TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Automakers looking for some relief from the EPA’s targeted 54.5 mpg fleet average by 2025 may not get it.
During a speech Tuesday at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars, Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, made it clear the agency is in no mood to move backwards.
The EPA is already looking beyond 2025 and believes dangerous climate changes will occur if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced 80 percent by 2050 from today’s levels.
“We are in the beginning stages of tackling one of the most challenging issues of our time, which is climate change.” Grundler said. “This is a global environmental problem. It will require every country and every economic sector to take meaningful action.”
That and other remarks Grundler made in his presentation here indicate the agency isn’t inclined to flex on the targeted 54.5 mpg fleet average fuel economy standard that automakers would have to meet by 2025.
Some in the auto industry are hoping for a break.
A final decision is due no later than April 1, 2018, in the agency’s mid-term review. Grundler said the EPA has three choices in determining the final standard for fuel economy standards for the years 2022- 2025: Standards will remain the same, become less stringent, or become even more stringent.
Citing the EPA’s technical assessment report (TAR) issued last month that addresses progress being made by automakers to improve fuel economy, Grundler said automakers are ahead of the agency’s estimates on reducing CO2 levels and improving fuel economy.
He said the agency has invested record amounts of time and resources in creating the information the EPA will use to make its final decision.
“This has been one of EPA’s highest priorities,” Grundler said. “We have put more people and more dollars and more test time in more [engine test] cell time in this project than we did in establishing the original standards.”
The EPA has also been working with automakers and suppliers globally on the rules.
Since the original 2025 targets were set in 2012, the mix of cars versus trucks sold has shifted from nearly 50-50 to closer to 70-30 in favor of trucks, mostly due to cheaper gasoline.
But those heavier and less fuel efficient vehicles could be a major factor in the EPA’s decision to stand by the 54.5 mpg target.
Climate change indicator
On Tuesday, the EPA issued a climate change indicator report showing that the average annual carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have exceeded 400 parts per million -- the highest in 800,000 years. “That was before modern humans roamed this earth,” he said.
Grundler, citing some of the changes that have come about due to global warming, told his auto industry audience that 2015 was the warmest year on record, that average global temperatures are continuing to rise. Sea levels across the U.S. coastlines have risen every year since 1960, and that has increased coastal flooding. Sea ice is the lowest on record. Marine life is beginning to head north to deeper waters, Grundler said.
“It will take 'a transportation transformation' to address climate change, he said. “We have to think about more than incremental improvements and making cars a little better each year.”
Grundler said the TAR shows automakers can meet the standards with a wide array of technologies. Mostly done through better gasoline engine techs.
“When we look at sales today and what is being sold, by the time 2016 is over nearly 20 percent of vehicles sold today -- 2.5 million vehicles -- will meet 2020 standards. That’s real progress. And we think industry is well positioned while reaching significantly new levels of environmental performance.”
Grundler batted down the notion that greater sales of trucks and SUVs will make it impossible for automakers to meet fuel economy standards.
“This policy was deliberately designed to protect consumer choice. If the consumer choice is changing the standards adjust accordingly. It’s not a compliance problem. The standards are based on what an automaker chooses to build,” he said.