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Common Thread to Ethanol Debate: Reducing Petroleum Dependence

NHTSA Proposes Slight Increase in Light Truck Fuel Economy Standards

(This updates earlier post.)

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)—the agency responsible for CAFE standards—has proposed reforming the structure of the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) program for light trucks and establishing marginally higher CAFE standards for model year (MY) 2008-2011 light trucks.

The agency anticipates that the higher standards over those four years, if adopted, could reduce consumption by an aggregate 10 billion barrels, or by about 2% of projected total (car and truck) light-duty fuel consumption.

During a transition period of MYs 2008-2010, manufacturers may comply with CAFE standards established under the reformed structure (Reformed CAFE) or with standards established in the traditional way (Unreformed CAFE).

For MY 2011, all manufacturers would be required to comply with a Reformed CAFE standard, which is based on vehicle size. This segmentation by size is the major structural change to Reformed CAFE.

Under Reformed CAFE, fuel economy standards are based on the vehicle’s footprint: the product of wheelbase by track width. (Not by weight—more on this below.)

This footprint is the basis for segmentation into six categories, each representing a different range of footprint. A target level of average fuel economy is proposed for each footprint category, with smaller footprint light trucks expected to achieve more fuel economy and larger ones, less.

Each manufacturer would still be required to comply with a single overall average fuel economy level for each model year of production.

Proposed Unreformed CAFE Standards for Light Trucks
Model yearStandard
2007 (current)22.2 mpg
200822.5 mpg
200923.1 mpg
201023.5 mpg

NHTSA is proposing the Unreformed standards for MYs 2008-2010 “with particular regard to the capabilities of and impacts on the ‘least capable’ full line manufacturer with a significant share of the market.” The proposed Unreformed CAFE standards are: 22.5 miles per gallon (mpg) for MY 2008, 23.1 mpg for MY 2009, and 23.5 mpg for MY 2010. The current MY 2007 standard for all light trucks is 22.2 mpg.

NHTSA estimates that the slight increase in Unreformed CAFE standards would conserve some 5.4 billion gallons of fuel over those three years—about 1% of anticipated consumption.

It is the Reformed CAFE approach that offers the potential to increase that reduction to 10 billion barrels over four years.

Under Reformed CAFE, each manufacturer’s obligations would be based on target levels of average fuel economy set for vehicles of six different categories, as shown in the table below.

Proposed Light Truck Reformed CAFE Footprint Categories and Targets
Range of footprint (sq.ft)≤43.0> 43.0–47.0> 47.0–52.0> 52.0–56.5> 56.5–65.0> 65.0
MY 2008 Targets (mpg)26.825.622.322.220.720.4
MY 2009 Targets (mpg)27.426.423.522.721.021.0
MY 2010 Targets (mpg)27.826.424.022.921.620.8
MY 2011 Targets (mpg)28.427.124.523.321.921.3

The Reformed CAFE standards for those model years would be set at levels intended to ensure that the industry-wide costs of the Reformed standards are roughly equivalent to the industry-wide costs of the Unreformed CAFE standards in those model years.

NHTSA says it opted for using footprint size rather than vehicle weight or vehicle shadow for several reasons, one of them being that vehicle weight could be tailored more easily than size to move vehicles into heavier weight categories with lower CAFE targets.

Weight could be added to a vehicle near the edge of a category with minimal impact on design or performance at relatively low cost. Similarly, vehicle shadow (in a size-based system) could be tailored for the same purpose by the simple addition of bumpers or other vehicle lengthening features.

We believe that vehicle footprint is a better vehicle attribute and an appropriate foundation for reforming the CAFE program to advance energy security and safety. Basing categories on footprint permits grouping of vehicles in similar market segments, thus avoiding grouping light trucks designed to carry large payloads or a large number of passengers together with light trucks designed to carry smaller payloads or a smaller number of passengers.

NHTSA estimates that if complete compliance for all manufacturers with the Reformed CAFE standards would cost approximately $6.2 billion for MYs 2008-2011, compared to the costs they would incur if the standards remained at the MY 2007 level.

The proposed changes are now open for comment through November 22, 2005. NHTSA provided more than the normal 60-day comment period because the complexity of this rulemaking. April 1, 2006 is the statutory deadline for issuing a final rule on the CAFE standard for MY 2008, and extensions of the comment due date will not be possible.

This rulemaking has been in the works for a long time, and reflects assumptions that are out of synch with emerging market realities. Calculations on cost recovery based on fuel savings were based on a gasoline price of around $1.50 per gallon, for example.




If *nothing* is done, what would the CAFE standards be for the vehicle classes covered in the year 2008...2011? Cars? Light trucks? SUVs? What about vehicles that have historically fallen through the gaps?


slightly OT. Did you hear about c-span program today on

Nat'l Corn Growers Assn. on Ethanol & Renewable Energy
Bruce Dale from Michigan State University, David Pimentel from Cornell University, Tad Patzek from U.C. Berkeley, and John Sheehan from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory talk about "Net Energy Balance of Ethanol and Implications of Future Renewable Energy Research."
8/23/2005: WASHINGTON, DC: 1 hr.


Love to see analysis on this.

Mikhail Capone

Great, at that speed we'll have 30 mpg trucks by 2100...

Where is that smiley that is rolling its eyes when you need it?


A note to people reading this from outside the US: Despite how it may look at times, US citizens are NOT all lunatics who think it's our birthright to waste as much oil as possible. Really.

There are many of us who are working hard to conserve and to spread the word about energy issues, peak oil being number one on the list.

So please don't think that because our national government wouldn't know a good energy policy if you slapped them with it that the whole country is clueless.

Mikhail Capone


Mike, you might want to have a look at this:


A new 1.4L Supercharged AND turbocharged engine with direct injection, fuel economy could be 15-20% higher, etc.. Pretty much what we talked about in the turbocharger post comments.


Thanks, Mikhail. Will do!


No the problem is the politicos on all sides see what gm and ford are planning to do and its not nice but its the only real option left.

They all plan to leave the us in bulk leaving maybe a token fraction behind. After the us part goes belly up and they fire damn near everyone and get out from all the uaw issues then and only then will they come back... with much much more automated factories and thus alot fewer jobs.

Detroit is doomed. The uaw is doomed. And everyone is humming very very loudly hoping they are out of office and hidden away where it wont hit them when it comes.


We need to transition to locally manufactured vehicles that operate on locally produced renewable energy. One way to help that happen is to start Air Car factories because each one only sells in the area it manufactures, so you won't have the problem of important high paying jobs going over seas. A business model that places the local economy above the multinational profits is a real advantage when the big 3 are slithering their way out of their obligations and downsizing the local economy. Unfortunately the people with the money aren't into investing into American jobs, they just want maximized profits no matter the true cost to the country.


big 3 arnt slithering out they were forced to make insane consessions and now cant make a cheap car cant make a small car and thus cant make any of the cars people need now in the usa. They can however do all that elsewhere.

So tell me what the hell are they supposed to do? Get a damn clue and wake up the uaw screwed themsevles and kept on screwing themsevles right out of thier jobs.

Joseph Willemssen

Someone pissed in wintermane's corn flakes this morning. :)

Chill, w-mane.


According to my brother, who has work at GM for over 30 years, the labor problem is way too many white collar non-UAW employees. They have too many lawyers, too many MBA's, and too many bean counters and not enough engineers in top management. For decades they have looked at making money instead of making a product. 25 years ago the bean counters took Chrysler too the brink of bankruptcy and it took Iacocca, an engineer, to make them profitable. If every manufacturer had followed that example the US would still be number one in manufacturing.


Its a combo the uaw makes it damn hard to make a plant more automated not to mention the consessions they got out of em cost soo much they cant realisticaly use american plants to build any low cost cars.


This CAFE proposal looks like the old shell game to me: they get to shift weight around until all the existing trucks fit into the "right" categories. Nothing will actually change except the automakers can claim righteousness in adhering to CAFE.


Not weight again its square feet of the wheelbase. As such its alot harder to just tack on more to expand the car.

For the car makers themsevles they seem to want to differentiate trucks that realy are big for a reason from trucks that are heavy because some fat walleted asshat wants to claim it as a bussiness expense. Ford and gm sell far more REAL bussiness related trucks and suvs then they sell weeenier extentions and were perfectly willing to dump the weenier mobiles to save thier cash cow bussiness truck/suv lineup.

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