September 10th, 2011

Not long after my last post on CAFE regulations (where I mentioned that the White House was leaning towards a 2025 target of 56.2 mpg), the matter was “settled,” at a proposed 54.5 mpg.  (The difference doesn’t amount to much – less than 6/100ths of a gallon of gasoline for every 100 miles that a vehicle travels.  But, the lowering of the goal was enough to get some of the major auto manufacturers to fall in line and support the proposed regulation – at least publicly.)

Behind the scenes, however, automakers and other opponents to tighter CAFE rules complain that the target is too tough, and that it will lead to slow, underpowered cars that people won’t want to buy at significantly increased costs.  Being a realist, I tend to think that – yes, it’s true that new, advanced technology does tend to cost more than the old, but the benefit far outweighs the cost.  On the other hand …

Reading my latest issue of Autoweek magazine, I came across an article about the new Range Rover Evoque, which states that its 4-cylinder engine “generates 240 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque, which is more than the 233 hp and 234 lb-ft from the 3.2-liter six currently in the Land Rover LR2.”  It’s also rated at 24 mpg, vs 17 mpg for the LR2.  Now in this case, the Evoque does come at a premium (approximately $44k as compared to the LR2’s $37k), but it’s a completely new model, in a higher-end segment than the LR2, and you’re paying for more than just a more powerful and more efficient engine.  So …

A few pages later is an article about the new Jeep Wrangler, which gets a new V6 for 2012.  As compared to the 2011 powerplant, Autoweek tells us its “output grows by 83 hp and torque gains 23 lb-ft, to 260 lb-ft.  That blows the old 3.8-liter engine and its 202-hp, 237-lb-ft raings off the trail.  Despite the power boost, fuel economy also increases to up to 21 mpg on the highway.  The base price remains the same…”  More power?  More efficiency?  Same price?  And then …

There’s the next article about the new Mercedes Benz M-class.  Since car mags are so good at telling us what’s changed between the new model and the old, let’s see what Autoweek has to say.  “Power is up, along with fuel economy, in both versions that will be offered at launch in the United States.  The gasoline direct-injection, 3.5-liter V6 ML350 4Matic, with 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, has an estimated fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway (versus 15/20 mpg in the outgoing model).  The ML350 Bluetec 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel has an output of 240 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque and estimated fuel consumption of 20/25 mpg (versus 18/25 for 2011).  Pricing stays the same for 2012…”

It’s not like these are isolated, special cases.  Automakers are great at increasing efficiency and power without increasing cost.  They’ve been doing it for years.  It’s just that they’ve been using that ability to make our cars bigger, heavier, and faster, rather than making any significant gains in fuel economy.  As a result, they now have a long way to go to meet upcoming CAFE regulations.

The automakers (well, not all of them) publicly support the new CAFE targets.    My guess is they’ll find a way to comply.  From a fuel consumption standpoint (i.e., the y-axis on this graph), most of the work has already been done.


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