CAS 1995 House Testimony on CAFE

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Fuel Economy > Fuel Economy

Before the
Washington DC July 24, 1995

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to testify on the Administration's implementation of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. The Center for Auto Safety is a consumer group founded by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader that works to improve motor vehicle safety, fuel economy and quality. This statement is also submitted on behalf of the ACEEE, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club.
The motor vehicle fuel economy standards mandated by Congress in the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA) represent the most significant energy conservation program in this country. The express purpose of the fuel economy program was to reduce the U.S. vulnerability to foreign events by improving vehicle fuel efficiency over 1974 levels by 50% by 1980, and 100% -- to 27.5 MPG -- by 1985. Congress set the 27.5 mpg 1985 standard for cars but left the light truck standards to DOT which set it at 20.5 mpg for 1987 where it has essentially stayed. CAFE standards reduced U.S. oil consumption by 3 million barrels per day (b/d) of oil while saving purchasers of new cars $3,300 in gasoline costs. As a side benefit, they reduce evaporative hydrocarbon emissions in the production, transport and use of gasoline by 500,000 tons per year, as much as the going to the Tier I tailpipe emission standards in the Clean Air Act.
Passenger cars achieved the 27.5 mpg standard in 1985 and topped at 28.8 mpg in 1987, dropping to 28.2 in 1994. Light trucks hit 21.7 mpg in 1987, dropping to 20.6 in 1994. Total fleet fuel economy also hit a high of 26.2 mpg in 1987 but has since come down to 24.6 mpg in 1994 due to the combined effect of lower fuel economy for both cars and trucks and the increased market penetration of light trucks and vans in the fleet, up from less than 10% in 1979 to 28% in 1987 to 40% in 1994.
Although both cars and trucks have improved in fuel efficiency, cars by slightly over 100% and light trucks by slightly under 50% since 1975, the number of vehicles on the road (and vehicles miles traveled) has increased by 62 million since 1975. By 2005, the number of vehicles on the road will increase to over 225 million and gasoline consumption will rise by more than 20% unless we improve motor vehicle fuel efficiency. We support increasing CAFE standards for both cars and light trucks/vans by 60% by 2005 with a resultant savings of an additional 3 million b/d of oil, 500,000 tons of HC emissions and $2300 in consumer fuel savings.

Benefits of CAFE
CAFE standards have advanced major national policies. These include enhanced national security through reduced dependence on imported oil; significantly reduced fuel consumption and lowered greenhouse gas emissions; improved U.S. balance of trade and balance of payments resulting from reduced oil imports; reduced inflationary pressure; lessened dependence of the U.S. economy on foreign petroleum supplies; reduced air pollution by decreasing evaporative emissions; and stimulated substantial innovation in automotive design and production technology. There can be little doubt that the CAFE standards, by decreasing demand for petroleum, helped break OPEC's ability to fix high oil prices.
Growth in number of vehicles on the road from 133 million in 1975 when EPCA was passed to 195 million today has outstripped gains in fuel efficiency so that the nation relies more on imported oil than ever. When EPCA was passed in 1975, the US imported 6.5 million b/d of oil out of 16.5 million used with cars and light trucks consuming 6.0 million b/d. By 1993, the US imported 7.7 million b/d to meet the demand of 17.2 million b/d with cars and light trucks consuming 6.9 million b/d.
In 1993 the United States imported 44% of the petroleum it consumed with nearly half coming from OPEC. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) predicts that after 2000 OPEC will supply just under 60% of imports. By 2010 EIA estimates that we will be importing 59% of the petroleum Americans will consume annually. These oil imports account for a significant portion of the United States' trade deficit. In 1994, oil imports cost the American people $45 billion, almost a third of a monumental $150 billion trade imbalance. Unlike auto imports, oil imports cannot be reduced by trade negotiations, only by conservation.

Fuel Economy Can Be Improved to 45-mpg by 2005 Through Technology
Since 1974, new car fuel economy has increased by 100% through the use of technology without restricting consumer choice or reducing safety. Today consumers have far safer and more fuel efficiency vehicle to chose from in all size classes. In 1994, we saved over 3.0 million b/d of gasoline and 41,000 lives annually due respectively to CAFE that has doubled and fatality rates that have decreased by 50% since 1974.
Technology enabled us to double CAFE from 1975 by 1985 and technology will enable us to increase CAFE again to 45 MPG by 2005. In 1975, cars had carburetors, 3-speed automatic transmissions and poor aerodynamics. By 1985 cars had fuel injection, 4-speed automatic transmission, good aerodynamics and more efficient engines. By 2005, cars will have electronically controlled 5-speed automatic or continuously variable transmissions, tuned intake manifolds, sleeker aerodynamics, lean burn engines with variable valve timing, reduced friction technology, and some new engines. Increased use of strong, lightweight materials will increase fuel economy themselves and will permit the use of smaller engines for further fuel economy gains.
Compact cars that get 40 MPG today can get at least 60 MPG by 2005 while large cars which get 25 MPG today can get at least 40 MPG. As shown on the attached fact sheet, CAS examined how the Ford Taurus as a typical family car that today gets about 27 MPG could get 42 MPG with improved technology. The 42 MPG Taurus does not utilize all available technologies such as maximum substitution of light weight materials or developing technologies such as 2-stroke engine, hybrid engines and stored energy accumulators. The 42 MPG Taurus could get even better fuel economy if it were designed to be a maximum technology car. By 2010, vehicles like the Taurus could get 60 MPG.

CAFE Improvements Come From Technology Not Small Cars
When Congress passed the first fuel economy standards (CAFE) in 1975, the auto industry said it would "outlaw full-size sedans and station wagons [Chrysler]", "require all sub-compact vehicles" and "place hardships on Americans who want and need larger cars [Ford]", and "restrict availability of 5 and 6 passenger cars regardless of consumer needs [GM]." These 1975 charges were nothing more than scare tactics. In fact CAFE doubled while large cars stayed on the road. In 1975, 14.3% of the fleet was large cars; in 1994, 13.6% of the fleet is large cars.
Of the 14.2 MPG gain in CAFE from 14 MPG in 1974 to 28.2 MPG in 1994, 12.4 MPG or 87% results from technological improvements to passenger cars. The increase in CAFE due to weight loss from 1974 was 1.6 MPG or 11.5%. only 0.2 MPG or 1.4% of the improvement came from consumers buying smaller cars. The virtual elimination of the mini-compact car which went from 11.4% of the market in 1974 to 0.3% in 1994 shows that tighter CAFE standards does not necessitate small cars.
The 14.2 MPG improvement since 1974 is all the more remarkable because 2.8 MPG was lost due to tuning engines for faster acceleration times between 1981 and 1994. If engine performance improvements had been used for CAFE gains instead of faster acceleration, the 1994 CAFE would have been 31.0 MPG and a gain of 17.0 MPG with 15.2 MPG or 89% coming from technological improvements.

Light Truck Fuel Economy Can Be Improved Through Technology
The same technologies used to improve passenger car fuel economy have similar applications in light trucks. Thus more efficient engines, technologies to reduce friction and pumping losses, materials substitution, and better aerodynamics can all be used in trucks and vans. Light truck and van fuel economy can be readily improved because more technology remains to be used than in passenger cars. For example, multi-point fuel injection is used in nearly 70% of the 1994 new car fleet but only 35% of the light truck and van fleet while multi-valve engines were found in 45% of 1994 cars but only 4% of light trucks and vans. Some technologies such as diesel engines may well have greater use in trucks than in cars due to consumer experience with the technology.
When the Environmental Protection did its last assessment of best in class technology for light trucks in 1990, it found that the top five trucks in each weight class had 20% better fuel economy than the average truck yet had substantially the same performance in terms of top speed and payload. The average fuel economy for the best five in class was 25.2 mpg versus 21.0 for the average truck. If every truck today got the same fuel economy as the best truck in its weight class in 1990, the average light truck CAFE would be 25.9 mpg. Note that best in class analysis is based on no change in sales mix so whatever number of 8500 pound full-size pickups are sold is fixed at that number with no mix shift.
Industry arguments that increased CAFE standards for light trucks will outlaw many large trucks and vans are no more true today than were its arguments in 1975 that CAFE standards would outlaw large cars and station wagons. CAFE standards made large cars better and more fuel efficient. However, industry arguments made in the early 1970's to lift the excise tax on light trucks on the grounds that they are used for the substantially the same purposes as cars and should be treated the same as cars is more telling.

Safety & CAFE Do Not Conflict With Laws Of Physics
For a given population of present cars, the laws of physics do not command a relationship between CAFE and levels of safety. The safety of vehicles has been demonstrated to be easily improved from current levels with significant weight reductions. Safety is related to structural crashworthiness and occupant protection design technology, while fuel economy is related to engine and transmission efficiency, power to weight ratio, acceleration performance, drag coefficient, materials choice and vehicle packaging (whether an efficient design such as front wheel drive is used).
By using advanced safety features, small cars can be made as safe or safer than large cars. The laws of physics do not say small cars cannot be made safe; they just say good engineering must be used to make any car safe. Indeed the safest cars ever built were small cars, the Research Safety Vehicles built by the Department of Transportation in the late 1970's that used advanced materials and design to make cars lighter while retaining their size and improving both their fuel economy and safety. Many smaller cars today with airbags will outperform larger cars without airbags in vehicle to vehicle crashes.
The basic principles for designing safe, fuel efficient cars was recognized by Dr. William Haddon, the first head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (then known as the National Highway Safety Bureau) and later president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, when he said.
Car size - not car weight - is a critical parameter in terms of occupant protection. Since fuel economy is influenced much more by weight than by size, it should be possible to make cars that are of adequate size to protect their occupants (and that have respectable fuel economy as well) by increasing the use of lightweight materials. In this regard, it is worth noting that many of the newer intermediate-size cars have substantially better fuel economy than many of the smallest cars of only a few years ago. (Testimony of Dr. William Haddon, Jr., president, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, House Committee on Science and Technology, November 1982.)

For vehicles using the same roads these relationships suggest a crashworthiness design concept for intervehicular crashes that regards increases in vehicle size as primarily protective, and increases in vehicle weight as primarily hostile, indicating the desirability of relatively sizeable but not heavy vehicles. ("Relationship Between Car Size, Car Weight, and Crash Injuries in Car-to-Car Crashes," William Haddon, B. O'Neill, H Joksch, IIHS, July 1974.)

The laws of physics do say motorcycles, pedestrians and all other vehicle occupants would be safer if very large cars were made lighter. The extra weight in large cars offers no safety benefits to their occupants but makes these large vehicle more dangerous when they strike other vehicles and people. By reducing the weight of present large cars while retaining their size, the laws of physics say we will save lives, gasoline and the environment.
The safety technology which will be incorporated in new cars includes improved roof strength and upper lining, laminated side windows, full frontal airbags, antilock brakes and energy absorbing interiors to reduce head and side injuries. Small cars will include advanced airbags which inflate faster and contain a small interior bag to protect occupants in a range of crash speeds. High strength, low alloy steel will be used in the fender well and side rails along with improved A-pillar strength in small cars.
Auto manufacturers can utilize advanced safety technologies like airbags, padded interiors, high strength/low weight materials, deformable side door glass, pretensioning belts, airbelts, antilock brakes, wider tracks to reduce rollover and roof padding to improve rollover crashworthiness. The required installation of full front seat airbags in all new cars by 1997 plus implementation of the new dynamic side impact standard alone will reduce occupant deaths more than 20%. The dynamic side impact standard is an example of how to improve small car safety. The previous standard applied a force that was inversely proportional to the weight of the vehicle with small cars required to have less resistance than large cars. By going to a moving 3000 pound barrier, the new rule will reverse this effect.

Return To Performance Not Dictated By Consumer Demand
During the past 10 years, the auto companies have elected to use improvements in engine technology to boost horsepower and performance instead of fuel efficiency. This trend is so great that the cars of today have the highest power/weight ratio ever recorded, higher than the fabled muscle cars of the 1960's like the Pontiac GTO. Such performance not only lowers fuel economy but also results in more fatalities. The highest injury rated sports cars is the Ford Mustang which also has one of highest power to weight ratios and lowest acceleration times.
The return to performance at the expense of fuel efficiency is not dictated by consumer demand but by industry product planning and marketing strategy. The American Automobile Manufacturers Association just last month gave the attached Consumer Purchase Reason Study to the National Academy of Sciences which shows Fuel Economy ranks higher than Power and Pickup, higher than Fun to Drive, Cargo Space and Seating Capacity. If the industry had been listening to consumers, more of the engine efficiency improvements would have gone to fuel economy than to performance.

CAFE Improved Safety By Phase-out Of Unsafe, Fuel Inefficient Cars
When Congress passed the CAFE law, it forced the car companies to phase out many older, less fuel efficient and unsafe vehicles. The CAFE standards hastened the phase-out of unsafe models such as the Pinto and created an opportunity for the auto companies to build advanced safety into a whole new generation of models. Many of the most unsafe mid-1970's vehicles were replaced by new models with major gains in both safety and fuel efficiency. one of the best examples is the replacement of the VW Beetle by the Rabbit which had a 44% lower fatality rate and a 25% higher gas mileage. When Honda redesigned the 1800 pound Civic in 1981, its gas mileage improved by 12% and its fatality rate dropped by 44%. The attached table shows six pairs of vehicles phased out during the late 1970's and early 1980's where in each case the CAFE of the replacement vehicle went up by 5-20% and the fatality rate dropped by 30-50%.

Improved CAFE Necessary to Keep US Competitive As Other Countries Move Ahead
In March of this year the Association of the German Automobile Industry announced a voluntary agreement to improve the fuel economy of their passenger cars by 33% over 1990 levels by the year 2005. This voluntary agreement translates to an increase in fuel economy of German cars up to 41 mpg. The German auto makers committed to utilizing known existing fuel efficiency technologies toward achieving their goal rather than through any vehicle downsizing. New technologies continue to come out of the Japanese car companies, particularly in area of more efficient engines with companies like Mitsubishi catching up to and even passing Honda with its VTEC engine that enabled the Civic to get a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency. Just today, Automotive News reported Honda is adding the continuously variable transmission to a new version of its VTEC engine that results in 20% better fuel economy and 40% more power.

Although the US auto makers are engaged in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) with the government to build a 80-mpg production prototype sedan by 2005, it's another thing to put it on the road. Research and development programs may well develop the technology but it's regulatory programs that move it into the marketplace. As Henry Ford II said at the end of his career as head of Ford Motor Company, "We could not have not made all the advance in safety and the environment without government regulations."