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Consumers want high fuel efficiency standards, and automakers can meet them

Misty Johnson
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Are higher fuel efficiency standards good for automakers and consumers?

The big story at the North American International Auto Show is big vehicles. The spotlight is on the trucks: SUVs and crossovers that American buyers want. And that demand leads to questions about fuel economy standards, and whether automakers are pressuring the Trump administration to backtrack on strict rules set in the final days of the Obama administration.

Top environmental groups say Ford is part of that effort. Bill Ford, Ford’s chairman, says that’s not true. He says Ford is committing to spend $11 billion by 2022 to develop partially or fully electrified vehicles. Those fuel economy standards could be weakened by the EPA and by bills introduced in the House and Senate.

John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, the nonprofit research group that discovered Volkswagen had been cheating on its diesel emissions for years, wrote in the Detroit Free Press that drivers want strong fuel economy standards. He also thinks automakers are proving they can meet these tough mileage and emissions standards faster and more affordably than anyone predicted.

German joined Stateside to discuss the current state of fuel economy standards.

Listen above for the full conversation.

On what American customers want

“Most customers want better fuel economy,” said German. “The problem is that there’s lots of things that they want in their new vehicles,” so fuel efficiency gets sidelined in a long list of consumer demands. While some consumers place fuel efficiency as their top concern, especially those who drive smaller cars, many others are happy to drive cars with higher fuel efficiency, but have a number of other priorities.

On meeting fuel economy standards

Auto companies generally have a high bar to clear regarding fuel efficiency and other environmental safety standards. They have to abide by fuel efficiency standards imposed by NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as EPA and California state regulations covering CO2 emissions.

But automakers haven’t had trouble meeting these standards. Current standards, which last until 2025, have pushed automakers to innovate faster than anticipated. “There’s no question that the standards have accelerated the rate of technology development,” German said. Computers, especially, have allowed automakers to be in “a period of unprecedented technology development.”

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