Feds Accelerate CAFE

Just in time for Earth Day, the Department of Transportation said it couldn’t wait until 2020 for the increase in the national fuel efficiency that was approved by Congress to take effect. In January, as part of the Energy Bill, Congress voted to raise the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard to 35 miles per gallon, fleet-wide, by 2020 but left the intermediate timing details up the the Bush administration. The new DOT regulations put forward a fleet-wide goal of 31.6 mpg by 2015.

While the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers politely told Cleantech.com that car makers are ready for the change, even with the accelerated schedule, this is exactly the sort of divided and piecemeal fuel efficiency regulation that automakers dread. We’d like to think that it would force automakers to speed up, or at the very least stay on schedule, with their forthcoming plug-in electrics and hybrid offerings, but the auto industry historically has no problem asserting their independence from regulations.

A cynical op-ed from the Wall Street Journal called the DOT’s move a “fitting Earth Day hoax” and an attempt for the current administration to do some last-minute greening, as the Secretary of Transportation is a presidential appointment.

The WSJ piece went on to explore how this will impact Chevy’s much ballyhooed all-electric Volt, a sure money loser but a great green photo opp. As GM tries to out-Prius Toyota, this new deadline could be good news for the flagging American automaker. The Volt is ambitiously scheduled for delivery in 2010. If GM can push enough Volt’s off the lot, even at a loss, it will boost their fleet’s average fuel efficiency, allowing them to sell more of their gas-guzzling, high-profit trucks and SUVs.