National Consumers League

As consumers cry for more fuel-efficient vehicles, carmakers go the opposite direction

fuel_efficiency.jpgWritten by NCL Intern Trang Nguyen

In March 2017, after a meeting with automakers in Detroit, President Trump began the process of rolling back a set of 2012 automotive emission standards, which were set to raise the fuel efficiency of new cars from 27.5 to 54.4 miles per gallon (MPG) by 2025. This goal would have reduced greenhouse gas emission by 6 billion tons over the lifetime of a new car and saved 2 million gallons of oil per day.

U.S. automakers claim that the emission goals of the future will increase car prices and lower sales. However, multiple reports and surveys have found that consumers want and expect to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) reported recently that SUVs, crossovers, and pickups whose MPGs increased by over 10 percent between 2011 and 2016 had a 59 percent increase in sales. Vehicles whose MPGs increased by less than 10 percent only experienced a 41 percent growth. Though the sales for both types have increased, it is clear that consumers want to buy vehicles with far greater fuel efficiency.

A survey by Consumer Reports shows that 53 percent of all American vehicle owners want better fuel economy with the next car they purchase. Eighty-four percent of American adults feel that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all types of vehicles, while 75 percent think the government should continue to require automakers to improve fuel economy, and 70 percent think standards for fuel efficiency should be higher. And 60 percent are willing to pay extra for more fuel-efficient vehicles, which can recover the additional cost within 5 years. 

All the numbers point to one undeniable conclusion: Consumers want more fuel-efficient cars. For companies to lobby for reversals on their agreed-upon fuel efficiency goals goes against the wishes of their own customers. Indeed, automakers are already achieving these goals with improved technologies. According to the EPA, there are already more than 100 car and SUV models that meet standards stretching beyond 2020, and some already meeting the 2025 standards. And nearly half of the 2017 vehicle models are actually cheaper for their initial costs (and fuel cost in five years) compared to their 2011 models

CFA rightly argues that U.S. car manufacturers are asking for trouble - as they did in 2009 - when the government had to bail out these companies because of the large number of fuel-inefficient cars they could not sell. Lowering the MPGs standard will spell trouble once again for American car companies as it puts them at a disadvantage compared to their Asian and European counterparts, which will continue to improve the fuel efficiency of their products pursuant to international consumer demand, regardless of how the U.S. rollback turns out.

NCL offers American automakers some advice: do not repeat your mistakes. Listen to the wishes of consumers. Consumers want better, more fuel-efficient cars. Rolling back the fuel-efficiency standards is bad policy: bad for the environment, bad for consumers, bad for the economy, and bad for business!