WASHINGTON -- The auto industry is unlikely to mount a major pushback to fuel economy and tailpipe emissions rules that seek to boost new vehicles' average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year, the former head of the U.S. EPA's office that oversees auto emissions says.
Automakers and regulators are gearing up for a review of the rules to be completed by April 2018. The midterm review was built into the regulations to give the government a chance to evaluate the industry's progress and recalibrate the targets if necessary. It was a key concession by the government that helped win widespread industry support when the rules were enacted in 2012.
Recent declines in gasoline prices have sparked some concern about whether market demand will allow automakers to meet the tougher targets, and some in the industry have voiced concerns that readily available technologies to improve fuel economy and clean tailpipe emissions have been exhausted.
Despite that, Margo Oge, former director of the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, says auto industry investments in advanced powertrains, cleaner engines and lightweighting technologies she's observed since leaving her post in 2012 have convinced her that the industry is serious about producing cleaner vehicles in the long term, and won't retreat.
"I know that Sergio last January called for revisions to the standards, and I know that quietly companies are concerned about gasoline prices," Oge (OH'-gay) said in an interview, referencing Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's comments in January suggesting the 54.5 mpg standard be pushed to a later date. "But I don't believe that you're going to get everybody together, all the companies, to tell EPA to relax the standard in 2025."
Oge was instrumental in negotiating the national program that lines up toughening emissions regulations overseen by the EPA with national mpg requirements governed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's corporate average fuel economy program and California's greenhouse gas emissions rules for autos. The harmonization of the rules, which had been long sought by automakers, allows them to sell the same vehicles in all 50 states.
Oge cited investments made by General Motors in electrified vehicle technologies seen in the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Bolt electric car concept, and the lightweighting effort underpinning BMW's i car program as evidence that the industry is committed to more efficient vehicles.
"If I put these two pictures together in my mind, I would say that the industry is serious in investing in alterative powertrains and lighter-weight materials," she said. "If you told me [in 2007] that General Motors is going to be very serious about investing in the area of advanced powertrain, I wouldn't believe it."