That’s too bad, because while there are a number of parties claiming victory from this political peace treaty, consumers will almost certainly be the biggest losers.
Of the 1,153 passenger vehicle models on the road today, only two presently meet the proposed 35 mpg standard. According to a quick review of EPA data undertaken by Marlo Lewis at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, those cars are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid. Nine other vehicles, Lewis reports, get 35 mpg in city or highway driving conditions, but not both — and all of those vehicles are either subcompacts or compacts. Hence, the auto fleet is going to have to change — and change a lot — for new cars to average 35 mpg by 2020.
The industry has three routes it can go. First, it can lighten cars and thus improve mileage. Second, it can reengineer cars by reducing engine power and incorporating advanced technology to improve fuel efficiency. Third, it can simply stop making low‐mileage cars and trucks or, alternatively, increase their prices so much that a substantial number of consumers opt for the fuel‐efficient alternatives. Of course, mixing and matching is not only possible, but probable.
None of those options, however, represent a Christmas gift to car buyers. Reducing vehicle weight is the cheapest way to improve fuel efficiency, but that would increase highway deaths, just as it has done in the past according to a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences. Reengineering cars will reduce automotive performance in ways that car‐buyers probably won’t like while increasing automotive prices by as much as $3,500 a car according to the same NAS study. Cross‐subsidies might be the most direct way to meet the standard, but that represents a rather steep tax on people with large families, big dogs, and those who for whatever reason need to haul around a lot of stuff — not to mention those who simply have a preference for zippy sports cars or riding high off the road.