Thursday, January 01, 2004

Proposed Changes in Light-Trucks CAFE Standards

Happy New Year! We will see *some* changes in the light trucks CAFE standards in this coming year. Of course, they will be effective only year 2009 onwards. The changes are likely to come in either of these three formats or a combination of them:
1) Revision of light trucks standards by creating different vehicle classes based on some attribute such as vehicle weight, interior volume or something similar.
2) Better definition of what is a light truck and what is not: Aimed at PT cruiser type vehicles whoch should really be classified as a car, but gets counted as a truck because of its flat floor provision (foldable back seats)
3) Increasing the gross vehicle weight for trucks covered by CAFE standards from 8500 to 10000 pounds: Aimed at vehicles such as Hummer which weigh more than 8500 lbs. and thus avoid coming under the CAFE standards.

Here is my take:
NHTSA seems unduely worried about the effect of vehicle weight on safety. Of course, that is the duty of NHTSA. However, the debate about effect of weight on safety is still unresolved, so NHTSA has decided to err on the side of caution. It is generally agreed that if the heavier vehicles (weighing more than 5000 pounds) were to shed some weight, then it will help both, fuel economy and overall safety. NHTSA's aim in this ANPRM is to look at ways by which this can be achieved. However, given the constraints under which new rules will have to be formulated, NHTSA is likely to hit the wall on how much to raise the standards by pretty quick. This will be without considering the overall impact on the jobs and economy, but only on the basis of a normal cost-benefit analysis. So, I would not have high hopes from this new rule. Tom thinks that this is just a chatter. Well, it sort of is. However, there is really not much that NHTSA can do in the current statutory authority given to it by the Energy Policy Conservation Act. Unless, there is a significant change in the CAFE act, and this is the job of the Congress, there can not be much that can be expected from the current standards. Meanwhile, we keep avoiding discussion of any other means by which we could reduce fuel consumption of light duty vehicles, and things keep getting worse. Don't take my word for it. Click on the TEDB data book link to your right and look up the current data on vehicle fuel consumption. You will be surprised. For the data challenged, I will post links to the graphs indicating where the fuel consumption in the US is headed in the next 30 years based on some of the analysis I am doing. However, that will happen after I return from India on the 19th of January.


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