Study: Very Long Term Strategy Needed for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Center for Process Innovation and Hrein Energy to Promote Renewable H2 Infrastructure Projects

Honda: New US CAFE is a “Game Changer”

Historic CAFE fuel economy (unadjusted for EPA rating) and projected MY 2011-2015 targets. Click to enlarge. Data: EPA, Honda

American Honda Motors (AHM) views the new CAFE regulations under development as a “game changer” both in terms of how fuel economy is determined and in likely responses by automakers. Honda supports the CAFE rules as “good energy policy”, said John German, AHM’s Manager, Environmental Policy Analysis, in a recent briefing. However, he noted, the new rules will be challenging for the auto industry, as the percentage annual increases in fuel economy are triple the historic rate for the US market, and twice the actual rate of increase in Japan and in Europe over the last 10-15 years.

The structure of the new rules will likely result in higher new vehicle prices, German said. Because the rules also now include societal benefit—including CO2 reduction—as well as direct benefit in the analysis of technology potential, the cost of the new technology may be higher than the customer’s perceived benefit value, he noted.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) establishes the basis for the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules, and mandates the setting of separate attribute-based maximum feasible standards for passenger cars and for light trucks at levels sufficient to ensure that the average fuel economy of the combined fleet of all passenger cars and light trucks sold by all manufacturers in the US in model year (MY) 2020 equals or exceeds 35 mpg. (Earlier post.)

In April, the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for new vehicle fuel economy standards that would bring the US average to about 31.6 miles per gallon in 2015 (35.7 mpg cars, 28.6 mpg trucks). Under EISA, NHTSA, the agency that “owns” fuel economy regulations, can establish standards for a maximum of five model years at one time. Hence, the initial proposed rulemaking covers model years 2011-2015.

NHTSA followed this with the release in October of the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) on the new CAFE rules for light-duty vehicles from model years 2011 to 2015. Under Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, NHTSA must compare the potential environmental impacts of its proposed action and a reasonable range of alternatives. In fulfillment of this requirement, NHTSA analyzed the impacts of six “action” alternatives and the impacts that would be expected if NHTSA imposed no new requirements (the No Action Alternative). (Earlier post.) NHTSA will shortly publish the final CAFE rule for MY 2011-2015.

To determine maximum feasible fuel economy, NHTSA assessed benefits and costs across a wide range of technologies in multiple categories. The agency is setting fuel economy standards at levels so that the cost of the latest technology essentially equals the benefits of the improvement of fuel economy resulting from the application of the technology.

To reach the minimum permitted fuel economy target of 35 mpg in 2020, the fleet average will need to increase at about 3.3% per year. NHTSA chose to be more aggressive in the first installment of the rules (MY 2011-2015), resulting in an estimated 4.5% annual increase in estimated fleet average fuel economy through 2015. Past increases in technology efficiency have largely gone into size and performance (earlier post); the 4.5% rate is triple the historic norm. As a result, the CAFE standards may ultimately exceed 35 mpg by 2020, German said.

Attribute-based fuel economy standards under the new CAFE regulations. Click to enlarge.

Under new CAFE, each automaker has its own attribute-based standard based on its fleet mix. There is no longer any inherent advantage in selling small cars, German noted; as you move to larger-sized vehicles, the fuel economy requirements decline.

As there is no inherent advantage in downsizing, German noted, vehicles are likely to remain similar in size while increasing fuel efficiency through advanced technology, weight reduction and aerodynamics. There is no advantage to companies that produce smaller vehicles, and no penalty to companies making more larger vehicles.

This is regulating technology, not fuel economy.

—John German

Ben Knight, Vice President of Honda R&D Americas, said that Honda was focusing on a number of pathways ahead, but continues to view hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles as potentially the ultimate solution to energy and environment sustainability.

In the more immediate term, Knight said, there are numerous opportunities to continue to increase the efficiency of the internal combustion engine, which will continue to play a role in more efficient conventional vehicles and hybrids.

Knight noted that the current Civic Hybrid already exceeds the proposed MY 2015 CAFE standards for a vehicle of its size, and said that Honda will focus on more compact and affordable hybrid technology applied to smaller vehicles.

Alternative fuels such as CNG and advanced biofuels will also play a role in reducing the carbon footprint of vehicles. Honda has been working with RITE (Research Institute of Technology for the Earth) on a cellulosic ethanol production process. (Earlier post.) A new test plant in Fall 2009 will further evaluate potential for volume production. The partners are also exploring the production of biobutanol. (Earlier post.)

Greenhouse gas emissions for a variety of electric drive vehicles. Click to enlarge.

While electric drive will be the future, and many promising approaches exist (PHEV, BEV, FCV), it is too soon, Knight said, to tell which ones will prevail. For BEVs and PHEVs, the biggest challenge is the battery technology. Plug-in hybrids and battery electric hybrids also off-load some or all CO2 emissions to the grid. There is potential for sustainability, but the impact on CO2 reduction depends on production source, he said. While 50% of US electricity is derived from carbon-intensive coal-fired power plants, in some states a battery-electric vehicle is essentially a “coal-powered” vehicle.

In comparison, Knight said, steam methane reforming (SMR) is a more efficient use of methane than power generation due to the efficiency of the process. Fuel cell vehicles such as Honda’s FCX Clarity can achieve a 62% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to a comparably sized conventional gasoline sedan even when using hydrogen produced by SMR—40% less CO2 than a battery electric vehicle of similar size on the US average grid mix. With renewable hydrogen, the GHG levels approach zero.

(The FCX Clarity, Knight noted, meets the original PNGV goal established during the Clinton administration of 80 mpg for a mid-size sedan.)

Challenges for fuel cell vehicles continue to be the cost of the technology and the hydrogen infrastructure. On the cost side, Honda is targeting a level 10% that of the current cost within 10 years, and is making a significant investment in mass production for its fuel cell stack in Japan.

Honda continues to develop home-based hydrogen generation and refueling, and is testing its fourth generation design in Torrance. Although the system is still experimental, Knight said, Honda is making significant progress. Ultimately, Honda is targeting fuel cell vehicles powered by hydrogen from renewable sources, and continues to develop and manufacture solar cells and electrolyzers.

In terms of a market mix of technologies and CAFE, however, fuel cell vehicles will just be getting started with only a small presence by 2020, German said.



The graph is rather eloquent (shameful) for the 1980 - 2006 period.

Not much there to be proud of our self proclaimed efficiency growth.

The next decade (2010 - 2020) should be very different if oil lobbies are not replaced with ethanol and other biofuel lobbies. The 35 mpg goal could be reached by 2015 and 50 mpg by 2030 with the massive introduction of HEVs, PHEVs, BEVs and much more efficient ICE vehicles.

The average Asian and European cars may even do better.

fred schumacher

The manufacturers see the new CAFE rules as a problem, but the reality is that CAFE has lost its usefulness by not being increased incrementally over the past three decades. What's needed is an economy improvement of a factor of 3 not 3%.

The problem, as I've stated in commentaries on these pages, is morphology, that is, shape. Manufacturers keep designing multi-use vehicles, and consumers keep buying them, when their primary role is really as single-purpose vehicles: the moving of one or two people and no cargo on a regular route.

A three-wheel, inline 2-person, commuter vehicle getting 100 mpg is a doable project, with today's technology. Such a vehicle would handle 90% of most people's daily driving needs. For other uses, keep a multi-purpose 35 mpg car in reserve, or lease it. Keep the cost under $10,000, and it could change society.


I agree - people are buying cars that can do everything they might ever want to do, and then using them for one person commuting, or whatever, 95% of the time.

The problem is that people have been sold the notion of owning their vehicle, and using it as a way of saying who they are.

As long as we have this mindset, we have a big problem.

I am not against vehicle ownership, but I can see that many people could do just as well with a smaller car, IF they could get access to a larger one when they needed, without the cost of standard renting.

They should be able to use their own insurance for a start, and perhaps drop in their existing car as a partial swap.

Informally, you could have an agreement with a SUV owner that you can swap cars for e20/day, as long as he does not need the SUV that day.
He gets the Fiesta, you get the F150, for a few days, then you swap back.

It would work even better if the small car was a BEV - you could borrow an ICE for long runs, and use the BEV for normal day to day use.
This is what I call the "2 car PHEV" solution.


“Game Changer”?? Come on! There's enough loopholes to drive a Class 5 truck thru the CAFE standard.

Brian P

So why do people buy one vehicle that does everything?

I briefly looked into getting a commuter vehicle and a small truck to do the occasional truck duties. The total fuel consumption would probably end up better for the year. But what put the kibosh on the idea? INSURANCE!

Until the insurance companies (and for that matter, the motor vehicle licensing bureau) recognize that I cannot be driving more than one vehicle at a time (and that two drivers cannot be driving mroe than two vehicles at a time!) and give *proper* multi vehicle discounts instead of the few-percent joke that they do today, this will be a non-starter. In my case ... one vehicle has to do everything.


I wouldnt worry about the oil companies as much as GM, given recent reports that claim that the Volt gets 100 mpg. this is on top of GM promising a $7500 rebate if you buy their overpriced pig ( which ends up coming from the government since they were able to craft the bill such that their battery capacity is the one that earns the highest rebate). With any luck their request for $10 billion so they can buy Chrysler will get rejected and the government will take another look at how insidious GM has been at negotiating rules to their benefit ( and yet they still cant compete because of management incompetence!).


I agree that a minimal 3 wheeler is very feasible with light weight and high mileage capability there are several advanced versions around. The Riley 3 cylinder Kubota 900cc diesel / hybrid options in kit form, A number of concept vehicles and manufacturers models including the Can Am Spyder which is a highly sophisticated road rocket with traction control, 1 liter V twin but lacks a cabin.

These class of vehicle and the likes of Lotus Elise show that weight can be kept down allowing smaller engines and good fuel economy.

This direction will also encourage battery electric vehicles to realise mileage targets.

Andrey Levin

Mahonj is right on the money.

I can’t believe such simple measure as federal mandate to insurance companies to offer driver-based instead of vehicle-based insurance is not even discussed.

America is rich society, and whoever is able to afford SUV used for everyday needs is quite able to afford, say, roadster for everyday commute and SUV for rare occasions of heavy towing or hauling. The only thing stopping such scheme is stupid vehicle-based insurance.

My bet is that GM will love such insurance initiative.


The cafe standards to me have little or no meaning. Take what has just happened to the top three because they fought mpg's and did not diverify into cars that get higher mpg's. They are going bankrupt because the market is forcing them. A higher cafe standard will push the "Peak oil" if we haven't already hit it.

This drop in oil is a temporary thing until the world economy picks up then the high mpg cars will sell regarless of any cafe standard.


The Aptera is a three-wheel vehicle that gets over 100 mpg and is ready to go now. Instead of bailing out GM with billion$ of tax payer money. Let's give the money to innovators like Aptera, Poulsen hybrid, Tesla and Carver. The great inventors don't work for the big three.


Two seaters are not practical for 80% of people. Where do you put the car seat? If you have two children, which is less than average, a four seater is a must.

Dan A

Yes, let's give all that money to Appaterra--a vehicle that isn't terribly practical and not built to car safety standards (it has the same regulations as a motorcycle). Or even better Tesla--I love people that rip on the Volt because it's $40,000, and then go all fanboy on the Tesla--a company selling a $100,000 roadster and a $60,000 sedan. So basically, I could take the $20,000 I saved buying the volt--a car that I would never have to worry about the range--and buy a sizable PV system and have significantly lower CO2 emissions than I would buying the tesla.


Dan A:

Makes you wonder if families with children should not have more than one vehicle. One family van for weekends and/or trips with the children and a couple Opteras for Mrs and Mr to go to work with. As the children grow up, the Van could go in favor of more Opteras for the grown up children?

Narrower Opteras could all be parked side by side in the family garages.

Will S

Fred is correct IMHO. I have a 2 seater 2000 Honda Insight, which I commute with 1/2 the time with a carpooler (and telecommute the other 1/2). Most errands in our family, when I don't take the bike, are run with 1, perhaps 2, people. A family with children can have one vehicle as the commuter and one the family hauler (ours is a Prius). We've never had a situation where we couldn't get the kids to where they needed to go.

The occasional need to haul loads can be accomplished by a short term rental (Home Depot rents trucks for $20 for 75 minutes), by a car rack, or by simply having the item delivered (which usually incurs a $30 charge where we are). When compared to a fuel efficient vehicle (such as an Aptera, VentureOne, Loremo, VW 1 liter, etc), driving a PU or SUV around incurring $2000-$3000 extra gas per year just to haul an occasional load is clearly not a cost effective choice.


My house, 9 miles from the closest Home Depot and 4 miles from Good Will. Wife wants me to haul some stuff to Good Will.

She takes me to HD - 9 miles
We return home 2 vehicles - 9 miles + 9 miles
I make run to GW - 8 miles round trip
we take truck back - 9 miles + 9 miles
We return home - 9 miles

Total trip in miles - 62

I load my truck and take it round trip to Good Will - 8 miles.

Total trip in miles - 8

I'll talk later about the trip to Costco and getting my BBQ back from the brother-in-law.

Will S

You could have used roofracks with any number of types of waterproof car-top carriers.

Our Prius also has fold-down rear seats to make an expandable storage space. We go to Costco all the time and never needed a truck. There's no need to spend $2000-$3000 extra on gas every year.

While those whose jobs depend on carrying heavy supplies/tools qualify, even Bush admits "America is addicted to oil", and weak "justifications" are but one symptom.


A Prius won't tow my boat to the lake or the quads to the flats or even get to where we camp. The problem is not my truck, the problem is, it only gets 16mpg's.

We can put robots on other Planets but my truck can only get 16mpg's.

Auto companies = FAIL



Do you think the 80% who could not live with one two seater are like you with a boat, two quads, camping, etc. If they were, then 16 mpg probably wouldn't be a big problem for the world, even at $4 a gallon.

Join the real world.


I live in the real world every day.

Two months ago our baby-sitter was rearended while running errands. The hit was'nt that hard but it busted the tail-lights and the cops would not let her drive the car home. My wife called, she is in a very important meeting so I have to pick-up the babysitter a 26 month old and our 17 month old. If all I had was a two seater, maybe I could stop by HD and rent a crewcab. I mean they are only standing on the side of the road, right.

Two seaters are not practical!

Will S

I've had a 2 seater for 8 years now, starting with two small children. We've never had a situation where the two seater posed a problem. If there was, I would have called a cab; when gas was $4/gal (and it will be again in the not too distant future), I was saving $3000/yr over a full size truck. A $25 cab ride is ultra cheap in comparison.

Towing boats or pulling quads are for the oil-addicted.

A Prius won't tow my boat to the lake or the quads to the flats
I could say that you could just as well rent boats and quads and save yourself the trouble of owning and insuring them as well as transporting them, but given the economy and oil situations I doubt that such luxuries will be popular for much longer.

Quoth Joseph:

I have to pick-up the babysitter a 26 month old and our 17 month old.
There's this invention called the "taxicab" that can handle such things.  Maybe you've heard of it?


yeah, the tesla is a bit costly, but luxury sportscars typically are. the Volt will be somewhere between a Vega and a Fiat, embarrassingly underpowered and will fall apart quickly.For some reason the feds wont let GM fail no matter how much their management tries.
Most three wheelers and other mincars are deathtraps in big cities, but would be fine in small towns that have paved streets. realize there is no perfect car for everyone in every area, and two cars is not a good option for everyone.


Taxicab - in my suburb, your a riot.

I have not seen a cab in months. If I called a cab it would probably have to drive 25 miles just to pick me up.

Jay Tee

In a related story, Chrysler is introducing a new, large SUV today.... it's 32' long and can seat 14 full-size passengers. EPA estimate: 7 mpg.

The comments to this entry are closed.