This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.
DOT Proposes No Change in Light Truck Efficiency Standards
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA), a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), released last week its proposed fuel efficiency standards for Model Year 2004 light trucks. The proposed standard holds the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standard for light trucks at its current level of 20.7 miles per gallon. The light truck classification includes vans, pickup trucks, and most sport utility vehicles (SUVs).
Since 1996, Congress has prohibited NHTSA from spending any funds to consider changes to the CAFE standards. Although that prohibition was lifted in December, the NHTSA claims it has not had sufficient time to consider changes to the standard. The NHTSA must issue its proposed rules early enough to allow public comment and changes prior to a final rulemaking, which must be issued by April 1st. The public is invited to provide comments on the proposed fuel efficiency standard before mid-February. See the NHTSA press release.
On January 14th, four days before the proposed standards were released, the National Research Council (NRC) sent NHTSA a report confirming the NRC's conclusions on CAFE standards, originally released in a detailed report published in July 2001. The reassessment was performed after the initial report was challenged by the automotive industry. The latest report reaffirms that "technologies exist that, if applied to passenger cars and light-duty trucks, would significantly reduce fuel consumption within 15 years," and that "assessment of currently offered product technologies suggest that light-duty trucks, including SUVs, pickups, and minivans, offer the greatest potential to reduce fuel consumption..." See the new report on the National Academy Press Web site.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the overall fuel economy of light vehicles — including both light trucks and cars — is now at a 21-year low of 20.4 miles per gallon. Although car mileage has remained essentially flat for the past 16 years and light truck mileage has stayed largely unchanged for the past 20 years, the growing market share of light trucks has dragged down the overall fuel economy of light vehicles. See the EPA "Light Duty Automotive Technology and Fuel Economy Trends" Web page.
Note that actual fuel economies can be lower than the CAFE standards for a number of reasons, including the fact that manufacturers earn credits for any alternative-fuel vehicles that they sell. Some manufacturers also fall below the standards and pay penalties. To see how the details of how manufacturers are meeting the standards, see the NHTSA report on Model Year 2000 CAFE standards.