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How Building Cars With the Newest Tech Could Save Automakers Money in the Long Run

October 4, 2016 No Comments

Featured article by Jeremy Sutter, Independent Technology Author

Historically speaking, maximizing the gas mileage of vehicles is a responsibility that has mostly fallen on the shoulders of consumers. Sure, manufacturers have always paid lip service to the idea, but generally hesitate to embrace newer and more fuel efficient technology. With the onus on them, drivers have been the ones to learn efficient motoring techniques, like the ones taught in a good driving safety course.

With the government concerned about political unrest in some of the major oil producing regions and the growing awareness that fossil fuels are a finite resource, regulators are stepping in and forcing manufacturers to care about the issue as much as consumers by putting them in the same position, making the manufacture of fuel guzzling vehicles more expensive, just like driving them.

Fines Doubled

According to, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is more than doubling the fines on manufacturers that do not meet the corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE). These standards are a measure instituted in the mid 1970s as a response to the 1973 oil embargo enacted by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC).

Between the mid 1970s and 1980s, there was a sharp increase in the CAFE fuel efficiency requirements placed on car manufacturers. After this period, as most considered the immediate crisis over, the requirements rose slowly over the next two decades, only rising to keep up with the general increase in fuel efficiency of new vehicles. Since 2004, though, regulators have again gotten serious about compelling manufacturers to create more economical vehicles, with the requirement again sharply increasing.

One of the more controversial aspects of the current doubling of fines is that they will apply to the 2015 model year, vehicles that have already been manufactured. As many companies tend to cut things as close as possible when complying with such regulations, the surprise move is sure to take a bite out of projected earnings for companies who failed to meet the CAFE for their 2015 new vehicle lineup. This move by the government is likely to cause manufacturers to take a more aggressive stance regarding new fuel saving technology, in the hope of avoiding surprise situations in the future.

Stricter MPG Calculations

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is the government body responsible for oversight of manufacturer fuel economy testing. In the past, the actual testing protocols were nebulous in some ways, allowing manufacturers to come up with better numbers than consumers actually experienced in real life.

The biggest factor in these inflated fuel efficiency numbers was the speed of testing. Under old regulations, the testing was performed at various speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Reality for consumers is that cruising speeds on major highways can be 75 miles per hour – even more in some areas.

The new, more stringent, testing will require testing at speeds up to 70 miles per hour. To fully grasp the difference this will make, consider that the EPA estimates that most vehicles will consume more than 25% more fuel at 70 miles per hour than at 50 miles per hour.

In addition to the new speed requirement for testing, the EPA has also added the requirement that manufacturers test separately for particular model options that change the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle, like roof racks or differences in body shape.

These steps are a great thing for consumers who want to calculate the projected fuel economy of a vehicle they are considering. The new guidelines will surely result in more accurate estimates for those who want to calculate the cost of operating the vehicle before actually making a purchase. Manufacturers, on the other hand, could be put in a tough spot.

Car companies who have been hovering on the bubble of failing to meet CAFE could find that these new testing procedures push them into fine territory. Again, investing in the research for new fuel saving technology could result in avoiding this situation.

Vehicle manufacturers, like virtually any other manufacturing industry, exist to make products that sell for as much as possible while costing as little as possible to manufacture. With the federal government once again becoming serious about levying financial penalties for companies that do not actively improve fuel economy for new cars, finding and using new technology toward this end will result in a big saving for companies that do so early and aggressively.


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