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Let’s force government, not cars, to be more efficient

Let’s force government, not cars, to be more efficient

SCOTT BURGESS

If the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations were a vehicle, it’d be a Ford Edsel, Pontiac Aztek and Chrysler Sebring combined.

No, that’s not fair. All of those cars served a purpose and actually could do something.

Now that all the haranguing has finished and a giant number has been attached to CAFE, car guys can get to work and politicians can do whatever it is they do.

Here’s what I think of CAFE: It’s a farce, a joke, the result of spineless politicians taking the easy road. Over its more than 30 years in existence, it has not reduced U.S. consumption of oil. No, it created more. CAFE, and the people behind it, helped create the Hummer H1 — a beautiful vehicle that was completely misunderstood.

The only thing CAFE does is guarantee future cars will cost a lot more money than present-day cars. But higher-priced cars do help states, which typically collect a percentage of the vehicle’s price, known as sales taxes. CAFE is worse than pandering; it’s political pandering.

And no one will ever be satisfied. There’s one group of greenies — supported by the usual bunch of greenies — who think the fleet average should be at least 60 miles per gallon by 2025 — instead of the new 54.5 mpg standard. No doubt, that number will continue to grow higher as carmakers outpace expectations and create even more efficient vehicles because consumers want them, not because government demands them.

Even today, car sales are not proportional to CAFE standards, and they never have been. The No. 1-selling vehicle in America is the Ford F-Series pickup. The No. 2 selling vehicle is the Chevrolet Silverado. Both vehicles do not top the EPA fuel economy chart. (They are great trucks, though.)

If anyone actually wanted to manipulate the market and force people to buy smaller, more efficient vehicles, they could simply raise the federal gas tax much higher than its current 18.4 cents a gallon. Make it a buck more a gallon. Make it $2 more a gallon. That will push people into smaller cars for sure.

That’s very unlikely, though. And a big gas tax would only get government more addicted to money than this nation is to oil. I’ve never been a fan of giving more money to the federal government. But realistically, that’s how to solve the problem.

Here’s the good news: The number for 2025 is a fake number to begin with: 54.5 mpg is really 40-something-point-something. So after the big parade of people posing for pictures after the president’s announcement, the empty statements of support that everyone issued, the fact of the matter is nothing really changes much. The standards are higher, but not nearly as high as one might think.

I would rather see the U.S. Department of Transportation create a rule that every new driver must get Wayne Gerdes-certified. Gerdes, who coined the term hypermiling, is the king of fuel-efficient driving and owner of the website CleanMPG.org. He drove more than 1,400 miles on a single tank of gas in the Ford Fusion hybrid and can get more than 30 mpg in an F-150 today. I’ve seen him get more than 90 mpg in Toyota Prius hybrid.

If everyone drove like him, we’d never import another drop of oil, the 2025 CAFE numbers would be reached today, and all of us would fall asleep behind the wheel. (Hypermiling is not always exciting.)

D.C. doesn’t leave me optimistic.

Instead, I’m placing my optimism in the automotive engineers and designers of the world. I’ve seen them work and see the results of their work all the time. They can do just about anything. They’ve been innovating long before left-wing nuts or right-wing nuts started clamoring for innovation.

It’s much easier to talk about someone else’s work than actually do any work yourself. It’s much easier to say “design something more efficient” than it is to actually make something more efficient.

Imagine if voters could apply CAFE standards to government, forcing it to double its efficiency by 2025.

The biggest problem with CAFE is that even if carmakers build a 100 mpg car — and if they had the technology today to do it, they would — it doesn’t mean people would buy it. And if people don’t buy it, it won’t count toward the company’s fleet average.

With rules like that, CAFE is obviously flawed.

Of course, that makes it easier to figure out who came up with it. This dud wasn’t created by the automakers, but they do have to play the hand they’re dealt.

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