Who would want the thankless job of convincing Americans to buy green cars?
John K. Teahan Jr. is senior editor of Automotive News.
DETROIT -- Ever think of the jobs you definitely would not want to have?
Like cleaning up a major league ballpark after a sold-out Sunday doubleheader? Or directing traffic on a bitterly cold, windy, snowy day?
I have another job to add to your "no thanks" list. The task of convincing American drivers to give up their mid-sized cars, big cars, luxury cars, pickups and SUVs.
You say there is no such job, and you're right. For now. But look ahead five years or so. It's almost certain that some pompous bureaucrat will be filling such a position. Heck, he might even have a chair in the president's Cabinet. Maybe Secretary of Little Cars. And you can be sure that he will be trundled to work each day in a Cadillac limousine.
Why the seemingly wacky speculation? Because it's coming, neighbors, it's coming. In 2016, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standard will be 35.5 mpg. "That's five years from now," you say. "It will be dropped or softened by then."
A more realistic way of viewing it is, "That's only five years away, and it probably will take effect as planned.
And 54.5 in 2025
It will be a 27 percent increase over the current CAFE of 27.5 mpg, and it may touch off the biggest change in the auto industry since Boss Kettering developed the self starter a hundred years ago.
Today, automakers are straining to meet 27.5. Will they be able to make 35? Probably, but not with today's vehicles or today's engines.
And in 2025, a mere 14 years hence, the standard will be 54.5 mpg -- 62 for cars and 44 for trucks.
Sure, cars like the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid and electric Nissan Leaf approach those figures. To my mind, the electric car will never be anything more than an oversized shopping cart for trips to the nearby supermarket.
Gasoline-electric hybrids are another matter. They will be a market factor, but how much of a factor remains to be seen. They have been around for several years but, aside from the Toyota Prius, Americans are not exactly standing in line to buy them. In the first eight months of this year, alternative power vehicles accounted for 2.9 percent of car-truck sales.
Big job for small cars
Total sales of alternative-power vehicles for eight months were 248,731; of those, 83,918 (34 percent) were Prius models.
Today's small cars and those to follow them face the biggest challenge. They had 29 percent of the car market in January-August. That must double or triple in the next 10 years if the auto industry is to prosper.
Currently, 27 small-car nameplates are on the market. Thirteen are Japanese, six are American, and five are Korean. Germany has two; Italy has one. Top sellers for eight months were the Toyota Corolla-Matrix with 170,744 and the Chevrolet Cruze with 169,427.
The 35- and 54.5-mpg figures are for combined city-highway driving, not just highway alone. No popular nameplate can achieve those figures today. Larger cars and trucks will be available after 2016 and 2025, but they will be scarce.
Dealers would be wise to warn their customers: "Buy before the end of 2015 or you'll have trouble finding what you want."
You can reach John K. Teahen Jr. at email@example.com.