When Ed Cole was president of General Motors, he promised that the automaker would voluntarily raise the average fuel economy of its cars from 12 mpg to 18 mpg over a 10-year period.
But Congress raised the ante. In 1975, the year after Cole retired, Congress created corporate average fuel economy standards that required automakers to achieve a CAFE of 27.5 mpg by the 1985 model year.
For a very long time, fuel economy standards barely changed.
Nearly two years ago, the federal government raised fuel economy standards for the 2012 through 2016 model years. Now the administration proposes that CAFE be the equivalent of 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year -- nearly double what has been required since 1985.
It's too bad that over the past few decades the feds didn't take a more moderate but constant approach to raising CAFE. It's ridiculous that Congress passed CAFE then ignored it for so long.
We need more fuel-efficient cars and trucks. But I'm not sure which works better, the carrot or the stick. The government seems to be more interested in the stick, although there are plenty of carrots in its latest proposal, including incentives for hybrids and pure electric cars.
Regardless of the incentives, it will take a Herculean effort to meet those standards, and they will force American consumers into vehicles that they don't want.
There also will be an inevitable safety mismatch for at least a decade when older, heavier cars meet newer, more fuel-efficient cars that will need to be considerably lighter.
I am still not convinced that we can mandate fuel economy.
A better, more effective method might be to increase demand for fuel-efficient vehicles with a higher tax on fuel. If the revenue were earmarked solely for highway construction and repairs, it might sit better with American consumers.
Once again, the government has set a very high bar for the industry to clear. And it was done without consumers getting a chance to weigh in with their opinions.
It's going to change what we drive and the way we drive over the next decade.
I wonder whether Ed Cole had any idea what he was starting.