California Regulators Propose 44 MPG Requirement by 2020

By Chris Haak


The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted rules several years ago requiring a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) for vehicles sold in California for model years 2009 through 2016. CARB is now preparing to expand the rules beyond 2016 to 2020. The result of California’s stricter rules is that the average new vehicle sold in California in 2020 would need to average 43.9 mpg (versus the Federal CAFE standard of 35.0 mpg by the same date).

The auto industry is challenging the original 2009 to 2016 rules in Federal courts, arguing that they are an illegal attempt to usurp federal authority over fuel economy (because unlike the case with smog-forming pollutants, C02 emissions are correlated almost directly to fuel consumption/economy). They are also likely to challenge the additional years, as they are even more strict. Because California mandated pollution controls on vehicles before the federal government did, the state is allowed to set its own pollution standards, and 15 other states have adopted the California standards as well.

In December 2007, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson declined to allow California to enforce their greenhouse gas rules. His argument was not one of federal versus state powers, though – his argument was that the new federal 35 mpg standard would do more to cut emissions and global warming than state rules, which he said would set a standard of 33.8 mpg.

Because California and the 15 states (primarily in the Northeast) that follow its rules make up about half of the US new vehicle market. Since it would be impossible to write off half of the US new vehicle market, the result could be one of two things: either the California standards will become a de-facto national standard (forcing everyone in the US into even smaller, more efficient vehicles than we would have with a 35 mpg CAFE requirement), or severely limiting allocation of models available for sale in California and the other states that do not meet the mileage standards. Of course, economics 101 tells us that limiting the supply of something will force up its price, so if you live in California or one of those other states, you can expect to pay significantly more for a new vehicle than you otherwise would have to.

CARB has run into issues with its “innovation by legislation” mantra several times in past years. More than a decade ago, California mandated that a percentage of the new vehicle fleet sold in Califonia be 10% ZEVs (zero-emission vehicles) by 1998. The only way to reach complete zero emission status is with a 100% electric vehicle or one with a fuel cell. Obviously, there were no mass-produced fuel cell or electric vehicles on the road in 1998, so the board modified the ruling that year to allow up to 60% of the ZEV requirement to be met with vehicles having extremely low emissions and other specific attributes. This was the birth of the PZEV (i.e. Ford Focus PZEV and BMW 325i PZEV) and AT-PZEV (AT stands for Advanced Technology) (i.e. Toyota Prius).

The question then remains: if the federal government allows California’s rules to stand (which it may do eventually; legislation to do so is pending in Congress, and McCain, Clinton, and Obama have all said that they support allowing states to establish their own greenhouse gas rules), are they even realistic expectations for just 8 to 12 years in the future? Cars and the smallest light trucks will need to achieve 50.8 mpg by 2020, and other light trucks will have to achieve 35.2 mpg, based on California’s current vehicle sales mix. Imagine for a moment what the highways will look like in 2020 when the average new car gets over 50 mpg. It will either be a very different looking highway, or CARB will have to allow some sort of flexibility or waivers to automakers.

COPYRIGHT – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. “Imagine for a moment what the highways will look like in 2020 when the average new car gets over 50 mpg.”

    Would you prefer then that we just suffocate?

    Keep it local

  2. The automobile is an easy target but the facts are that it accounts for a minority of the bad stuff in the air. Taking every single car off the road only moves the needle a little bit in terms of cleaning the air we breathe.

  3. They might be able to force the manufacturers to build these cars, but they can’t MAKE the public buy them. The general public doesn’t seem aware that their choice is being taken away from them…

  4. Former president of France, Charles DeGaulle once said nicknamed the UN (ONU in French), “le machin” (approximate translation: “the thing”), I begin to think then the CARB and the CAFE begins to look more and more like “the machin” then DeGaulle mentionned with the more stricter bureaucratic rules and structures.

    A think then Kalifornia….err I mean California should do instead is to allow the sale of all-new diesel cars in the Californian territory who’ll give us more mileage. And if they still think then diesel is dirty and smelly, they could push for the use of “GTL-diesel” coming from natural gas as well as biodiesel.

    The Mamas and Papas once signed “California Dreamin” but I guess we might have to sign “California nightmare”

  5. PR said “The automobile is an easy target but the facts are that it accounts for a minority of the bad stuff in the air. Taking every single car off the road only moves the needle a little bit in terms of cleaning the air we breathe.”

    The automobile IS an easy target…and that’s why it is being pursued. Compared to nailing the stationary power generation industry for CO2….cars and trucks are low hanging fruit. From a cost, scale and timing perspective…it’s daft not to target them if you want a quick return on investment.
    In Oz, cars/trucks account for 8% of greenhouse gas contribution, power generation is almost 50% (mostly because 98% of our power comes from coal and gas…the rest is renewables)….and it takes over a decade to plan/design/build a power station…the average age of the vehicle fleet is less than ten years old. And we only buy about a million vehicles per annum…low hanging fruit

  6. I hope it’s obvious to all by now that the world has got to get its act together with all aspects of energy generation and consumption, otherwise, as I said in the first post above, we will suffocate – and also starve and also lack for water, on top of it – especially as the world’s human population keeps increasing and more and more of the developing world seeks the same energy-intensive living standards as those of the West.
    This is an auto blog, so I initially posted after having read the article about increased mpg requirements, but really, this is about more than just motor vehicles, it’s about humans’ apparent ravenous apetite to consume, consume, consume, without any heed to the consequences.
    I therefore repeat, Would you prefer then that we just suffocate?

  7. There is more than enough oil here in America if the eco-nazis would just let us drill in ANWAR. Thank a liberal when you’re paying five dollars a gallon next year.

    It’s every citizen’s right to drive whatever they right no matter if it gets 10 mpg or 30 mpg. It is our government’s responsibility to provide the affordable fuel for those cars.

  8. “It’s every citizen’s right to drive whatever they right no matter if it gets 10 mpg or 30 mpg.”

    Agreed completely! But good luck finding ANY new vehicle at anything resembling an affordable price in California (or elsewhere in the US for that matter) that gets 10 mpg in 2020.

    “It is our government’s responsibility to provide the affordable fuel for those cars.”

    For someone so seemingly anti-liberal in the first half of your comment, this part about asking government to solve our fuel price problems sure doesn’t sound like any conservative I’ve ever heard. Ever hear of free markets? I hate high gas prices as much as the next guy, but do you really think the government can fix it? And even if they could, would it be for free without dramatically raising taxes? Let’s think about that for a moment.

    I consider myself pretty liberal, but all I thought government’s job was is to provide security (whether it be military or financial to a certain extent) but don’t recall seeing anything in the Constitution about the right to drive and/or drive cheaply.

  9. Det3 – a way back from the abyss ? 44 mpg

    Things seem to be deteriorating for the Det3 domestically. Is there a solution?

    After looking over the landscape there are a few things that seem obvious to me … BUT … I would like to know what the readers think.

    Here is what I found and concluded:

    Tags: The OPPORTUNITY = Energy, Fuel Economy, Emissions/Environment, Domestic Auto Industry, Jobs, Oil Imports, National Security, US Economy, Balance of Trade

    European car manufacturers group, ACEA, says that of the 15 million cars sold during 2007 in Europe/EU:
    * 53% were diesel
    * 10 % were rated less than 120 g/km [which generally results in 45 mpg(US) combined average fuel economy or better]
    * “gas-guzzling … SUVs, are also seeing high demand, … also taking a 10 percent share of the market”

    Currently there appear to be over 90 models that meet the under 120 g/km and over 45 mpg(US) criteria.

    And, it should be noted that many of the European SUVs are already rated in the 30 to 40 mpg(US)(some above 40 mpg) combined average range.

    While Europe currently has over 90 models that currently meet the under 120 g/km CO2 and over 45 mpg criteria, here in the US, there is only one, the Prius. And domestically, the story is worse for the Det3 … there is only one design rated above 30 mpg combined average … and that is the 3 variations of the 2008 Ford FWD Hybrid Escape, rated at 32 mpg combined average.

    In Europe, Ford has at least 10 models and GM/Opel/Vauxhall 5 models rated at less than 120 g/km CO2 and over 45 mpg. If CO2 is relaxed to 130 g/km and above 45 mpg, there are about 14 Fords and 21 GM/Opel/Vauxhalls. That is 35 different configurations.

    It appears that in 2005 the Det3 only built 7.9 million (including exports) vehicles domestically of the 9.6 million they sold in the US. And that was before the last 2 years of downsizing and outsourcing. Sadly, for 2007, they only built 6.5 million cars and trucks domestically with domestic sales of 8.2 million.

    Now, suppose the Det3 DID make and sell at least some vehicles that had at least 50% better fuel economy … say to a little above 30 mpg(US) combined average. That would effectively provide the US consumer with the opportunity (choice) to avoid purchase of sufficient amounts of gasoline to equal $1,000 per year for everyone in the US (about $0.3 TRILLION in today’s market) … if implemented across the board. I believe $0.3 TRILLION per year would go a long way toward purchasing new REAL high mpg vehicles. Of course this would require adding manufacturing jobs … probably for the next 15 to 30 years.

    In addition, this 50% improvement in fuel economy, in turn, could cut oil imports by 50%, improving OUR industrial base, balance of trade, and OUR National Security exposure. [And with luck, there should be lower emissions and better environment.] It also puts over $14,000 in “avoided fuel cost” saving into the average consumer’s pocket over 7 years of ownership assuming gas prices remain $4 a gallon.

    Finally, with current exchange rates, there will be excellent opportunities for automotive exports … at least for the next 4 to 6 years … if the product technology, quality, and pricing are right. THAT’s EVEN MORE DOMESTIC JOBS!

    Now go back and look at the European fuel economy and tell me that even 40 mpg(US) combined average can not be accomplished.

    What does this suggest about US auto markets and the Det3 … if anything?

    Some have suggested: If the Det3 fail to commit immediately to deliver at least some several models of 40 mpg combined average (NOT FLEET AVERAGE), or better, vehicles in production quantities by 2010, then the President (or the next President) could waive all import and emissions restriction on vehicles achieving more than 45 mpg(US) [54 mpg(Imperial)] combined average and that satisfy Euro Step IV (or Step V) emissions plus current Euro safety standards for a period of 18 to 24 months. This waiver could be done immediately by executive order under the WAR POWERS ACT based on oil imports being a NATIONAL SECURITY issue.

    Notice that this requires nothing from the Det3 and puts NO RESTRICTIONS on the consumer … it only offers the consumer REAL choices which Det3 seem to FEAR! By the way … notice there are no taxes involved or required.

    Then the Det3 have several choices:


    * Stick with business as usual and stick with the “power and flash crowd” … or …


    OR … do we become observers in the finish of what was started during the OIL EMBARGO of the 1970s (the Hondas, Toyotas, … etc) with the Det3 giving away the last 45% of the US auto market … while WE, the consumer, are hoping for rational Det3 management or government intervention?

    A Parting Thought: Introduction of more 45 mpg plus automotive technology would present the opportunity (the choice) to push oil imports closer to 10% – 20% while injecting up to $0.6 TRILLION annually into the domestic economy based on today’s market. In the future, the exposure could easily double or triple that depending on how rapidly oil demand continues to increase. Don’t forget China and India are expected to go from 20 million vehicle a few years ago … to 1.2 billion by 2050 … what about oil availability and pricing under those conditions and the impact on OUR NATION and OUR economy? It could also approach cutting auto emissions by half … but it does not say YOU have to buy a fuel conserving vehicle … it would still be a REAL CHOICE!

    I, again, hope you noticed, NO CAFE and NO TAXES need to be involved …just your wallet at the PUMP.

    Sorry about the length but it is a complex “mess”.

    Your thoughts, suggestions, and criticisms plus any discovered errors would be appreciated.

  10. Anonymous above gets the prize for the longest comment in Autosavant history! 🙂

  11. To Chris Haak

    Sorry about the lenght.

    Maybe you can take the concepts and say it better … if yould could I would appreciate it.

    By the way, I am not suggesting the anyone should be deprived of the choice of high power or low fuel economy … but there should be REAL CHOICES on the other end … moderate power and very high fuel economy.

    I think that would be GOOD FOR AMERICA!

    *** 44 mpg by 2010 ***

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