Stalling on Fuel Efficiency

Mar 10, 2016 · 98 comments
Kevin (Lexington)
Article missed an important point concerning truck sales. Profits and market competitiveness of US "trucks" are increased by the "chicken tax" which charges a tariff on imported light trucks. This incentivizes the US manufacturers to produce these vehicles. The tax should be abolished.
KCSM (Chicago)
Anyone remember when CAFE standards were tightened in the 1980s? That regulatory change did more than anything else to usher consumers into the insanely large, inefficient, and less regulated SUVs that are standard fare on today's roads. I fear the new CAFE tightening will lead to a similar result.

The better option, which is rarely mentioned, is to raise gas taxes by $2/gal or more. Then consumers can decide on their own what type of car they want to drive and how frequently to use it.
James Phillips (Lexington, MA)
A very bad consequence of SUVs and pickup trucks is that in a crash with a lighter vehicle, they cause a disproportionate number of fatalities. This may make buyers less likely to buy the lighter, more efficient cars, another reduction in overall efficiency. This is so even though riding in an SUV or pickup truck is not much safer than riding in an ordinary car as the higher vehicle is prone to roll over.
mdalrymple4 (iowa)
Another good reason to make sure we vote in a Democrat for president and any congressional seats that are open. If we end up with a republican president, there will be no more environmental improvements or savings because those clowns do not believe we are having any problems with our environment. If we lose the power of the presidency, there will be so many bad directional changes, it scares me.
Luomaike (New Jersey)
We need to face the reality that the US lifestyle and mentality are not compatible with preventing global warming. We will simply not give up our big houses and big cars. We will not choose to live in communities that are designed to minimize driving and maximize walking, biking, and mass transit, and even if we were, we have no interest in spending money on increasing or improving our pitifully inadequate mass transit system. Buses and trains are for losers. We love freedom, and to us, freedom means not giving up what we want today for the sake of our children's or grandchildren's lives.

So, let's cut the charade of thinking that we will ever prevent global warming, let's scuttle Donald's big, beautiful wall with Mexico, and get him to start building big, beautiful walls around our coastal cities before it is too late.
Mark (Connecticut)
This article is a great example of the authoritarian mindset of the enviro-zealots. Keep your draconian regulations off my car.
Paul Stenquist (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
Times editorial writers should stick to subjects that they know. They obviously know very little about automobiles or engine technology. Neither turbochargers nor CVTs are magic bullets. They are options that work well in some applications, but a normally aspirated engine that is calibrated for the vehicle can be just as efficient and more reliable long term. The reason for the disparity in fuel economy between the domestic makes and, say, Mazda, is light trucks. America needs trucks, and the Detroit three build the vast majority of them. Today's trucks are far more efficient than those of just a few years ago, but they obviously can't match the numbers of the small cars that Mazda sells. If you're going to compare, Times editors, compare apples to apples.
Laura (Madison)
People in the future are going to find it hard to believe that we just burned this stuff and sent it out the tail pipe.

We use oil for many things besides fuel, including plastics (used food storage, medical supplies, etc), medications, lubricants, clothing, candles, and many more. These things might be able to be made in the future from plants, but there won't be enough land to grow food and make fuel, plastics, etc.

It took hundreds of millions of years to make this oil, and we are on track to burn it all in a few centuries. Those alive in 50-100 years will know that our selfishness left them climate change, ocean acidification (goodbye, fish), and many fewer options than we have today. Are we really so short-sighted and selfish?
Paul Stenquist (Bloomfield Hills, MI)
The Times editors apparently didn't pay attention in their science classes. Turbocharged engines don't offer substantial fuel economy advantages over normally aspirated engines. The turbocharged engine is able to pack more air into the cylinders, so a smaller engine can equal the output of a larger engine. But the air/fuel ratio has to remain constant, so along with the higher air density comes more fuel. There's no escaping that. There are some weight savings, but in most cases they're minimal. A 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine weights approximately the same as a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, it just has smaller pistons or a shorter crankshaft stroke. What's more, drivers like the feel of that turbo boost coming on, so they tend to drive the turbocharged cars more aggressively. Consumer Reports (which actually digs into the science of things before going to the keyboard) reported that in many cases, the turbo engines delivered inferior fuel economy, as compared to normally aspirated engines of equal power.
The powerplant and transition technology of the domestic automakers is the equal of the world's other manufacturers. The fuel economy disparity is a result of vehicle mix. The Detroit three make the trucks that deliver the print edition of the Times. Our nation depends on trucks for a whole range of things. We can't get the job done using only little Mazdas.
Number 54 (Stamford)
I think the problem is more one of customers' interests than one of corporate fecklessness. The auto companies have to remain profitable or else that $85 billion dollars will just be the first installment, which means that they have to make vehicles that Americans actually want to buy. If gas were $4+ per gallon, people would have a greater incentive to buy more efficient cars; at $2/gallon, not so much.

Ross Perot advocated a $.50/gallon tax in 1992 to incentivize efficiency and pay for infrastructure improvements. In 2006, before Congress, the CEO's of the Big Three advocated a gas tax increase for the same reasons. Unfortunately, passing a tax increase is much harder than imposing new regulations on the industry, and then blaming that industry for trying to stay in business.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.
John Joseph Laffiteau MS in Econ (APS08)
Misters Becker and Gerstenzang, and Readers: I) As global aggregate demand has slowed recently, it has impacted the demand for petroleum. Yet, OPEC and other major producers have maintained its supply, or petroleum production levels, during this period of declining petroleum demand.
Thus, the global aggregate demand curve for petroleum has shifted to the left due to this decline in national incomes. Yet, the global petroleum supply curve has not shifted because production has remained steady. II) The intersection of the global petroleum demand and supply curves now occurs at a much lower price, because of this demand and supply curve interaction.
III) The environmental impacts of these much lower petroleum prices are twofold: 1) The cheaper price reinforces buyers purchasing inefficient vehicles; which are often the most profitable for US car manufacturers. 2)The lower petroleum prices, with oil acting as a substitute, force many alternative energy producers into net loss positions, which are unsustainable in the medium term.
[JJL; Thursday, March 10, 2016, 10:54 a.m.; Greenville, NC]
Ralph Deeds (Birmingham, Michigan)
A good approach would be to apply the laws of physics by imposing a motor vehicle weight tax. This tax could be tapered in over a 5 to 10 year period with the effect of equalizing the fuel cost per mile in the U.S. with that of Europe. It appears to me that a gross weight tax would be more politically possible than an increase in the gasoline tax. And it would leave car makers free to produce whatever vehicles they wished--small, medium, large, gasoline, diesel, hybrid, CNG, etc., and it would leave car buyers free to buy whatever car or truck or SUV best fitted their preference and purse. However, the overall result would mean that more small, fuel efficient vehicles would be produced, and CO2 emissions would decline. The government would not be involved in the design or engineering of cars. Heavier cars would not be prohibited, but they would be taxed sufficiently to compensate for their "negative external costs" of pollution and contribution to our country's dependence on foreign oil. [It should be noted that if a weight tax were adopted the regulation should include a weight credit for hybrid or battery powered vehicles which are fuel efficient although the batteries are quite heavy.]
Ray (Texas)
Apple builds I-Phones, because that's what people want. Ford builds trucks, because that's what people want. It's that simple...
C.C. Kegel,Ph.D. (Planet Earth)
I find it amazing that consumers care so little about their carbon foot print. We need foot print taxes on high carbon emitting behaviors.

But we also need to reduce over heating and air conditioning in public buildings like hospitals. There is no motivation for the administrators of these buildings to reduce carbon output, since they simply pass the expense to consumers. We must speak up and target them for change.

We have got to get the public to care about fuel efficiency and wasted energy.
veh (metro detroit)
So many flaws in this piece.

First, automakers are already doing the things you advise them to do with technology improvements. Stop-start, increasingly efficient ICE engines, more hybrids, lightweighting, are all things RIGHT NOW.

Second, Detroit automakers in particular were excoriated pre-crisis for not building what people wanted to buy. Guess what? They are now.

Third, to compare Mazda to automakers that have full product lines is insane. Mazda doesn't have pickups and vans in its lineup, and their sales are not setting any records, either.

You want to shift the market to small cars, then cost of operation, either for fuel or for registration, has to be made more expensive.
Alex (Tampa, FL)
Our government DOES NOT want fuel-efficient vehicles here. I know, I tried to get permission to legally import one and was shot down!

I wanted to bring in a Mercedes E300 Bluetec Hybrid. It's a full-size, no-compromise car. Oh, and it also gets ~60-70mpg. Despite months of phone calls and e-mails, the ultimate answer I got was No, blame the EPA for prohibiting it with some grumbling about the car being "too polluting."

So, instead I settled on the Mercedes E350 gasoline model, which only gets ~30mpg. Not terrible mileage for a car of this size and heft, BUT it's not the 60-70 mpg I was hoping for. I should also point out that it's a direct-injection gasoline engine, so it puts out more soot than the Bluetec engine would have. The EPA did also have issues with one of the options I wanted on the car, the auxiliary heater. This device lets you heat up the car & engine with a small purpose-built RV-style heater without firing up the 3.5L main engine for the purpose of getting a little heat in the cabin. Our EPA said that if it burned fuel, it's an engine, and as such, this one gets 0 mpg, therefore not allowed.

The Merc also is one of the most environmentally-friendly cars on the road, cradle-to-grave. Even my gasoline model is still more environmentally friendly than a Prius. Again, our government doesn't care.

So get back with me when our government is serious about this.
Greg (St Paul, MN)
How is it that 6.3 pounds of gasoline (1 gallon) contributes to 25 pounds of greenhouse gasses as stated in the article? What is the math here? Just askin.

CxHy + O2 = H2O + CO2

Help me out.
Lost Boy (MA)
Who cares about fuel efficiency, global warming isn't even real, it's just a liberal ploy!!! Jk, scary thing is I have heard that way too many times that it's not even funny. I drive a Toyota Tacoma, not verry efficient, but the auto industry hasn't given me many options....sad face.
curiouser and curiouser (wonderland)
folks are buying suv's bc gas is cheap

they should just about get that hummer paid off when gas gets back to $ 5 gallon
Charles (Long Island)
Interesting article. Consumers are sometimes not all to blame. It's the SUV designation. Many of the vehicles on the road are classified as trucks although they are not trucks by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, most consumers don't even realize they purchased, or own, a truck until they look at their registrations.

GM has fuel economy comparable to Ford's (and others) turbocharged engines using the successful engine/fuel management technology on their non turbocharged V-8 engines. Turbocharged engines come at a price premium.

No matter though, look at most of the car ads particularly, the high priced vehicles. It's about horsepower.
Ralph (Chicago, Illinois)
Sorry, I am into my 6th decade, and just don't believe that last paragraph, that imposing more regulations and costs on auto manufacturers will magically lead to massive savings for consumers. That is not the way things work in the real world.
If advocates like these writers feel that climate change is THE big issue facing humanity, then they should at least be honest and acknowledge that at the end of the day, the only real solution is to raise the cost of carbon based fuels significantly - through carbon taxes and government regulations - in order to speed up the shift to alternative sources of energy. This will lead to higher costs to consumers and slower economic growth. Maybe that is a trade-off worth having, but let's at least have an honest debate.
MDL (Ann Arbor)
The emperor has no clothes on.

VOILA. C'etait une mauvaise blague.
William (Minnesota)
For many decades, the auto industry and their cheerleaders in the oil industry have evaded government regulation even while lobbying for favorable treatment, sabotaged the spread of mass transit, and resisted development of electric vehicles. Both industries joined together to close the nation's eyes and ears to the growing threat of pollution and climate change. Both industries have been so clever at making the government dance to their tune that present hopes for any administration to clip their wings seem to be fanciful. Those industries have been and still are so central to American politics and economics that no serious changes can be reasonably expected in the foreseeable future--not if they have anything to say about it.
David Smith (U.S.)
This is exactly what you get when non-Engineer bureaucrats dictate rules and regulations on subjects they know absolutely nothing about.
Considering what the market demands I think auto and truck manufacturer's have done an admirable job of achieving a balance of what the buying public demands and government fuel efficiency and safety requirements.
This all comes a price however. have you priced a new car lately?
TMK (New York, NY)
The benefits of Turbocharged vehicles are questionable. Not only do these vehicles demand higher-octane fuel, they cost more upfront because of the additional turbo. Fire risk is higher due to more heat. Which means additional costs in cooling, oil, more frequent maintenance, wear and tear. This consumers know already. Ditto for Continuous Variable Transmissions: noisier, have a questionable feel to them, and require more frequent maintenance etc. So whether it is TC or CVT, Detroit will only make as many as it can sell, which, as the article points out, is not that many.

So much for auto mechanics. Now let's come to policy. There is something fundamentally wrong in policy that won't go anywhere near absolute consumption. Commenters @James Lee and @ Mike Cambron discuss at length (thumbs up) with Mike proposing the oft-heard more taxes-at-the-pump. Unfortunately, Taxing punishes equally for any level of consumption, so again, it doesn't address the problem directly, which is to _lower_ consumption across the board.

Thankfully there is a model to limit just that, which is Carbon Credits. Let consumers drive as much, as big, as little as they want, provided they have CCs. Implementation would require automatic reporting to the DMV, which would also track individual CC accounts by VIN.

Would be a huge change, but doable incrementally over time. Imagine 2024 where candidates demand full disclosure of their CC consumption. This is the direction we need to go.
ERP (Bellows Fals, VT)
The authors are activists, whose organization, according to its Website, runs "tough advocacy campaigns".

They are therefore not interested in what people want but rather in reorienting them to more "acceptable" attitudes.

Their arguments should therefore be evaluated in light of the role that they have chosen.
shend (NJ)
This is the Rube Goldberg approach, but the way forward is much simpler...end cheap gasoline! If gasoline were currently say $6.00 a gallon the national fleet of cars and trucks would be far more efficient. Forget telling manufacturers what they must produce and let the marketplace do it. Increase the gasoline taxes to make gasoline expensive, and efficiency will soar. Plus, the nation will have the funds necessary for world class infrastructure.
Jim Waddell (Columbus, OH)
Carmakers don't decide which vehicles they will produce. They produce the vehicles consumers want to buy. What the author is complaining about is the fact that the citizens of the US aren't doing what their political masters want them to do. It must be time to dump democracy and force the citizenry to do what the enlightened know is best for them.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
The fault lies not with the auto industry, it lies with the American consumer. The American car companies are manufacturing the cars Americans want to buy. The technology touted by the authors of the article cost far more than the savings in fuel. Arbitrarily increasing CAFE standards is the least efficient and effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. As automobiles that have higher mpgs become more costly than is justified by fuel savings, fewer people buy new cars, and older cars stay on the road longer. Which is the primary reason why the average fleet mpg hasn't budged since Obama made his unilateral decision to tighten the CAFE standards.

The EPA likes to report on the changes in the new cars added in the last year, but they do not move the needle on overall fuel efficiency.

GM and Chrysler would not have needed a bailout but for the fact that the government is coercing them into selling high mpg vehicle that the Americans don't want at a deep discount.
stormy (raleigh)
Americans believe that large SUVs are the most fuel efficient, because Obama showed up at the Paris Climate Party driving the "Beast" -- one of 12 limos that are built like a truck, weigh 15000 lbs and get 3.7 mpg. We all want to save the planet!
Chris (Missouri)
Granted, there are many people that have no justification for buying and driving an SUV or pickup - mostly those in urban areas. But as someone pointed out here, most of America is rural, no matter how many people live on the left and right coasts. I don't need a truck all the time, but when I bought feed, seed, and ag lime last weekend it would have taken many, many trips to haul it all in a "Smart" car, much less transport the finished products to market.

When the intelligentsia are finished discussing how to be punitive to those of us who don't have public transportation (and still remember Uber as part of Hitler's campaign slogan), let them go to the store and see where their food comes from and how it gets there.
LR (Springfield, IL)
Where to begin?
First with the CAFE standards -- there is no way that the new fleet is going to average anywhere close to 54.5 mpg in 2025. Without the loopholes it may be closer to 35 mpg especially considering this backsliding by the manufacturers and consumers.

Despite the propaganda from auto makers, trucks and SUVS still achieve poor to mediocre fuel efficiency. The auto makers justify their marketing by stating they are just giving people choices. But their commercials are still very much oriented toward manufacturing demand. Demand that satisfies the needs for comfort, safety, status and identity. An identity increasingly about projecting power, prestige, and chauvinism. Muscle has always been appealing. But now, add the militaristic flair. Vehicles that are fit to fight or flee from dystopian settings. The auto makers should start tossing in combat rifles with each purchase. The projection of power of the big, black SUV from D.C. politicians to SWAT teams is mimicked across the land. Don't mess with me.

Autos, the mythic icons they have become to Americans, control our lives. At a time of stagnant wages they represent a huge cost to the lower and middle classes. And to our culture as a whole they are a huge opportunity cost. A cost that puts continuous rumple strips on our imaginations to reduce our dependency on oil.

Many in the younger generations seem to be getting it and doing without. Which goes with this: the ideal car in no car.
Mark Thomason (Clawson, Mich)
I am very sympathetic to this cause, it is my private game. My kids laugh at me for my interest in squeezing one more mpg out of my car, per its digital readout.

Still, I just don't believe a fleet average of 54.5 mpg is possible. That is fantasy. We may as well say 100, or 200, or 1,000.

To get such major reductions in fuel use, we would need more rail, and less long distance commuting. Vehicles as we use them now just can't get us there. Even if they could, that is just the present target. We will need more, and they certainly cannot do that.

We need to think bigger.
Look Ahead (WA)
Beyond the misery that climate change promises, it is useful to remember that every gallon of gas you pump into the tank helps to fuel global terrorism.

If the US got serious about fuel economy, not as government policy but as a moral issue, the worldwide demand for oil could actually drop, leading to more falling revenues for Iran, Saudi Arabia and others funding extremism.

Instead, we have a giant pickup craze in America and scream about ISIL and our shrinking paychecks.
Ed (Oakland, CA)
The vast majority of US oil consumption comes from US production, then Canadian oil, then Mexican oil. Imports from terrorism sponsoring countries are a fraction of US oil usage.
Adrian O (State College, PA)
"leading to more falling revenues for Iran, Saudi Arabia and others funding extremism"

What lead to to more falling revenues for Iran, Saudi Arabia and others funding extremism was increased US and world production, mostly due to fracking.

Bernie Sanders proposes to ban fracking. Thus leading to increased revenues for Iran, Saudi Arabia and others funding extremism.
HN (<br/>)
There's another way to encourage fuel efficiency, at least at the State level. Make some portion of the registration fee be dependent on the weigh of the car, not just whether it is classified as a car or truck. As much of that money goes to road repair, it would also more equitably distribute those costs to those that do the most damage with the heavier vehicles.
Larry Lundgren (Sweden)
Never will my homeland enter the 21st century in time. Exactly one would be President, Bernie Sanders, is well informed about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has been a leader. But if you think he faces a Trumpian Wall on Universal Health Care wait till he tries to raise the price of gas to European levels.

You Floridian s who read this - buy a lifeboat before it is too late.

Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot. com
Dual citizen USASE
arty (ma)
Hej, Larry,

Finally we can disagree on something for real! I was going to reply to one of your pro-Bernie comments but here there is less noise.

Yes, this is going to be a big problem for Bernie as a nominee, along with other things, which is why Hillary has a much better chance of winning against the Republicans.

It has nothing to do with Trump, who I still predict will not be the nominee-- it has to do with the USA electorate. You can't run on a platform of drastic change, particularly if it is a negative one.

People who think that raising the gas tax, taking away the health insurance people have now, raising other taxes, and increasing the price of toys of all kinds from China, and so on, is a winning platform, are not paying attention to reality.

Remember what the article said that is positive-- President Obama made some real progress, through painful regulatory negotiations. There will always be pushback and cheating from the vested interests, and what you need is a rational SCOTUS to stop blocking, and someone in the executive branch willing to keep plugging away. Not extreme rhetoric.
Rob (NYC)
Car makers are building what consumers want rather than what the government dictates. Oh dear. How terrible.
Wesley Brooks (Upstate, NY)
"You can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometime,
You just might find,
You get what you need".

This is the problem with us Americans. We don't want anyone telling us we can't have something. But we have no problem telling the rest of the world what we think they should or shouldn't have.
Jon (Norris)
Yup... so when NYC is under water you can thank your fellow american consumers... sometimes your government, and governments from around the world need to step up and stop the us from our own stupidity!
Sean (Michigan)
Not exactly. It's more like they're giving them outdated technologies wrapped in shinny packaging and promoted w/ expensive marketing campaigns. American automakers can do a lot better, but it would of course cut into their profits.
John (Washington)
It is always fashionable to berate the working and middle class for buying SUVs, pickups and minivans, but one rarely hears complaints about luxury vehicles and sports cars as those are 'dream vehicles', in spite of typically producing the worst fuel economy.

Of the 20 cars with the worst fuel efficiency, 14 cost at least $100,000, and four cost at least $500,000. Included on this list of low-efficiency vehicles are so-called hypercars such as the Lamborghini Aventador and the Ferrari FF. These vehicles are built to achieve peak speed and acceleration. Fuel efficiency is an afterthought.

The remainder of the cars with the worst fuel efficiency are built on light truck frames. Two are SUVs, two are large vans, and two are pickups. In all six cases, potential owners must choose to sacrifice fuel efficiency in order to gain utility.
fsharp (Kentucky)
A very low volume of Lamborghinis and Ferraris are produced and they are rarely driven. Compare this to the number of pickups seen driving around "hauling air".
fsharp (Kentucky)
A very low volume of Lamborghinis and Ferraris are produced and they are rarely driven. Compare this to the number of pickups seen driving around "hauling air"
Robert (Canada)
The improvements in fuel economy did not come because of some magic effect of these standards. They came because of rising fuel prices, causing consumers to veer more towards lighter, smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle choices. The cars themselves did not change nearly as much as which ones people chose to buy.

Now that gas prices have fallen dramatically, it is no great surprise that people are going back into larger, heavier vehicles. Obviously automakers alter their supply according to demand, no great shock there either.

It is typical however, that if policies have not served to adequately damage an industry, they would be considered 'failed' by those on the left of the political spectrum.
Harry (Michigan)
Every single time our country starts to get serious about fuel efficiency and gasp -electric cars, mysteriously oil prices drop. I can just imagine board rooms of oil producers laying out nefarious plans to get people back into gas guzzlers. Hopeful I am not!
Bob (Westchester, NY)
> I can just imagine board rooms of oil producers laying out nefarious plans

Uhh... that's exactly what happened. When oil prices were high, Saudia Arabia publicly worried about "demand destruction," i.e. people permanently shifting to other ways to power their vehicles. They then pursued a policy of market share over prices, opened the spigots, and drove prices so low that electric automobiles and American oil producers struggle to survive.

Over the long term, the global auto industry knows it needs fuel efficiency and then electric cars because they want to sell far more cars to the developing world than there will ever be available oil production. Unfortunately, it looks like the short term has yet again overtaken the American auto industry. By producing cars that Americans want but no one else, it is just weakening itself on the global stage, setting itself up for another government bailout down the line. Fuel economy standards with teeth would help that the American auto industry invest in cars it can sell globally, while also selling the same cars at home.
Mike (Harrison, New York)
"Of all the major automakers, American companies delivered the worst fleetwide mileage. Ford’s fuel efficiency was 9.2 m.p.g. worse than the industry leader, Mazda, which achieved 37.9 m.p.g. "

Before you can discuss the salient points of this article, you would need to correct the egregious errors. Ford's "fuel efficiency", their fleet average fuel economy, was 30.1 in 2014, not 9.2. Which isn't too bad, since Ford's product line includes a much wider range of vehicles than Mazda. If the numbers that Becker and Gerstenzang are working with are this wrong, how can any of their comments have credibility? As Miss Emily Litella would say, "Never mind."
Sean (Michigan)
I think they were saying there was a difference of 9.2 mpg between Mazda's fleet-wide mpg and Ford's. According to your data there is a difference of 7.8 mpg between the two. And Ford is the leader in this category among American car makers.
Charles (Long Island)
You are absolutely correct. Someone has to build larger vehicles (pickup trucks come to mind). Subaru, for example, makes wonderful vehicles but, Subaru does not meet the needs of contractors, tradesmen, farmers, and ranchers. This whole discussion is far more complicated than the article suggests.
John W (Arlington)
Please re-read the sentence -- the authors report that Ford's fleetwide efficiency was 9.2 mpg worse than (i.e., less than) Mazda's, not 9.2 mpg.
Louis V. Lombardo (Bethesda, MD)
Thank you to NY Times for publishing this piece. Our future depends on much more such coverage of our public health and safety.
Alexander K. (Minnesota)
Capitalism always provides the most innovative and efficient solutions. The gasoline price should include the costs of pollution and climate change. Everyone should pay the full and fair price. Since that isn't politically possible, I suggest the following:

1. Put together a scientific panel, free of political influence, to make the best estimates for the true cost of whatever fuel (actual cost + environmental cost).
2. Display the actual and true costs on all energy products (and ultimately all products). For example, when the gas station would have to display: "$1.96 per gallon unleaded (actual cost) and $6.00 per gallon unleaded (true cost); your children and grandchildren will be charged $4.04 per gallon in today's dollars."
3. Display the total debt imposed on the future generations by our behavior for the difference between the actual and true costs of everything.

Sure, many will scoff and dispute the science. But, I suspect the child and the grandchild in the back of the SUV might ask some good questions.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
The projection of a future cost is not a scientific exercise, it is an economics exercise. As such, it is impossible to put together a scientific panel to make an estimate of future costs.

One of the strangest things about the global warmists though processes is that they claim to be motivated by belief in what the scientists say, without regard to how preposterous their position is.

Can anyone really believe that a group of scientists got together and calculated that if the developed world gave $100 billion per year to the dictators of third world countries that it would reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Folks, everything you believe you know about global warming has not been advanced by scientists. It has ben advanced by politicians and others looking to increase their wealth and power. There is a reason why Al Gore is worth hundreds of millions more than he was when he lost the election. During the same time frame, Warren Buffett has become wealthier by billions.
Jake Bounds (Mississippi)
The problem with the system we have is that it is yet another example of the Free Lunch in American politics. Capitalism works, and a substantial tax keeping gasoline expensive would not just drive the market toward more fuel efficient cars but cause drivers to squeeze better fuel economy out of their existing vehicles. But a gas tax would be very unpopular, so our political leaders just put the requirement on the manufacturers through CAFE without any visible connection to the market. Nobody has much sympathy with the manufacturers so everybody wins at no cost! Except that it doesn't work when the market works against you. Honestly sometimes it seems no one fails to understand the fundamental utility of capitalism like Americans.
Larry Buchas (New Britain, CT)
First of all, I want to thank the authors for bringing this to light.

Now, here we go again! Our domestic auto industry fell behind foreign competitors when they flooded the market with oversized gas guzzlers. Evidently, they haven't earned our help in bailing them out. President Obama also helped our auto industry and consumers by improving fuel standards. So where are the accolades for cheap gas, everyone?

Now it's time to tax every auto manufacturer for falling below the standards set. Climate change should be brought out in the political campaigns and this issue front and center. It is an outrage!
Dudleigh Stone (Beaufort, South Carolina)
A. The automakers are meeting the standards as written.
B. The domestic automakers build and sell fuel-efficient vehicles that are attractive and deliver fuel efficiency comparable to competitive imports. Buyers choose the vehicles that meet their needs - contractors of all sorts need pickups or vans; people with large families or trailers to tow need vehicles larger than a small sedan.
C. Increased oil supply (not some fantastic conspiracy) has driven down oil prices.
D. IF we want to discourage use of oil and encourage buyers focus their preferences on the most fuel-efficient option, then we need to raise the tax on gasoline.
ando arike (Brooklyn, NY)
As one of the 5 billion non-car-owning, non-drivers on this planet, I'd like to ask who gives drivers and auto companies the right to pollute? To decide atmospheric CO2 levels for the next hundreds of years? Why is such a small minority able to make such consequential, potentially catastrophic decisions?
Ed (Oakland, CA)
Careful with that high horse: if you eat meat, burn any fossil fuel to heat your home, ever fly on an airline or buy anything made in China you're also a big part of the problem.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
When you use mass transit, the fare that you pay covers less than half the operating cost of the system and makes no contribution toward capital cost or capital repairs. When you start paying the full cost of your transportation, you will be entitled to criticize others who pay far more than you do for transportation.

You are also disregarding the fact that everything you purchase got to you in a fossil fuel burning car, truck, train or airplane. Your home and office are heated, cooled and lighted with fossil fuels. As an urban resident, you are totally dependent upon the fossil fuel consumption nationwide.

Why are federal taxpayers forced to subsidize your transportation and lifestyle?
David Henry (Concord)
I remember summers back when gas went to four bucks a gallon.
Grandpa (Massachusetts)
Yes, there can be technological advances in automotive efficiency and the industry probably needs to be prodded by government. But, ultimately, what the auto-makers build is what the customers want. And the customers in the US are largely, to be generous, behaving in a completely irresponsible and ignorant manner. Price of gas goes down, they buy big SUVs and pickup trucks in droves. Price of gas goes up, they flock to more fuel-efficient cars. This has nothing to do with the price of gas, folks. We are risking the destruction of life as we know it, perhaps even human life itself, because we are behaving like idiots. Perhaps someone like John McCain, a conservative who understands the problem (he was shocked by what he saw when he visited the Arctic) could speak out and try to make these people understand the catastrophe they risk by continuing to ignore this problem.
Jim Hugenschmidt (Asheville NC)
The other alternative is leaders providing leadership.

There are interests, in this case the survival of our planet, that can't be relegated to the free market.

It's within the power of government to regulate. If all that's sold must meet stringent fuel efficiency standards, that's what will be bought and used.
Ben (Akron)
Leave it to those trustworthy American corporations to do the right thing. The American taxpayer just saved their sorry behinds, and already they're building more gigantic vehicles because gas is cheap today. Tomorrow? Hmm. Never think about tomorrow.
Ed (Oakland, CA)
Where do you think the money comes from to pay for the development of cleaner, higher tech, safer vehicles? Or to pay those higher Union salaries and cover the costs of decent healthcare and retirement benefits? Trucks, SUVs and vans have the profit margin to cover these things, subcompacts do not. The auto companies would be stupid to not sell these higher profit vehicles while there is consumer demand, unless you'd like them to fail again during the next recession and increase the load in the taxpayer.
Rob (NYC)
Yes, make a profit and produce jobs.
veh (metro detroit)
Do you think Toyota and BMW are not making more SUVs and bigger vehicles? Why single out "American corporations"? They are all responding to consumer preferences.
Joseph Huben (Upstate NY)
So the auto industry has joined the Kochs and bet on fossil fuel addiction. When the Democrats regain the Senate and win the White House, fines and taxes are in order. The profits in automobiles will not come from fossil fuel pollution. Pollution is a National Security issue, both because of the impending harm to our species but also because the destabilization of the Middle East is a fools errand for our armed forces to become engaged in. The profits of the auto industry cannot be permitted to govern our military spending or the sacrifice of American soldiers. The auto industry has picked the wrong partner. Electric vehicles are what the world needs. Not short term profits. If we don't make electric cars, Germany and Japan and Korea and China and India will. Germany and Japan have no fossil fuel and China and India are choking to death. Obama needs to stand his ground. Tax gas guzzlers. Tax their owners, buyers and manufacturers. Consumers who feel that they have the right to buy whatever they want need to pay for the harm they do and pay a Defense Department fine to cover the cost of defending fossil fuels.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
You are living in a world devoid of facts. After the Japanese tidal wave destroyed a nuclear plant, Germany decided to decommission its nuclear power plants. They have subsequently replaced that electricity generating capacity with coal. Their autos use diesel fuel, as do most European cars.

Your statement that the auto industry picked the wrong partner is pretty far from truth. The fossil fuel industry and the automobile industry grew up in tandem. Low fuel prices led to auto ownership and the increase in car ownership produced demand for fossil fuels.

The total cost of ownership of an internal combustion vehicle is far lower than the cost of an electric vehicle, even when you deduct the federal and state incentives from the total cost. That is why EVs make up only a couple of percent of vehicles on the road. The only people who buy EVs are people with more money than sense.
dwick (Forest Grove, OR)
The top 3 best-selling vehicles in the US are and have been for years:
1) Ford F-150
2) Chevy Silverado
3) Dodge Ram

...the #4 Toyota Camry numbers aren't even close to the F-150 and Silverado.
Mazda, Honda, and Hyundai don't sell anything like above in the US - if they did, they'd have to resort to the same loopholes as everybody else.

"This is auto mechanics, not rocket science."

No, it's not - it's called market demand, stupid.

Manufacturers are more concerned about the demands of the market place than the demands of the Obama Administration, Daniel F Becker, and James Gerstenzang. The demands of the latter don't put food on the table.
mshea29120 (Boston, MA)
"Manufacturers are more concerned about the demands of the market place than the demands of the Obama Administration, Daniel F Becker, and James Gerstenzang. The demands of the latter don't put food on the table."

• The latter are the public faces of a large majority of Americans and are implementing that majority's positions on the country's future.
• This is about putting food on the table for the decades to come - something the marketplace regularly puts on the back burner. It's not the marketplaces' job.
veh (metro detroit)
"Auto mechanics" should not be disparaged either. It is more complex than rocket science, frankly
Syltherapy (Pennsylvania)
I get why the bailout of the auto industry was very important to the economy acting as a form of economic stimulus and saving US jobs. I understand the public policy arguments for doing so. But what I don't understand is how tax payer money can be provided to auto makers or other recent recipients of bailouts (Wall Street for example) without imposing certain important public policy priorities like in this case improved gas mileage as a condition for taking our money.
Ed (Oakland, CA)
The increased CAFE mileage standard was part of the conditions of the bailout, and so far the automakers involved are meeting the standard that was given them.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
The reason the auto industry needed a bailout was because of CAFE standards that made it necessary for them to sell small cars at a loss [because Americans don't want them] in order to comply with government regulations.

They continue to comply with the regulations. As usual, the central planners' regulations result in market distortions which means they are not achieving the results the elites imagined they would, so the elite wants to double down on something that isn't working.

The overwhelming majority of Americans want cars that are big enough to haul their kids and stuff and are heavy enough to for them to survive a collision. A tiny minority, mostly those who personally profit, but also including those who use the public transit that is subsidized by drivers, wants the central government to control the private sector. The cronies assert a public policy imperative to entice low information voters into supporting policies that will reduce consumer options and increase consumer cost. Those same public policies will increase the wealth of the cronies.

If the federal government is going to impose "public policy priorities" wouldn't it make sense for the legislature to propose laws to that end, allow public discussion and feedback and then vote?

The reason that hasn't happened is that the tiny minority that wants to profit doesn't have the votes to implement their policy, so they get their minions in the executive branch to stealthily do the work of Congress.
E. (New York)
Why not just tax the fuel. Gas at $5 a gallon makes a compact look very attractive. The automakers have little incentive to make highly fuel efficient vehicles when nobody wants them, look at the current production numbers.
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
Is some other tax going to be reduced or is the government going to squander the money? If the objective were to reduce fuel consumption, imposing a tax on fuel would be the most direct and efficient way to reduce fuel consumption. I would be willing to vote for such a tax if two conditions were being met. The CAFE standards were eliminated and the revenue raised was used exclusively to reduce federal debt.

[There is an actual logic to purposing the revenue. If a gasoline tax were imposed, gasoline consumption would decline. Therefore tax revenue would decline. Therefore the rate would increase to maintain the revenue level, in an ever increasing spiral until ultimately gasoline consumption would go to zero or close to it.

If the money is collected and dedicated to some essential purpose, like infrastructure or preschool or general revenues, and is in addition to current revenue, government spending will increase to consume the incremental revenue until it ceases to yield sufficient revenue at which point some other tax will be raised to cover the shortfall. If you use it to reduce federal debt, at least our children will have lower interest payments to cover.

This is not a foolproof method, any more than the Social Security lockbox is, but at least the politicians wouldn't be able to claim that they were "paying for" some other program using the gasoline tax.]
Tom (Midwest)
The preference of the public to buy or not buy fuel efficient vehicles correlates with the price of fuel. The automakers on the other hand, want to maximize profits which is larger on larger vehicles than smaller vehicles. Neither of these facts are related to the mileage regulations. However, I would point out that automakers have a long history of resisting every regulation by saying it is too expensive, would raise the price of the vehicle by thousands, the public won't buy it, etc. etc. etc. Just think air bags, anti lock brakes, etc. etc. etc. In almost all cases, the protestations of the industry were crying wolf. This is also true of mileage regulations. The automakers could do it, but until fuel prices start to matter to the buying public, they won't do it. It is that simple.
Campesino (Denver, CO)
In almost all cases, the protestations of the industry were crying wolf.


So you really believe automobiles are cheaper than they used to be?
ebmem (Memphis, TN)
Currently, the automakers are selling small high mpg vehicles at a loss. That is a big piece of why they are moving the manufacture of the vehicles to Mexico. It is true that the manufacturers are technologically capable of building a fleet of cars that would reduce gasoline consumption. The problem is that they cannot sell the fleet the government wants them to build at a price that would enable them to stay in business.

When CAFE standards were first introduced, there was some low hanging fruit that made it possible to increase the cost of the cars to cover the technology that was offset, long term, with lowered gasoline costs. And the country was experiencing gasoline high prices and shortages because of OPEC actions. But there is an economic concept of diminishing returns.

Currently, the increased capital cost far exceeds any potential to be offset by reduced fuel costs, even at gasoline costs of $5/gallon.

You are blaming the auto companies when it is basic economics and the distortions introduced by mis-regulation that are causing inefficient capital allocations.
Ken Ray (Trenton, Mi)
The authors need to tell us this, and need to be precise:

1. If U.S. automakers meet the Obama mileage mandates, by what % will total world CO emissions be reduced?
2. If U.S. automakers meet the Obama mileage mandates, what will the economic impact be on the auto industry and the nation at large?

Absent the above, the commentary is little more than a college Environmental Club speech.
arty (ma)
Ken Ray,

And the alcoholic asks:

1. What difference will this one more drink make to my health?

2. How much worse will I feel if I don't drink it?
sharon (worcester county, ma)
Ken- so instead we should do nothing? Why is it always so black and white? Solar can't produce all the energy we need so why bother? Higher gas mileage won't eliminate CO2 production so why bother? Chemotherapy doesn't cure all cancers so why bother???!!!! Why is it always all or nothing in your world?
As for the impact on the economy, none of this will matter a great deal when large areas of the planet become uninhabitable and FL, the Eastern seaboard, the Gulf Coast, etc. sink under water. The pending environmental catastrophe should take precedence over the possible minimal impact on the economy. They'll still be building cars, just different ones.

It's funny no one asked that question when the governors of NV and other states recently crippled the solar industry by cutting net metering. This resulted in the three largest solar companies, Solar City, Sun Run, Vivint, pulling business from NV, resulting in the loss of 1000's of jobs in NV alone. Where was the outcry then. That's right the silence from the republicans and the media was deafening!
Mal Adapted (Oregon)
Ken Ray:

Whatever the economic impact of the Obama mandates, it will only be a fraction of the bill for property, livelihoods and lives lost as sea levels rise, forests burn, crop yields dwindle, killer heat waves become common, and "1000-year" floods return every decade. Those are all predicted consequences of AGW that are already occurring, and can only be expected to increase along with global temperatures.

Precise figures are hard to obtain, but 2015 was the eighth consecutive year that severe storm damage in the US exceeded $10 billion, more than double the historic long-term average. In the next 35 years, minimum estimates for predictable impacts in the US alone are in the 100s of billions. Then there are the "known unknowns", like the consequences of complete loss of arctic summer sea ice, and the accelerating melting of land ice at both poles; uncertainty is not our friend!

Americans have enjoyed more than two centuries of prosperity purchased with "cheap" fossil energy, all the while accumulating an enormous debt in arrears. That debt is now coming due, and we will not avoid paying it one way or another. The sooner we come to terms with it, the lower the total will be. A carbon tax would be more efficient than regulation, but that would require the cooperation of Congress. President Obama is doing what he can until enough of our fellow citizens accept the responsibility, and demand that our legislators make hard choices on our behalf.
James Lee (Arlington, Texas)
The entirely predictable response of automakers to government efforts to reduce pollution underscores the inability of the free market to cope with the critical problem of pollution. The superior performance of the Japanese and South Korean companies probably reflects the more stringent regulatory regimes of their governments.

American consumers habitually focus on price, rather than on factors that don't appear to affect them personally, when they buy a car. Their reluctance to consider how their choices interact with those of millions of other consumers, to inflict serious harm on the environment, stems largely from our individualistic approach to decision-making. The minimal nature of each vehicle's contribution to pollution persuades the buyer that he has not harmed the environment, reducing any incentive to hold the manufacturer responsible.

Only government regulations, which focus on the cumulative impact of millions of cars, rather than on the effects of one vehicle, can correct for this bias. The free market has made major contributions to the strength of our economy, but limiting pollution does not qualify as one of them.
James Phillips (Lexington, MA)
In buying decisions, consumers also fail to weigh adequately the deferred cost of the gasoline, which reduces the appeal of high-efficiency vehicles.
Mike Cambron (Munich)
“…automakers would be required to produce a fleet that cuts carbon dioxide emissions by six billion tons.”
I’m all for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and I don’t think we’re doing enough. However, I don’t understand how this fleet proposal would achieve the desired outcome. It seems to me the risk is that consumers will still buy the wrong models (SUV's and trucks) and the cuts would not achieve the target. Or, fuel prices will stay low, consumers will drive move and the result will still be too much CO2.
Consumers and car makers don’t want to hear this but consumers need to feel greater pain when they choose to produce CO2. We need to raise gas taxes. By a lot! Right now, petrol in Germany is about 1.15 euro per liter. That works out to $4.80 per gallon which for Germany is extremely low. Let’s start by raising US gas prices to a similar level. The tax income should be used to build more efficient road & transportation networks. The most important change should be replacing signaled intersections with traffic circles. One traffic circle often saves over 20,000 gallons of fuel per year compared to the same intersection with a signal. That's like taking 20 cars off the road for an entire year.
sharon (worcester county, ma)
The problem with raising the gas tax is that it's once again a regressive tax that impacts the poor and working class far more than the rich. We should be penalizing those who choose to drive gas guzzlers with a hefty punitive user's tax with no exemptions except for justifiable business use such as landscaping, construction and some service industries:plumbing, electrical, HVAC, carpentry, etc.
As I'm sure you know, much of America is rural so public transit is not a workable solution. Punitive fees would work best and possibly tax rebates for those who drive energy efficient hybrids or electric cars. Nikki Haley punishes those who drive electric cars with a punitive fine. It's time to use this tactic in reverse, punish those who drive the polluting gas guzzlers and reward those who are responsible.
Peter Rant (Bellport)
Raise the gas tax? Really, the middle and lower class in the good old USA finally gets a little break, and you want to snatch it off their plates?

The gas tax is a regressive tax. In other words the tax would be paid disproportionally by the the very people who can least afford it. Hey, the Republicans might even go for it, they love that kind of tax, and it can be used as leverage later when they are accused of never raising taxes. They love to get the revenue off the backs of the poor and middle class.

No. You want to fix the roads and build some bridges? Raise the INCOME TAX and capital gains for high earners! I'll take the cheaper gas and home heating oil, thank you, and live with the pot holes.
PagCal (NH)
Stop talking nonsense. Where is the electric car I want to purchase next year? I'm sick of the fumes I have to endure every time I fill up. I am sick of the maintenance required of a gasoline engine. I'm sick of what the CO2 does to the atmosphere. I'm sick of paying $2.00 a gallon for gas when electric cars are half that.

If auto makers want to sell cars in the US, they should be required to introduce 2 electric cars in their lineup in 2017 and an additional 2 in their 2018 lineup. (instead of demanding money from Volkswagen for their polluting diesels, let them pay it by bringing a complete lineup of electric cars to the US market.)

Additionally, a feebate should be implemented. Buying electric would bring money in to you from the Federal Government, whereas buying gas means you will have to pay into the feebate fund based on the estimated gasoline usage.
veh (metro detroit)
Chevy Bolt, with a 200 mile range and a non-Tesla price, sounds like what you want. You want electrics to succeed, you (consumers) need to buy them

And VW does still need to be punished for the diesels.
Campesino (Denver, CO)
So where are you getting all this electricity from sources that don't generate CO2?
Dave (<br/>)
One problem with electric cars, they burn 44% coal!

44% of the electric production in the US is made from burning coal so the next time you "plug in" ask yourself "Did I burn anthracite or bituminous?"

Natural gas might be a better way. If you could fill up at home, you could do it overnight so you don't spend 20 minutes filling up at a station.

Electric is not so clean, rare earth elements and other battery components are toxic. Every 5 or 7 years you have 500lbs of batteries to recycle.
David Anderson (North Carolina)

We need an increase in the gasoline and diesel tax in order to induce more efficient autos, buses and trucks. No political way to get us there.

How can it be that so many Americans are so determined to be on the wrong side of an issue that will cause so much future pain and suffering to so many—including their own grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren?
sharon (worcester county, ma)
David-"How can it be that so many Americans are so determined to be on the wrong side of an issue that will cause so much future pain and suffering to so many—including their own grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren?"
The answer is simple. Although they vehemently claim that "it's all about the children" when it comes to reducing finding for "social" programs such as public education, food stamps, social security and health care, it really is all about themselves. they really couldn't care less about "the children". Their actions and deeds prove otherwise. If they were so concerned about "the children" they wouldn't be shilling for the oil industry and denying climate change/global warming while parts of Florida are now threatened with rising sea levels. They wouldn't deny the scientific data on a warming earth and each year breaking a new record for warmest year to date. It is 7:00 est as i type this and it is 64 degrees on March 10 in my Massachusetts town. My husband recently read that Alaska had winter temps. 11 degrees above the norm. There is no snow in Anchorage. It's far from about the children and only about the personal greed and self-absorbedness of those who refuse to give one inch for the betterment of the world. I drive a Prius C and average around 50mpg's and sometimes much better. The car performs just fine, and can go well above the speed limits! My husband commutes via motorcycle, weather permitting, and takes the Prius otherwise.
Connie W (Dallas, TX)
Another question is "How can it be that so many Americans talk about their faith but apparently ignore the admonition, that, as believers, they are obligated to be faithful stewards of God's bounty?"
See also