What NHTSA’s new fuel economy rules will mean for drivers

  • NHTSA has announced that it will push the required average fuel economy figures to 49 mpg by 2029, but that doesn’t mean your future new vehicle will do anywhere near that number.
  • According to NHTSA, the rule change will result in price increases on new 2029 model year vehicles of about $960, but overall fuel savings from improved fuel economy would be $1,280. (which will, of course, vary depending on the type of vehicle). Final picture: New cars could cost around $320 less to buy and own by the end of the decade.
  • Another way to think about it, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has described it, is that if you fill up four times a month today, you would only have to stop at a gas station three times a month if you drive one of these more efficient vehicles.

    It’s no surprise there’s been some confusion following higher fuel economy standards announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) earlier this month. The improved efficiency requirements aim to result in a fleet-wide average for new cars and light trucks of 49 miles per gallon by the 2026 model year. That doesn’t explain what the changes of rules will mean for the average new-car buyer over the decade. on.

    As we wrote a decade ago, when President Obama announced the biggest increase in average business fuel economy (CAFE) in decades, there is a connection between a vehicle’s CAFE rating and fuel economy estimates printed on a vehicle’s window sticker. NHTSA said “real world fuel economy is typically 20-30% less than the estimated required CAFE level.”

    NHTSA rules will require an average increase in fuel efficiency of 8% per year for the 2024 and 2025 model years, then 10% per year for the 2026 model year. industry produced for sale during these model years. Buyers won’t necessarily see an 8% jump in mpg between the 2023 and 2024 Hyundai Kona, for example, just that those loftier targets will eventually be met, that is, by the 2029 model year. NHTSA allows automakers to “continue to develop compliance solutions for regulated model years for three model years after the last regulated model year, in recognition that manufacturers do not fully comply with CAFE standards each model year. “, said the agency.

    There’s a lot of language in NHTSA’s 1,230-page document on new fuel economy rules outlining what the agency can and can’t do regarding these “compliance solutions.” A sticking point for proponents of higher standards is that the government continues to rely on a method of calculating the average economy of a company’s fleet using a footprint-based methodology. CAFE standards have for decades separated “passenger cars” and “light trucks” into separate categories, but new rules have been introduced for the 2012 model year that put us on the path to the footprint.

    The old rules had their own problems. The Chrysler PT Cruiser was considered a light truck, for example, despite sharing a platform with the Dodge Neon, and was therefore subject to less stringent mpg standards. Because the PT Cruiser easily exceeded truck mpg requirements, it gave Chrysler more leeway not to make other vehicles in its lineup at the time as fuel efficient as they would have been if the PT Cruiser was considered a car.

    Today, NHTSA uses the “footprint” approach, which is defined by the four points where the tires touch the ground, or the wheelbase multiplied by the width of the track. NHTSA makes it clear in its document that it operates under regulations that “[require] vehicles of different sizes (footprints) to have different CO2 targets” and that these rules mean that the average fuel economy standards each company must achieve are based on the footprints found in the mix of vehicles they produce. By law, NHTSA must regulate vehicles using attributes that can “be expressed as a mathematical function,” and a vehicle’s footprint is certainly more mathematical than deciding that an inflated Neon is in fact. a truck.

    In 2017, the Center for Automotive Research explained the overall benefit of this system. “The footprint model is intended to encourage manufacturers to make all lightweight vehicles, regardless of size, more efficient,” CAR wrote. “This is a significant difference from the non-attribute average method used before 2012. With the non-attribute average method, companies could balance a product portfolio between small fuel efficient vehicles and less fuel efficient large vehicles… However, the non-attribute based averaging method has not necessarily led manufacturers to maximize the fuel efficiency of larger vehicles. , it may have focused fuel efficiency on smaller, cheaper vehicles, and often at heavily discounted prices.

    Despite some advantages of the footprint-based methodology, NHTSA admits a problem remains. Since the fuel economy standards for each manufacturer are determined by the final model year production numbers and, as the NHTSA writes, “generally larger vehicles (i.e. vehicles with a larger footprint) will be subject to lower mpg targets than smaller vehicles”, there remains an advantage for automakers to build larger vehicles as they do not need to be as efficient .

    Regardless of the actual number of stickers for new vehicles subject to these new rules, the cars of the future will benefit from better fuel economy thanks to the new rule announced this week, and that should means drivers will spend less at the pump. At the announcement ceremony, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg explained how the new rules will help drivers.

    “[In] for today’s model year 21 vehicles, the standard is 36 miles per gallon,” he said. By 2026 it will be over 48. So that means a gain of 33%, [which] means if you fill up four times a month that would become three times a month by model year 2026 based on those averages and of course that would save a typical American household hundreds of dollars.”

    Buttigieg added that the new regulations can be considered a win for “every driver in America, but I would note that it’s an especially big win for drivers in rural areas where residents drive more distance every day and make the full more frequently”.

    There will also be variances in the cost of the new vehicle, for the same reason. Not surprisingly, NHTSA’s estimates for its final settlement “suggest slightly larger MSRP increases for light trucks and smaller increases for passenger cars.” NHTSA estimates its updated rules will mean the average 2029 model year vehicle would cost $960 more than the average car today (so expect to see more stories about cars getting more expensive ), but the lifetime gains from fuel savings would be $1,280, meaning buyers will save an average of $320 from these more efficient vehicles. NHTSA admitted it could have pushed for even stricter rules, but said if that were the case, the average cost increase per vehicle could have exceeded $2,000. The compromise numbers that NHTSA ended up agreeing to for the new rules were the “maximum doable,” the agency said.

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