America's Lagging Automotive CO2 Goals

By Bill Moore

Posted: 07 Jul 2010

Yesterday, July 6, 2010, the EPA's new carbon dioxide emissions rules for light vehicles took effect. Starting with the 2012 model year, carmaker fleets must have combined average no more than 295 grams of CO2 per mile. That's equivalent to a fleet fuel economy of 35.5 mpg. This gradually ramps down to 250 g/mi by 2016. At the moment, the USA light car fleet average is equivalent to approximately 370 grams per mile. To put this in perspective, a car like the 2010 Dodge Challenger that averages 19 miles per gallon combined city/highway driving based on EPA ratings, generates 525 grams per mile.

Placed in a European rating context, which measures vehicles' carbon dioxide emissions in grams per kilometer, that Dodge Challenger would be rated at 332 grams/km. In the United Kingdom, such a car would be rated in the M Band, the highest grade and liable to the highest road tax rate of £435.00 (US$676.00).

I bring this up because once again, the United States is demonstrating it is a laggard when it comes to getting serious about reducing its dependence on petroleum. 250 grams per mile by 2016 might seem an ambitious goal to achieve, but it falls far short of goals being set by other nations, especially in Europe where they have set their 2012 goal at 130 grams per kilometer, or the equivalent of 208 g/mile.

Beyond this, the European Union is proposing even tougher standards of 80 g/km by 2020 and 60 g/km by 2025. To achieve this, the majority of the European light duty vehicle fleet will have to be almost entirely electrically (including hydrogen fuel cells) or carbon-neutral biofuel-powered. Beyond 2016, there are no published CO2 targets for the United States. And the EU is proposing to put teeth in its rules, fining carmakers €95 (US$120) per gram per model over the limit.

Of course, European carmakers -- like their North American cousins and counterparts -- have lobbied mightily to weaken this proposal, seeking to limit fines to €15 per gram. Greenpeace Europe's transport campaigner Franziska Achterberg is quoted as stating, "The Germans and other manufacturing states have successfully bullied the French into emptying this legislation of all its meaning. Their shoddy deal means that the 130-gram target would be nothing more than wishful thinking. The average car sold in Europe in 2012 could emit more CO2 than is the case today."

Politics are truly universal. At least you have to give the EU Parliament points for trying and setting clearly challenging goals, the consequence of which will be that the European auto makers are likely to continue to be the favorites in race to develop clean vehicle technologies be it diesel, hydrogen or pure EV.

Granted, getting even the 250 g/mi rule took deft political maneuvering on the part of the Obama Administration, so we have to credit them for that, but what are America's goals beyond 2016? Is anyone even talking about it in Congress or the Executive Branch? Or is this a 'bridge too far'?

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