Fake Fuel Economy

There are legitimate and fake ways to raise CAFE

Published: 27-Jan-2003

by Jerry Flint

WardsAuto.com, Jan 27 2003

The Bush administration wants auto makers to increase truck corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) 1.5 mpg (.64 km/L) over three years, from 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg (11.36 to 10.6 L/100km). The greenies say that it isn’t good enough.

The Bush administration wants auto makers to increase truck corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) 1.5 mpg (.64 km/L) over three years, from 20.7 mpg to 22.2 mpg (11.36 to 10.6 L/100km). The greenies say that it isn’t good enough. 

Shame! Shame! But don’t believe them or the government on this one, saving that kind of mileage is really hard. 

That’s because Detroit isn’t doing a real 20.7 mpg average on trucks now. Even with GM’s new strategy to offer up to 1 million hybrid vehicles by 2007, and Ford’s hybrid Escape sport ute and Chrysler’s diesel-powered Liberties coming next year, auto makers will need a few tricks up their sleeves if truck buyers continue to worship horsepower over fuel economy.

But remember, there are real increases in mpg and phony ones.  Auto makers might be able to hit that bogey by faking it. 

Today, vehicle makers get special credits for making sure their engines can burn ethanol alcohol made from corn. Now, only about three people in the U.S. actually put the stuff in their tanks, but farmers and the powerful corn lobby in Washington love the idea. Detroit gets a big CAFE mileage increase out of the deal – at least on paper. 

Here’s some more ways to get fake fuel economy improvements:

Raise the mileage credits for that ethanol exemption.
Designate high-mileage cars as trucks.  The thrifty PT Cruiser is called a truck. Why not the upcoming car-based Ford Freestyle and a host of other cross/utility vehicles? Heck, why not the Chevy Cavalier and the Ford Focus. Just flatten the floor in the rear. The key isn’t redesigning the cars; it’s getting the government to redefine the word “truck.”
With today’s rules, trucks with a gross vehicle weight of 8,500 lbs. (3,857 kg) are considered commercial and don’t count against truck CAFE.  Because of this rule, the Hummer H1 and H2 don’t hurt GM’s CAFE, and the giant Excursion SUV doesn’t count against Ford’s. Why not lower that 8,500 lbs. (vehicle weight plus passengers and cargo) to about 5,500 lbs. (2,496 kg) so the Chevy Suburban, Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator won’t be counted in truck CAFE, either?

Now, here’s some legitimate ways Detroit can improve: 

Cylinder cutoffs.  GM calls this “Displacement on Demand.”  When the vehicle is rolling the V-8 engine shuts down four of the cylinders.  This will be offered on some ‘05 models.  It won’t save 1.5 mpg but could be a big help.
Hybrid trucks. Ford has a hybrid Escape coming late next year, GM is phasing in a variety of hybrid technologies over the next four years and Chrysler has a hybrid pickup coming.
Diesels in fullsize pickups and larger SUVs.  This is possible, particularly if the government changes diesel pollution rules. GM and Ford don’t have diesels ready for light trucks, but Chrysler plans to put Mercedes diesels in 5,000 Jeep Liberties as a test next year.
Building a much better 4-cyl. engine and standardizing it in small SUVs and pickups.  
But remember, there are real increases in mpg and phony ones.  I've always found Washington doesn't have a problem with faking it.

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