A government report says improving the gasoline engine will yield huge gains for the consumer and the environment as automakers consider ways to improve fuel economy over the next 14 years.
The Obama administration's technical assessment looked at four technology scenarios by which automakers might attain suggested CAFE goals of 47 to 62 mpg for cars and light trucks by 2025.
The scenarios differed by the portion of an automaker's fleet that was accounted for by electrics, hybrid electrics and plug-in hybrid electrics.
The pathway resulting in the lowest consumer price and the highest consumer savings over the life of a vehicle was the one that relied least on hybrids and electrics. Hybrid electrics accounted for a portion of the new-vehicle fleet under this scenario, though less than half.
That scenario, which depended most on advancements in current engine technology and reductions in vehicle mass, also yielded another benefit: the biggest cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
Said John Casesa, an industry analyst in New York: "The report underscores that while electric cars are sexy and therefore politically attractive, reality is that the big opportunity to reduce the car's carbon footprint is through advances in conventional technology. It's more cost-effective and less risky."
The Oct. 1 report by the EPA, U.S. Department of Transportation and California Air Resources Board was released as part of deliberations to reduce fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions by 3 to 6 percent a year from 2017 to 2025.
This year the administration adopted a combined car and light-truck corporate average fuel economy target of 35.5 mpg by 2016, a 30 percent increase over the 27.3 mpg standard for the 2011 model year.
The 245-page technical assessment is the first step in a lengthy regulatory process to set targets leading up to the 2025 model year, partly in an attempt to offer more production and technological certainty to automakers.
The automaker scenario that relies most on gasoline engine advances and least on electrics would result in the highest consumer savings -- $7,400 over the vehicle's life, 12 percent more than the next best pathway. The savings, from burning less fuel, factors in higher sticker prices for the advanced engine technology.
"These are not only preliminary findings but kind of speculative," said Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a group of domestic and foreign automakers. "It's very difficult to predict what types of technology will be most prevalent 15 years from now."