to an average of 27.3 mpg by 2011.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said changes to the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE standards, are important steps to achieving energy independence and bringing more fuel-efficient vehicles to market.

Plans for further increases from model year 2011 to 2020 are well under way, LaHood announced Friday, March 27. The Federal Register published the final rule on Monday, March 30.

President Barack Obama directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to divide a previous rulemaking into two parts – one to establish the 2011 standard and one for standards leading up to 2020 – based on work that began during the Bush administration.

The move is the first change to the CAFE standards since 1985. The standards were put in place in the late 1970s to reduce fuel consumption.

“NHTSA estimates that the (model year) 2011 standard will raise the industry-wide combined average to 27.3 mpg, save 887 million gallons of fuel over the lifetime of the MY 2011 cars and light trucks, and reduce CO2 emissions by 8.3 million metric tons during that period,” officials stated in the final rule.

The final rule does not affect heavy trucks, though an attempt was made during the previous administration to establish a baseline standard for heavy commercial vehicles.

The latest rule is effective May 29, and petitions for reconsideration must be received by May 14.

Specifically, the average economy for cars must be 30.2 mpg by 2011 while light trucks and SUVs must achieve 24.1 mpg.

Automakers responded to the rulemaking by saying it will increase new vehicle costs by $64 for cars and $126 for light trucks and SUVs.

NHTSA officials said the increase in fuel economy would help the average motorist recoup those costs in 4 to 7 years.

By 2020, NHTSA officials estimate the CAFE standards will average 35 mpg for cars and light trucks.

– By David Tanner, staff writer