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As long as you're "taking requests," there's another calculation that would be useful. The oil savings you project rise to less than six million barrels per day (BPD) over the next thirty years; however, the U.S. uses around 20 million BPD today, and with increasing numbers of people driving increasing numbers of miles, that "baseline" is only going to grow. Is the calculated 6 million BPD savings relative to today's 20 million BPD use, or is it relative to this growing baseline? If the latter, how much of the projected savings will be eaten up by growth in the baseline usage (that is, the projected increase in oil consumption if MPG does not rise)?

Regardless, 6 million BPD is only a small bite even out of today's 20 million BPD; factor in declining production past "peak oil," whenever that occurs (maybe as early as last year, almost certainly within the 30-year period in the graph above), and it is clear that the U.S. is going to have to choose between (1) using an ever-increasing fraction of the world's oil production, acquiring it by whatever means necessary; (2) drastically cutting vehicle miles driven, which it is very hard to see occurring voluntarily without an impetus like outright economic collapse, or (3) switching most transportation fuel use from petroleum to other fuels--not just a few tens of percent less petroleum use by means of hybrids, but none. As for me, I'd choose (3).

The EDrive aftermarket retrofit to enable second-generation Priuses to plug in to utility electricity cuts about 50% of petroleum use, even relative to the already efficient Prius; plug-in capability designed in at the factory would likely be even more effective (by enabling greater all-electric range and speed) and doubtless cheaper too. And, of course, the battery-electric vehicles of a decade ago, and my natural-gas van from a decade and a half ago, cut petroleum use by 100%; but the electric vehicles went to the crusher, and every automaker except Honda cut back or killed their natural-gas vehicles as soon as they had a hybrid to talk about (even a "hollow" GM hybrid) alongside their hydrogen promises. Every discussion of the benefits of hybrids or of increased petroelum fuel economy, like that above, should conclude with the words "...but it's not going to be enough." The technology is here today to do "enough," but there seems to be very little will among politicians or automakers to make use of it, and as I've argued in other posts (mostly regarding plug-in hybrids), UCS is on the wrong side of this question too.


i guess this is a glass half full (or empty) thing. i think that graph proves that CAFE is not a "solution" - whether one is looking for a solution on a national security, economic, or environmental footing.

first of all, a 40 mpg standard across cars and suvs, by 2015 is politically impossible.

second, if you achieved that imposibillity, fleet 35 by 2020 is too late. i buy the timeline in peter tertzakian's "a thousand barreles a second" and believe the 10 years right in front of us are the hard ones.

pfft. run it again with a politically possible 40 mpg standard by 2020 and it looks even worse.

the key problem with CAFE is that it waits for the manufacturers to respond with design cycle changes. instead, we should slap credits and taxes directly on the windows stickers for cars this year. reward the most efficient (any technology) and punish the guzzlers.

that would reinforce the market shift already taking place (see links below) starting NOW:


(i have stitches in one finger so have been skipping some capitial letters - sorry)


altfuels, thanks for your question. The Union of Concerned Scientists consistently advocates taking a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of petroleum fuels we burn in our cars and trucks. Improved fuel economy is the most important tool for reducing oil consumption, due to both its potential for near-term savings and the fact that it makes alternative fuels more viable in the long term.

DOE's Annual Energy Outlook 2006 projects US petroleum demand to grow from 21.4 million barrels per day (mbd) to 27.7 mbd by 2030. So like any other single tool for cutting oil use, an increase in fuel economy standards to 40 mpg over 10 years would not solve the problem by itself. Continuing efficiency improvements beyond 40 mpg (for example, by using hybrids), the implementation of policies to reduce demand for vehicles miles traveled, and increasing the availability of alternatives to petroleum can all contribute to reducing the amount of petroleum we use and the amount of global warming pollution our cars and trucks produce.

In the near term, however, increasing fuel economy is the fastest and most effective way to achieve reductions in our oil use. Most people now accept that hydrogen can only be considered as a long-term solution. Biofuels, while promising, are not yet fully commercialized, and it will take time to build that industry from scratch. Over the next 20-30 years, the potential oil savings from alternative fuels are dwarfed by the potential for savings through greater efficiency. Futhermore, it is very unlikely that we'll be able to grow enough feedstocks for biofuels production unless we seriously increase the efficiency with which we use our fuels.


Thanks for your comments on feebates, which are another interesting policy tool. I for one would love to know whether feebates would be any more palatable to Congress than CAFE has been. While feebate systems can have merit, it is nevertheless possible that such a plan would be blocked by the same folks who have stopped progress on CAFE for the last number of years.

If you look at my previous post, you will note that the tool used to drive the new vehicle fuel economy improvements is immaterial. Whether it's a feebate, CAFE, or any other tool, there will necessarily be a lag between when new vehicle fuel economy increases and when the fleet catches up. It is not a problem unique to CAFE, and there's not a great deal you can do about that.


i did see that closing paragraph above, but i do think as we mover from the science (and numbers) to the politics, names matter.

a "freebate" sounds pretty silly, doesn't it?

maybe as silly as an assumption that the fleet of new cars sold just around the corner, in 2015 (including "large" suvs) will average 40 mpg in combined mileage.

(are you suggesting in your last paragraph that CAFE changes require the same (and no longer) delays than a credit/tax implementation?)


by the way, i don't like waiting for my mountain bike injury to heal, and that might make me cranky ... but to be honest i feel insulted by the 40 mpg by 2015 assumption, and by the canard that "any other tool" brings delays (implying that all delays are equal)


part of my frustration, certainly, is from making breakfast one handed


Hi, Don--

Thanks for your reply. It really pains me to be running down hybrids, as I seem to do every time I post to HybridBlog! Back when the first hybrid, the 2000 Honda Insight, arrived in the U.S., I rented one (www.evrental.com) and took a columnist from our local paper (and many other people) on a test ride. When he wrote about it, he quoted me as saying that my EV-advocate friends thought the Insight was at most a half-measure because it couldn't be plugged in, but my attitude was "let's not let the best be the enemy of the good." However, at the time I did not foresee that the "good" would become the enemy of the "best"; and as automakers have used hybrids (and the promise of hydrogen in the future) as an excuse to abandon EVs and NGVs, that is exactly what happened. I will stipulate that, as you say, greater efficiency in petroleum-powered vehicles (through hybridization, diesel, turbos, cylinder deactivation, whatever) is the quickest way to begin reducing petroleum use; however, when promoting this gets in the way of advocating the necessary long-term solutions like real alternative fuels, and when overstatements of the clean-air benefits of hybrids confuse the issue with regard to the real benefits of alternative fuels, it amounts to "eating the seed corn." This is what I think that UCS is assisting the automakers in doing, and why I keep hammering at this point in my comments on HybridBlog.

In your reply, you refer to the well-known problems with hydrogen (it consists only of prototypes and promises at present) and biofuels (ultimately limited by land-use issues unless breakthroughs in cellulosic ethanol occur, and maybe even then depending on how much switchgrass we need to plant). You do not say anything about natural gas, which is experiencing substantial growth in vehicle markets overseas but which has been squeezed out of the U.S. market as automakers (except Honda) use introduction of hybrids as an excuse to cut back or kill their NGVs (e.g., Ford went from the best lineup of NGVs in the nation in 2004 to _none_ in 2005, the year they introduced their first hybrid with substantial overstatements of its clean-air benefits). Of more concern, you do not say anything about electricity; and as I have argued in many previous comments, UCS is taking an actively negative role in development of plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) by repeating the same long-discredited arguments ("elsewhere-emission vehicles," "where do we build all the extra generating plants," etc.) that automakers used to kill battery EVs over the past decade.

As an EV advocate, I view plug-in hybrids as a way to introduce consumers to plug-in electric transportation, in the hope that, if the PHEVs have reasonable all-electric range and speed, drivers will notice how seldom they need the security blanket of gasoline capability and will consider a full battery EV for their next vehicles. However, even setting this aside, I would argue that plug-in hybrids are both a short-term and a long-term solution to the problem of petroleum use, because (1) even a limited PHEV like EDrive's retrofitted Priuses gives an immediate and substantial reduction in petroleum use, without any new refueling infrastructure, technological breakthroughs, etc., and (2) a PHEV with "reasonable all-electric range and speed" designed in at the factory (i.e., not limited as EDrive is by Toyota's pre-existing design choices made for the non-PHEV Prius) can replace the vast majority of petroleum use, since the electric energy from the overnight charge-up will be used first each day, and petroleum will be needed only on those occasions when the driver needs to go unusually far or fast. It's like a bi-fuel NGV, which runs on natural gas until it runs out of that and then switches to gasoline, except that you re-fill the alternative-fuel "tank" (the battery) every night, and the gasoline remains available to punch up the power if you really need to put the hammer down (assuming a PHEV wouldn't have enough electric-motor oomph to give EV1-like performance on electricity alone). So, even given a focus on obtaining the greatest short-term reductions in petroleum use, alternative fuel in the form of electricity in a PHEV is a substantially better solution than merely increasing the efficiency of vehicles that can still, after all, only use petroleum; and as I see it, there is simply no reason to let a short-term focus undermine the prospects for long-term solutions, especially when PHEVs can be part of both.


The basic incentive/disincentive system you were describing is known generically as a "feebate" system. As in "fee" + "rebate". (not a "f-R-eebate").

You can question the marketability of the term if you like, and indeed when such proposals have been considered previously they have come under different names (e.g. "DRIVE+" in California).

You suggest that the idea of a 40 mpg standard is "silly". How is it silly when automakers already have the technology they need to make cars get 40 mpg, while keeping the performance, safety, and utility characteristics that buyers have come to expect? For that matter, how is a feebate system any more "serious"?

In my last paragraph, I am saying that whatever policy tool you decide to use to increase NEW vehicle fuel economy, you will experience the same lag in increasing STOCK fuel economy. The fleet will not turn over any faster because you have chosen an incentive system rather than a standard.

In terms of increasing new vehicle fuel economy, any system of incentives or standards will be phased in. If you think Congress is reluctant to make policy changes, just try getting them to make the same policy changes without a transition or phase-in period.

How's that injury doing?


To be honest, I don't have time to read all of your comments so I apologize if I missed anything. I just wanted to chime in a a former product planner at GM and somewhat of an environmentalist. It would be a huge mistake to just raise CAFE standards significantly. Car companies do have technology to make vehicles more efficient but it's not as easy as flipping a switch to implement them. Plus, these would increase prices of vehicles and they wouldn't be cars people necessarily wanted to buy. I blame consumers for most of our gas guzzling ways. Nobody has to drive a guzzler, but many do.

Slapping incentives on efficient vehicles and fees on guzzler vehicles that are available today would also harm the auto industry immensely. People's livelihoods depend on the health of the auto industry and nowhere is this more evident than here in the Detroit area.

The best way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is to slowly increase the gas tax, but that would never fly politically.

And I don't believe hybrids are the answer because of their complexity, battery disposal, and the additional energy it takes to make one compared to a conventional car. Diesels with new emissions technology have a place in the solution to the puzzle.

Ben Hubbird


Granted, implementation of new technology to raise gas mileage would cost auto-makers (and thus consumers) more. The estimate from the National Academy of Sciences is an average $2000.00 increase in the price of new cars and trucks.

Were that the bottom line, I would say we should bite the bullet and pony up. We often must make sacrifices to do the right thing.

However, that is not the bottom line. What auto industry apologists often leave out of the equation is the savings that consumers would see.

Tell me if my math seems off to you. The current average of our passenger fleet is close to 29 miles per gallon. If we get 40 mpg, that's an average savings of 11 miles per gallon. Assume a vehicle lifetime of 185,000 miles and gas at $3.00 a gallon (though I think that will seem very affordable soon). Using these assumptions, the average consumer would save more than $5600.00 over the life of their vehicle. Or a net savings of $3600.00.


For some reason bloglines reported this article as new again, sending me back for another look. Apologies on the free/fee thing. The finger is much better. I have a nice new scar but can type 10 fingered.

For what it's worth though, I am still very anti-CAFE. Part of that is because I believe the delays are longer than they should be. Part of that is because I think the system has been riggged, played, beyond repair. I actually heard since my last visit that the ethanol credits play into CAFE in a big (bad) way. According to some random guy on anotehr blog, "[car and driver magazine] calculates that the flex-fuel Tahoe's CAFE rating jumped from the 20.1 mpg to 33.3 mpg, blowing through the 22.2 CAFE mandate."


Now on the rest, I still think it is a bit of a canard to say "there are always delays" and "congress will always impose delays."

If you accept that, you might as well let Mr "Atul" run your blog. Hang it up and go home.

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