Monday, April 28, 2008

2015 Fast Forward: The 36 mpg takes center stage

As a result of the recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration new proposal for upped CAFE standards of 35.7 mpg for cars and 26.7 mpg for trucks by 2015, Detroit's best and brightest are hard at work drafting designs and powerplants to meet the new standards. The new limit would succeed a current 27.5 mpg standard for cars which is unchange since 1975. Last year, new cars on the US market averaged 31.3 mpg. It's important to note that these are highway EPA mileage requirements, not city driving limits.

The proposal itself is a bit more complicated than the simplicity of a 35 mpg mandate by 2015. In fact, it represents an average in which one car companie's fleet of vehicles requirements might be slightly different than anothers based on the average "footprint" of the particular manufacturer's fleet. For example, Ford's 1015 requirement is 35.4 mpg while Toyota's is 34.6 mpg.

As a result of the new fuel efficiency benchmarks, many new product projects have been put on hold or cancelled, signaling that the policy's are having a real and measurable effect. Early this year, General Motors announced it had cancelled its $3-billion Ultra V-8 program, a replacement for Cadillac's Northstar V-8. The hopeful outcome of this is that this money can perhaps be spent on developing a Cadillac that offers all the luxury with perhaps double the fuel economy!

The NHTSA's proposal does not anticipate how the automakers are able to satisfy the new rules, however, GM's Bob Lutz has indicated that the only way to get there is by implementing hybrid technology across the fleet. And putting his money where his mouth is, Lutz company is introducing hybrid versions of it's automobiles at an astounding rate.

Because current hybrid offerings are $3-$5k more than conventional powertrains, some critics say the proposal might have the result of forcing consumers into smaller cars than they otherwise would purchase. However, with technological advancements as a result of many more bright minds working on hybrid propulsion systems, it is expected that the incremental cost will decrease significantly over time.

The state of battery technology advancements could have a dramatic effect on all of this, and has the potential upside of rendering these proposals obsolete when compared to the 100+ mpg potential of using lithium based battery stacks in conjunction with small efficient flexible fueled internal combustion engines as range extenders, just as GM is using with the forthcoming Chevy Volt.

The "race to 36" is on!

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