CAFE Standards will Strangle Auto Industry

By Automotive Staff | December 20, 2007
Alright, this whole eco-consciousness thing has officially gone too far. A town in Massachusetts has banned Christmas (okay, Holiday) lights because they were “damaging to the environment.” Who is the mayor, The Grinch? December 19th, 2007 may very well live in infamy for those of us who love the automobile. President George W. Bush signed into law the new CAFÉ standards bill that will require automakers to reach a 35mpg average for their vehicles by 2020. How to do this? By hook or by crook, as the saying goes. In a previous post, I wrote about how the government is planning to support the new technologies the automakers are going to have to come up with. But what will this do to the way regular gas-powered vehicles drive? We all know there isn’t just a switch automakers can flip in the engine to give us better gas mileage. There are some currently available technologies that can give incremental bumps in fuel economy. One is Stop/Start technology. This is the technology we Americans first experienced with the Toyota Prius, where your engine turns off completely at stop lights. BMW, for one, has put that on every model it sells overseas and has gotten about a 5% fuel economy increase per model. After CAFÉ, expect to see it coming to your 3-Series sometime soon. Another, and more frightening prospect, is the use of trickery like narrow, small tires that decrease rolling friction. They also make your car handle like a turnip trolley. Automakers can also adjust your transmission to higher gear ratios, which helps with fuel economy but murders acceleration times. In other words, say goodbye to having any fun. At the time of the bill passing in the House of Representatives, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised it as being, “groundbreaking.” She then went on to affirm that the bill would be delivered to the White House in a Toyota Prius. That doesn’t sound much in line with the “Buy American” sentiment rampant in our government a few years ago. The bill is also a debilitating blow to smaller manufacturers, like Porsche, which have a performance car heritage. An allowance that would have allowed similar automakers to be exempt from the rules if they sold less than 64,000 cars here a year was cut out of the final version of the legislation. Buy your 911s and Boxsters now while you still can! Some House dissenters pointed out that the Bill was unfairly targeting the auto industry for being the cause of environmental problems in this country. While automobiles are the targets of much of the debate about the use of fossil fuels, only about 20% of that use and resultant pollution is caused by automobiles. The rest is used by the vastly more damaging airline industry and the energy needs of our homes, offices and businesses. Are we going to start legislating the allowed temperature setting of your thermostat at home? So back to the main question, how will this legislation affect the handling, acceleration and manufacture of the cars we drive? From all indicators, a lot of automakers’ previous engineering standards will need to be thrown out the window. How will previously mentioned BMW maintain its traditional 50/50 weight distribution with a huge hydrogen tank or lithium ion bombs -- I mean batteries -- in the trunk? The answer is, they won’t be able to. Soon, performance cars we know and love like BMW and Porsche models will start to handle and drive like Oldsmobiles from the mid-1970’s. Acceleration times won’t become important anymore as the only fun in driving will be in seeing how many miles per gallon you can can get out of whatever fuel you are using. With the passage of this bill, I am starting to feel a bit like one of the Who’s left in Who-ville watching as the tree and all the presents be sucked up the chimney. Will there be any fun left in the automobile after the Grinch (i.e.-the Government) gets done with it? All our hopes now lie with the ingenuity and engineering acuity of worldwide automakers. We all want to cut down on damage to our environment and find less harmful ways to fuel our transportation and energy needs. But don’t single out the auto industry as the only bad guy. via guest blogger Jim Hamel