Coping with the new CAFÉ standards
By Jack Ward
The other day I took my Toyota Sienna van in for a smog check. While I was waiting, I heard the news that our Congressional representatives were about to pass new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards. The new fuel efficiency law will require manufacturers to meet a fleet wide average of 35 miles per gallon for cars, SUV's, and small trucks. A fleet average of 35 mpg is a 40% increase in fuel mileage over the existing requirement. My van gets an average of 20+ mpg and can carry 6 passengers and luggage in comfort. My wife drives a Honda Civic which gets 30+ mpg. But neither of our vehicles would meet the new congressional requirements. It is obvious that the CAFÉ standards would effectively outlaw most current cars, vans, trucks, and SUVs.
So I began to wonder what vehicle would get an average of 35 mpg. Since I was at a Toyota dealership and Toyota has been a leader in fuel efficient vehicles, I started checking out the vehicles on the lot. The standard cars and small trucks failed immediately. Then I spotted the smallest car on the lot, a sub-compact Yaris. But even the sub-compact Yaris failed Congress' new efficiency requirements. The Yaris had a maximum 36 mpg on the highway, but its combined city and highway average was below the required 35 mpg. The Toyota Camry Hybrid also failed the new CAFÉ standards. The only car that met the new CAFÉ standards was the Prius Hybrid.
The efficiency of an internal combustion engine is based on total energy of the fuel and the amount of energy used to perform useful work. So by legislating a fuel efficiency increase of about 40%, our Congressional representatives were attempting to rewrite Laws of Thermodynamics. Congressional leaders were warned that the mandated changes may not be technologically or economically possible. But the enlightened Democrat leaders disagreed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Ca.), was heavily involved in crafting the legislation and declared that "It's groundbreaking in what it will do." She is right. I wonder if she also plans to rewrite the Law of Gravity.
In a previous column I addressed the prototypical micro-car envisioned by our Congressional representatives – the Smart Car ‘ForTwo'. The Smart Car ‘ForTwo' is about 4 feet shorter and 1,000 pounds lighter than a Mini Cooper, so it isn't suitable for soccer moms. Throughout the 1950's and 60's manufacturers offered micro-cars but the public wasn't interested. But our Congressional representatives know best and will now require you to drive one.
Researchers at Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that these micro-cars are not as safe as the current U.S. fleet. Their research found that for every 100 pounds shaved off cars to meet CAFÉ standards between 440 and 780 additional people were killed in auto accidents. This means that an additional total of 2,200 to 3,900 lives will be lost per model year. Adrian Lund, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said, "Fatalities are much higher with small, lightweight vehicles." Politicians are force-feeding the micro-cars on the American public even if that means these vehicles will be less safe.
But what kind of cars do our Congressional representatives have? Spies in Washington DC tell us the congressional parking lot is filled with large sedans, SUV's, and trucks. While there are a few economy cars in the lot, the estimated mileage for the cars in the lot is less than 20 mpg. But don't expect to see Ted Kennedy in a Smart Car because we know that politicians reek with hypocrisy. They exempt themselves from the very laws they expect us to follow. So, rest assured that our Congressional representatives will not be driving the micro-cars that they will require you to drive. This is supposed to be the ‘Land of the Free' so why should Americans be denied the opportunity to choose the vehicle that meets their needs?
(c) 2007 Jack Ward