You may recall that President Obama met last year with American automakers behind closed doors to try to come to some kind of consensus concerning standards for fuel efficiency. As of Tuesday, the fruits of those negotiations have gone into effect. The Obama administration has officially issued the rules regarding changing standards for fuel consumption, perhaps in a bid to solidify their position on the environment and reinforce their stance on reducing dependence on foreign oil – just in time for the Democratic National Convention. Okay, that might be a bit jaded; maybe they really are concerned about the quality of our air and the price that consumers are paying for fuel these days. But it’s fairly likely that the political ramifications of the move had something to do with the timing.
In any case, the regulation is rather robust. It seeks to cut fuel consumption in half by the year 2025 by requiring automakers to observe an average fuel rating of 54.5 miles per gallon across a brand’s entire lineup of vehicles (including both cars and trucks). Considering that the fuel economy of vehicles produced in 2011 averaged out to 27.3 mpg, we’ve got a long way to go. However, the Obama administration insists that the implementation of this regulation will reduce oil consumption in the country by nearly 12 million barrels while delivering savings of more than $1.7 trillion to consumers. So there’s really no downside for American drivers (except perhaps the rising cost of vehicles to cover what automakers are spending for this overhaul).
The rules were first drafted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in concert with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the goal of encouraging automakers to develop new technologies in order to cut carbon emissions, and it is estimated that this plan will do so to the tune of about 6 billion metric tons by the time the program has reached culmination. The plan was then presented to the United Auto Workers union as well as 13 major automakers (that collectively represent 90% of automobile sales in America) last July. While the meetings ended with a general agreement by all parties present, it is rather telling that the administration waited for more than a year to make their position official, timing the announcement perfectly to coincide with the first major push for the presidential campaign. This should come as no surprise considering that the regulation is the tent pole of Obama’s energy policy.
In an interesting move, Mitt Romney has decided to voice his opposition to the regulation (despite the fact that both automakers and the unions seem to be on board). According to the Republican presidential candidate, Obama’s plan will force automakers to create technologies that consumers might not be keen to buy (although as yet he has nothing to back up these claims). He seems to have something else in mind, although what it might be is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, the solution is simple enough; automakers have access to current technologies (read: electric vehicles) that they can easily use to bolster their fuel economy without having to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.
It doesn’t take an auto accident lawyer Atlanta to D.C. to know that there’s going to be a clash when these two take the stage for the debates. But at the moment Obama seems to have momentum on his side, thanks to the timing of his official announcement regarding changing standards in fuel economy. And since the major subject of contention in this election year is likely to be the state of the economy, anything that looks to save people money is bound to earn a few votes.