The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

24 August 2005

Those new fuel-economy standards

Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta says that the Bush administration's proposed new fuel-economy standards will ultimately save 10 billion gallons of gasoline. You'll forgive me if I, with an eye toward Mineta's other billion-dollar baby, the Transportation Security Agency, break into guffaws.

Trucks outsell cars these days, so the new standards focus on trucks. Over the next six years, the smallest SUVs, your RAV4 and your CR-V and your PT Cruiser, which isn't an SUV at all, but since the rear seats come out, it's legally a truck, unless it's a convertible, in which the rear seats don't come out, and therefore it's a car — but you get the idea. Multiplying the number of light-truck categories by six means thirty-six times the amount of finagling that will be going on to meet the letter of the law while snickering at its spirit.

The environmental crowd is already complaining that the new standards won't actually save that much fuel, and I'm inclined to believe them. Unless I buy a new ride — and believe me, after five months of not having a car payment, I'm not anxious to get one again — they won't affect me in the slightest. Mineta points to the 28.4-mpg goal for the smallest truck-like vehicles and notes that it's way beyond the 19-mpg standard for current trucks; I suggest that if you're getting a mere 19 mpg from, say, a RAV4, you're probably pounding on the dealership's door demanding that they buy back this citrus-scented little so-and-so. And the current government estimate on a RAV4 with 4WD is 22 city, 27 highway; pushing this to 28.4 combined would cut fuel consumption by about 15 percent. That's not inconsiderable, but it may not be enough to get someone to buy a new RAV4 come 2011, and it's certainly not enough to thrill the Sierra Club in the interim.

On the other hand, this is a good argument for Oklahoma State Question 723 (I've already made a bad one); pushing the price even higher is, I reckon, a pretty good motivator when it comes to saving fuel.

Posted at 7:49 PM to Driver's Seat

The more fuel-efficient vehicles get, the more people drive -- it's a documented fact. Calling these rules "fuel economy" standards is a joke.

People buy what they think best suits their needs. During the 1970s when gas prices shot up thanks to OPEC manipulation, the demand was for more fuel-efficient cars. By the 1990s (as gasoline prices became less traumatic), those tinfoil boxes had become notoriously dangerous so people shifted to SUVs.

Gas prices will come down again in the short term, and people will get used to paying for gas whatever the longterm price trend calls for. But if these rules turn SUVs into tinfoil deathtraps the market will find a way around the rules and we'll be going through this again in 30 years.

Posted by: McGehee at 10:25 AM on 26 August 2005