EPA chief: Cheap gas won’t derail 54.5 mpg by ’25

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Environmental Protection Administration chief Gina McCarthy said Monday she doesn’t think the sharp fall in gas prices will prevent the United States from doubling fuel efficiency standards to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

Some buyers are shifting back to larger, less-efficient SUVs and pickups as gas prices have fallen and are predicted to remain low until at least next year. In September, gas mileage of new vehicles sold in the U.S. posted its largest drop in nearly three years, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute said. Average fuel economy of vehicles sold in September was 25.3 mpg, down from a record-high 25.8 mpg in August. It remained at 25.3 mpg in October. General Motors Co. said last week it was laying off 510 workers in Michigan at two plants that build small cars as demand for smaller cars has slowed.

“I expect that we will continue to have more and more fuel-efficient vehicles, and people will still want them,” McCarthy at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, saying it was too early to determine if this is an anomaly. She also noted that fuel efficiency ranks highest among consumer desires when buying a new car or truck. “Our fuel efficiency standards allow for SUVs and trucks — even those that are less efficient.”

Major automakers agreed to nearly double fleetwide fuel efficiency to a fleetwide average of 54.5 mpg by 2025, but the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will conduct a “midterm review” to determine whether the final years of the program are achievable.

She added that “while there may be some that see a need in winter to take a look at SUVs, you will see many many others who are looking for those fuel-efficient vehicles.”

Last month, the EPA said Americans are buying the most fuel-efficient mix of cars and trucks in the 2014 model year that they ever have. But the pace of gas-saving improvements is slowing, and automakers are raising concerns that people won’t buy enough fuel-sipping models to meet tough government requirements.

EPA estimates that all vehicles sold for model-year 2014 are estimated to be just 0.1 mile per gallon better — at 24.2 mpg in real-world fuel efficiency — than the overall average of all the 2013 model-year vehicles sold.

In contrast, 2013 vehicles on average got 0.5 mpg better than 2012 models, and 2012 vehicles got 1.2 mpg better than 2011 cars.

The numbers favor automakers that don’t build pickups and larger vehicles, since it only ranks the aggregate fuel efficiency of all the vehicles sold by automaker.

Leading the pack for overall fuel efficiency for all models sold for the 2013 model year is Mazda Motor Co., with an average of 28.1 mpg (up 1 mpg), followed by Honda Motor Co. at 27.4 mpg (up 0.8 mpg) and Subaru Motor Co. at 26.7 mpg (up 1.5 mpg)

Detroit automakers had the worst average fuel efficiency overall for 2013. Ford fell 0.6 mpg to 22.2 mpg, GM rose 0.3 mpg to 22.0 mpg, while Chrysler-Fiat rose 0.8 mpg to 20.9 mpg.