In the decades-long battle to increase fuel economy standards, 2007 was the year environmentalists outflanked the auto industry at nearly every turn.
Environmental groups like the Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency, the Union of Concerned Scientists, National Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club joined forces with select CEOs and retired military leaders to call for a 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The retired military leaders and generals formed a group called Securing America's Future Energy, or SAFE, that got wide attention for their proposal, including meeting with President Bush at the White House last January.
Their efforts ended in victory on Dec. 19, when President Bush signed into law the first increase in fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars in more than two decades. Detroit's automakers reluctantly signed on despite estimates that the regulations will cost more than $85 billion and fundamentally change the makeup of their fleets.
The Detroit Auto Show will be the first chance to truly see how the automakers are going to deal with this new landscape. Our own senior analyst Jim Kleisch had some thoughts on this, and put together this preview:
DETROIT HOSTS FIRST AUTO SHOW AFTER NEW FUEL ECONOMY LAW;
WHICH AUTOMAKERS WILL DELIVER GREENER CARS?
The upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit will be the first major auto show since new fuel economy standards were signed into law, and automakers will be jockeying to "out-green" their competition. A number of companies are running ad campaigns touting their fuel-efficient fleets, and many are expected to roll out the green carpet next week in the Motor City.
Engineers at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) are expecting good things from the industry, but caution that there's a big difference between PR glitz and reality.
"It's not enough to simply make a green concept car," said Jim Kliesch, senior vehicles analyst for UCS's Clean Vehicles Program. "Every time an automaker introduces something new at the auto show, consumers should ask how many and how soon. With gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon and a new fuel economy law in place, successful automakers will be those with sound business plans to put millions of fuel efficient cars on the road in the next few years."
In Detroit, automakers will be plugging vehicles featuring both conventional and futuristic technologies to respond to consumer demand and comply with the new fuel economy law. General Motors will unveil the latest concept vehicle using "E-flex" hybrid technology, first introduced in last year's Chevy Volt plug-in prototype. They also will introduce more models with the "Two-Mode" hybrid option currently available in some Yukon and Tahoe SUVs. Meanwhile, Ford is expected to trumpet its "EcoBoost" gasoline turbo direct injection engine, a cost-effective conventional technology capable of delivering a fuel economy increase of as much as 20 percent. Ford also has been talking up cost-effective ways to cut weight using high strength materials and incorporate energy-efficient accessories such as electric power steering.
Companies likely will meet their fleetwide fuel economy requirements by employing a variety of efficient vehicle technologies. "You don't need a silver bullet when you have an arsenal of good options," said Kliesch. "Simple, cost-effective technologies are the industry's best bet to meet the new standards, though hybrid electric cars could blow the doors off 35 mpg."
Automakers at the Detroit show also will feature diesels that, for the first time, meet smog pollution laws in all 50 states; "crossovers" -- smaller SUV-like vehicles that can be, but are not necessarily, more fuel efficient than larger SUVs; and B-cars, the efficient, compact cars popular in Europe.
Every two years, UCS ranks automakers' environmental performance based on smog-forming pollution and global warming pollution from their entire American car and truck fleets. Honda won the title of "Greenest Automaker" in the 2007 rankings, beating out, in order, Toyota, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler. (For the full report, go to: www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/clean_vehicles/autorank_2007report.pdf.)
The new national fuel economy law may shake up how the auto companies compare to one another, said Kliesch. "It will be interesting to see what Honda does to try to stay ahead of the competition. And given that Toyota tarnished its green halo by actively opposing the new fuel economy law, will the company fighting to become the world's biggest automaker go back to its greener roots?"
The Detroit show is a chance for automakers to give the public a first peek at their plans, said Kliesch. "This show is a real opportunity for automakers to let their engineers shine. Now that the fuel economy fight is over, automakers should demonstrate their ability to meet or exceed all of our expectations."
Only time will tell if the automakers will make the market adjustments needed for so long. I’m just glad that the new fuel economy law has put a fresh new lens on this auto beauty pageant.
Posted by: ScottN