54.5 mpg average fuel economy is a pipe dream

Gas pump handle with money protruding from nozzle

As in all things handed down from Washington, D.C., the devil is in the details when it comes to new proposed fuel economy standards.

Surrounded by representatives from most of the world's carmakers, President Obama in late July announced an annual 5% increase in fuel economy for passenger cars and light trucks beginning in 2017 through 2025.

That will bring the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) to 54.5 mpg. CAFE is the average mpg fuel economy of a manufacturer's fleet.

All things being equal, it would be much tougher to meet a CAFE standard for a full-line carmaker like General Motors with several big trucks and SUVs in its lineup than a manufacturer like Kia with a portfolio of mostly smaller cars.

But the 54.5 mpg CAFE mandate is just a number.

It could be any number, really, because CAFE regulations are so full of exemptions, waivers and fuzzy math that some suggest the 54.5 mpg will translate into something closer to 40 mpg.

For example, to coax the Detroit Big 3 to support the 2025 proposal, it exempts their full-size pickups from the 2017 to 2019 5% mpg increases.

According to the trade publication Automotive News, Volkswagen didn't have a representative at the July announcement because it objects to the advantage given manufacturers with heavier light trucks over those with fleets containing mostly passenger cars.

CAFE was instituted as a response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo and was supposed to wean the United States from foreign oil.

Obviously that hasn't happened as automakers a just now trying to achieve a CAFE target of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

It's clear CAFE is as much about politics as it is oil stewardship.

I guess we'll see if 54.5 mpg is finally the magic number to achieve CAFE's original goal.

Don't hold your breath.

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