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54.5 OR WHAT?

PITY THE HARD-WORKING automotive engineer. Or, should we decry the shortsightedness of people buying new vehicles? Or what about blaming government regulation for the current and approaching conundrums?


Since 2012, each automaker has faced a 2025 deadline for achieving an average 54.5 mpg for its products. As reported here at SimanaitisSays in ”54.5 MPG and the Misinformed,” this Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulation has complications a’plenty, including credits for mpg-enhancing technologies as well as buying and selling of these documents.

Honda, Nissan and Toyota sell surplus credits; Tesla makes a business model out of their sales. Ferrari, Fiat Chrysler and Mercedes-Benz are major purchasers. These and the following data are from SAE International Automotive Engineering, September 2016.

In governmental jargon, CAFE has an offramp, an intermediate opportunity to assess progress toward its goal, with the possibility of changing the regulation. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Mid-Term Evaluation is scheduled for 2018. And it’s already generating what’s termed “open sport” by Bill Visnic, Editorial Director of SAE International’s Automotive Engineering magazine.

Visnic says “May you live in interesting times” is a favorite saying, and he notes its origin was an ancient Chinese curse, not a well-meaning wish. He continues, “I can’t think of a phrase more apropos to an industry with so many diligent minds devising so much promising technology, yet the advances never seem enough to stay more than one step ahead of the sheriff.”

Speaking of the sheriff, Visnic also mentions that the feds tripled the cost of CAFE non-compliance this summer. As noted at this website in ”Unintended Acceleration of Fines”, the original $5.50 per 0.1-mpg shortfall for each vehicle sold jumped to $14, retroactive to Model Year 2015 as well. For example, Mercedes-Benz paid a CAFE fine of more than $16 million for the 2011 Model Year. Today, that same product-mix shortfall would cost the company almost $41 million.

In the same Automotive Engineering issue, an article “Solving the GHG Puzzle” sets matters in Greenhouse Gas terms that are equivalent to mpgs. Steven Sherman, fuel economy development engineer at Hyundai America Technical Center, observes, “In truth, the U.S. market as a whole is not on pace for compliance. A nearly three-fold improvement in fuel economy and GHG reduction will be necessary.”

The U.S. vehicle market over the years and its CAFE mpgs.

Alas, countering this, U.S. prices of gasoline and diesel fuel are at historic lows. Even those of us who recall 25¢/gal. gasoline in the 1950s can celebrate today’s national average of $2.22/gal. The CPI Inflation Calculator sets 1955’s 25¢ at $2.25 today.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that consumers aren’t rushing to auto dealerships with any 54.5-mpg aspirations.

Hyundai’s Sherman notes, “Tellingly, of the 3 percent of the 2015 Model Year fleet that meets the 2025 standards, all employ hybridization or full electrification…. While there are still efficiency gains to come from the 130-year-old ICE [Internal Combustion Engine], automakers must weigh their benefits in the context of greater investment and compromises (i.e., additional mass, complexity and packaging challenges).”

SAE International’s Bill Visnic observes, “And what should we speculate about where this thing’s going when in July Ford F-Series [pickup truck] outsold the company’s fuel-sipping C-Max by a ratio of 35: 1?”

Yes, let’s pity the hard-working automotive engineer. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015 /a>

One comment on “54.5 OR WHAT?

  1. Mike B
    October 7, 2016

    A “fuel-sipping C-Max” isn’t, really. Neither is a 4-cyl. Fusion. Both are classic cases of Ford building small cars (or small-engined cars) with big-car gas mileage. The hybrid versions of both do better, but the hybrid Fusion (a real, comfortable car) gets about the same gas mileage as the C-Max. And the hybrid Fusion (not the other drivetrains) actually has an average or better reliability/repair record, which the C-Max can’t touch (it’s horrible).

    I’d prefer a Mazda3, myself. But Mazda’s going to have to get into the hybrid game one of these days like everybody else to push numbers into the 50’s.

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