WASHINGTON -- It has officially begun: The process that will shape the powertrains and fuel efficiency of U.S. autos through 2025 kicked off last week with the release of an exhaustive technical study by U.S. and California environmental regulators.
With the launch of the legally required midterm evaluation, environmentalists, regulators and the industry began battling over whether to keep the standards the same and accept a lower fleet average or to adjust them to reflect market and technology changes since the rules were written.
Agencies hailed the findings of the 1,217-page draft "Technical Assessment Report" as evidence that the industry is ahead of schedule in complying with the Obama administration's ambitious National Program of harmonized greenhouse gas and fuel economy regulations. The EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Air Resources Board, the groups that issued the report, said the industry has ample technology available to achieve the challenging targets without relying too heavily on full hybrid and electric vehicles.
But they also noted that if the 2025 model year standards remain unchanged, the industry won't reach the 54.5-mpg fleet target trumpeted when the rules were announced in 2011. Consumers are buying too many light trucks to make that happen.
"Getting the midterm review analysis right is crucial for everyone," the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said in a statement. "It will be a daunting challenge to meet the very aggressive requirements of the 2022-2025 federal fuel economy regulations and greenhouse gas rule."
But environmental groups argue that the report shows the original goals are firmly within the industry's grasp:
"Continuing to strengthen clean vehicle standards is good for America's consumers -- and it's absolutely critical to bringing about cleaner, healthier air and a more stable climate," said Luke Tonachel, director of the Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.