In CAFE race, Hyundai shoots for transparency

Ryan Beene is a Los Angeles-based reporter for Automotive News.
LOS ANGELES -- Kudos are in order for Hyundai, which this past week opted to disclose its sales-weighted CAFE ratings on a monthly basis.

The move takes the brand’s transparency to a new level. It also began voluntarily disclosing its monthly fleet sales figures in October.

Granted, reporting sales-weighted CAFE ratings in real time is a move that, at least in part, carries upside for Hyundai’s image at a pretty low-risk. Hyundai doesn’t sell big, low-mileage pickups in high volumes like Toyota, Nissan and the Detroit 3, so a drop in ratings will likely be minimized.

At 34.7 mpg for January, Hyundai also is very close to the proposed CAFE requirement of 35.5 mpg by the 2016 model year. It also shows that the brand is a lock to achieve its self-imposed goal of 35 mpg by 2015, which it set in 2008. A lesser-known fact: Hyundai has been among the CAFE leaders for a few years now. It was the No. 3 automaker in CAFE scores for the 2008 model year, behind only Toyota and Honda, and Hyundai didn’t sell any hybrids at the time, and has since replaced the bulk of its lineup with more fuel efficient vehicles.

All things considered, it’s a smart move to remind the industry regularly about its green credentials.

Hyundai CEO John Krafcik said he hopes the rest of the industry follows suit. Doing so, he reasoned, could shed light on the industry’s ebbs and flows in new ways.

By correlating gas prices to real-time changes in CAFE ratings, it could be a way to see the point at which gas prices really impact consumer buying decisions. It also could show which automakers are most vulnerable to rising gas prices by looking at the degree to which a particular automaker’s CAFE ratings change monthly.

Automakers might also be able to gauge the effectiveness of monthly changes in incentives or marketing. Suppose a brand pushes crossovers in a particular month. A drop in the CAFE score could be used as an additional indicator to evaluate the success or failure of its marketing and sales initiatives.

It’s an interesting idea.

Sure, it might make true full-line automakers that sell lots of pickups look bad by comparison. At least in the short-term, as big trucks continue to dominate sales volume for the biggest automakers.

On the other hand, the more truck-oriented automakers would have the opportunity to demonstrate rapid improvement as new technologies take hold and green car sales rise. Their ads could say: "We had the highest percentage increase in fuel economy of any automaker in the industry."

With everyone fighting tooth-and-nail for every slice of market share, isn’t having more data at your disposal better than having less?

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