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Published on January 15, 2007

It's time to bring CAFE up to date



DETROIT (Jan. 15, 2007) — Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started requiring manufacturers to put fuel-economy estimates on window stickers back in the 1970s, the formula for determining those estimates hasn't changed much.

The city fuel-economy number is based on an 11-mile stop-and-go trip at an average speed of 21 mph. The highway number is based on a 10-mile trip at an average speed of 48 mph.

The EPA estimates were created to enable shoppers to compare the relative fuel economy of various models. Those numbers aren't a true reflection of what goes on in the real world, yet they are used as the Holy Grail for all sorts of advertising and promotion.

The formula for the window stickers hasn't been adjusted since 1984, so it is time for the EPA to make the changes it has announced to create a measurement that better reflects the real world of fuel economy and the way people drive now.

On a related subject, it's also time to boost the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that vehicle manufacturers must meet.

The country needs a coherent energy policy that takes into account the need to increase CAFE for motor vehicles.

If the EPA can redefine its formula for fuel-economy estimates, why can't we also get some badly needed new CAFE standards?

We should raise the fuel-economy standards in the U.S.

There have been only token increases in those standards in the past few years. The car companies have fought anything greater, and they're wrong. We could have had a very slow, easy increase in the standards during the past 30 years. But because the auto makers fought significant change, we're likely to end up with a much more severe increase, which will cause a lot more challenges.

And, while we're changing the rules, let's rethink the idea that car companies should get credits for the flex-fuel vehicles they build so they can build more gas guzzlers. That makes no sense. It's time to remove the incentive for flex-fuel vehicles and let them stand on their own.

During this lull in fuel-price increases, we should look at our energy policy as it applies to the automobile industry and make the necessary changes.

It is just a matter of time until the next spike in fuel prices. We should set standards without a crisis being upon us.

Mr. Crain is chairman of Crain Communications Inc., parent company of Tire Business, and publisher of Automotive News, where this column first appeared.


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