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Former Commerce and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta urges technology neutral policies in reaching proposed CAFE standards

Former Transportation and Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta, who served under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, is calling for policymakers to employ technology neutral policies as they begin to implement the new CAFE regulations proposed by President Obama.

In a white paper released at a National Press Club briefing, Secretary Mineta detailed his support for such policies—i.e., those which do not favor one technology over another through consumer incentives, federal subsidies, testing standards or technology-specific credits. The White Paper was published by the US Coalition for Advanced Diesel Cars, a national organization focused on promoting technology neutral policies and the energy efficiency and environmental benefits of advanced clean diesel technology.

The desire to pursue the technologies of tomorrow and achieve our energy independence is not a free lunch. The investment in future technologies like vehicle electrification go well beyond the engine bay to include sourcing and developing raw materials, complex vehicle integration and development, infrastructure support on a national level and increased costs for consumers forced to the cutting edge of what is still a boutique technology.

...Above all, to spur broad innovation public policies and incentive plans must be technology neutral. Government should set the goals—even aggressive goals—that inspire the freedom to innovate, and then get out of the way. State and federal public officials should resist the temptation to pick winners and losers, to let politics and fads enter the debate, or to engage in centralized planning in a highly complex industry. Market acceptance is also critical to defining the best technology or portfolio of technologies necessary to reach the targets set by government.

Current fuel economy policy clearly demonstrates this fact. Our policy leaders continue to pursue prescriptive technology policies in the hopes of solving all of our energy and emissions problems. Washington, DC’s current focus is electric vehicles (EVs) and electric technology. Monetary incentives are being used to alter consumer and manufacturer decisions. The federal government is pushing their fleet-procurement decisions almost completely to EVs and hybrids irrespective of costs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to employ outdated mileage formulas (55 city 45 highway) that do not accurately represent consumers driving habits and dramatically tilts manufacturers into producing electric-vehicle solutions. Through the examples above, it is clear that Washington is not seeking a technology neutral solution. In short, government is stifling innovation by using its considerable powers to push one technology ahead of other viable technologies, leading to distortions in both research and markets.

—“The Case for Technology Neutral Public Policy in Fuel Economy Debate”

The white paper outlines six reasons justifying technology neutral policies:

  1. Performance-based regulations in the automotive sector historically have been successful. Mineta specifically points to the success of the significant reductions in pollutant emissions from passenger cars during the past three decades in response to ever-stricter limits set by state and federal regulators.

  2. From a “well-to-wheel” perspective, high efficient gasoline and diesel engines are nearly as energy efficient as any technology available. Mineta cited a 2008 well-to-wheel comparison of different vehicle technologies by the MIT Electric Vehicle Team that ranked electric vehicles, diesel and turbocharged gasoline engine vehicles within a 10–15% performance band.

    Positing that with the the current and projected electricity generation mix in the US, EVs shift the efficiency losses and environmental effects from the vehicle to the electric grid, Mineta said that the next generation of ICEs has the potential to improve by about 40% for both efficiency and emissions thanks to technologies such as direct injection, variable valve actuation, turbocharging, low friction components, and high gear ratio transmissions, which are all currently available but have not yet been fully deployed in the United States.

  3. The quickest and most cost-effective way to achieve our energy usage goals is through faster adoption of fuel-efficient downsized gasoline and diesel engines.

    Impact of different sales mix on new car average fuel economy. Click to enlarge.

    ...high efficiency ICE vehicles could achieve a remarkably higher effect on the environment than other competing technologies. The average additional cost for a high efficiency ICE is about $2,000, against $8,000 for an electric vehicle. Achieving a 10 percent penetration of electric vehicles would cost about $9 billion (not considering significant additional infrastructure investments) and boost the fuel economy of new cars sold from 29 to 30 mpg (increase of 1 MPG). The same $9 billion investment would support four times as many vehicles and achieve 40 percent penetration of high efficiency ICEs, which in turn would raise the fuel economy from 29 to 33 mpg (increase of 4 MPG). The same investment in efficient ICEs has a four times greater effect than an investment in electric vehicles.

    Additionally, if only high efficiency ICEs were sold, the average fuel economy would increase from 29 to 38 mpg, a 30 percent increase, according to 5 cycle standards. By substituting all current vehicles with high efficiency ICEs, we would be able to reduce our gasoline consumption by 31 billion gallons per year, which corresponds to a 42 percent cut in imported oil. As a bonus, this investment would come primarily from the automakers themselves and not become an additional burden on the US government or tax payer.

  4. Consumers are showing an overwhelming preference for fuel-efficient internal combustion engines in the marketplace. Sales trends reflect this preference across many vehicle segments, including pickups. In the white paper, Mineta suggests that the rapid adoption of downsized high efficiency engines in a relatively short period of time shows that even the most performance-oriented demographics are taking notice of opportunities for fuel economy gains without having to compromise on vehicle size, safety, or driving range.

  5. Advanced diesel technology can help achieve petroleum and emissions reductions with widespread adoption in the near and medium term.

    From June 2010 to June 2011, some car manufacturers offered clean diesel as well as hybrid powertrains on the same model. Both powertrains provide comparable fuel savings, yet customers chose diesel much more often than hybrid. Clean diesel was preferred to hybrids in about 39 percent of cases, while a hybrid option was selected in only 5 percent of cases. Consumer preference for diesel versus hybrids can be attributed to the “fun-to-drive” nature and lower purchase price of diesels.

    Diesel/hybrid US take-rates, June 2010-June 2011. Data: Polk. Click to enlarge.
  6. There must be a reduced burden on American taxpayers. While electric vehicles are an important part of the energy future, Mineta says, they come at considerable expense, including that of infrastructure.

    Given the current economy and job market it is increasingly difficult to justify subsidizing a $41,000 vehicle with a $7,500 rebate when its benefits do not fall on those in the lowest income brackets—those most in need.

    ...Along the same lines, we need to be realistic about what Americans are likely to be driving in 10 years. JD Power conducted a study in 2010 that determined the make-up of the American fleet by the year 2020. They determined that only 3.9 million hybrids and 1.3 million electric vehicles would be in use in the next 10 years. The vast majority of the American fleet...will continue to be powered by internal combustion engines. Given that reality, notwithstanding all our incentives to promote alternative energy vehicles, why are we not providing as much support for improving and promoting existing technologies?

Heavily focusing on specific technologies creates the perception of a potential “silver bullet”, Mineta argued.

An objective foundation of technology neutrality simply gives us the best chance for success. By supporting extended technological innovation, our leaders will mobilize an experienced industry to effectively and affordably deliver fuel efficient vehicles that meet the varying needs of the American driver today and for years to come.

—“The Case for Technology Neutral Public Policy in Fuel Economy Debate”




The problem with CAFE is that it is not pro-active enough. Future goals and improvement rates are much too low. It doesn't have to be tied to any one technology but should be based on energy i.e. (liquid fuel and/or hydrogen and/or electricity equivalent) required to move a vehicle at standard speeds for a given distance.

Of course, 20% to 25% efficient ICE vehicles will be required to make more efforts to meet 90% efficient BEVs and they should be requested to do so or be penalized with reversed subsidies based on missing efficiency points.

Examples, using 60% eff. as the pivot point:

1) A BEV with 90% eff. would get a (90-60) = 30% subsidy

2) An ICE with 30% eff. would have to pay a (30-60) = 30% penalty.

Note: The pivot point could be raised progressively on a yearly basis until it reaches the top BEV efficiency level.

Nick Lyons

@HarveyD: I think your scheme would need to consider well-to-wheel efficiency if the goal is to reduce hydrocarbon consumption.

I can imagine a world where liquid fuels are inexpensive, carbon neutral and domestically produced using nuclear power. In such a scenario, fuel-efficiency wouldn't matter so much.


I can imagine a world where liquid fuels are expensive, carbon neutral and domestically produced.
In such a scenario, fuel-efficiency would still matter.


In the real world, ICE vehicles rarely operate with (wheel to wheel) efficiency over 15% (regardless which liquid fuel is used) while BEVs can do 4 to 5 time better, specially when equipped with high efficiency solar charging stations and very high energy density batteries.

Reducing the total weight of future BEVs by up to 50% could widen the gap enough to drive ICE vehicles to the museums.


The claim that a 10% penetration by BEVs would result in only a 3% decrease in fuel consumption is questionable (I'm downloading the report right now to try to see how this figure was produced). But given that the web site is "", I'm not expecting a clear and unbiased treatment of the comparison.

And indeed it doesn't appear to be one. The report states on page 6 that

Since the U.S. relies on fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) to produce 70 percent of our electricity, the average CO2 emissions rate of electric vehicles does not differ significantly from that of a vehicle running on gasoline or diesel with the recognition that EVs shift the efficiency losses and environmental effects from the vehicle to the electric grid. Also, emissions of GHG per unit of energy generated from coal, the prevailing energy source, are 25 percent higher than those of a current ICE.
This obfuscation of the differences between energy consumption [MJ/mile], CO2 emissions [g/mi] and liquid fuel (petroleum) consumption does not clarify the merits of different approaches for various goals (energy security vs. carbon emissions) and suggests that the report was written to promote the goals of some special interest.

Zeev Kirsh

i spent half a year researching the 30 year old cafe standards, it lead me down a rabbit whole of federal administrative law , rulemaking and regulation requirements for federal bearacracy operation. it also led to research on peak oil, the auto industry outsourcing of parts as well as the rise of japan . finally it lead me to research on human behavior, heuristics, and driving and vehicle design efficiency and riding habbits.

CAFE is a massive failure. it always has been and always will. the people who say CAFE is bad because it doesn't require enough increases in auto-efficiency fundamentally misunderstand economics. people buy cars in a capitalist system rather than the government buying cars for people. as long as it is ok for people to buy cars and the government doesn't steal this choice from people, cafe will always fail.

there are arguments for government regulation of auto efficiency. i personally approve of them because as it stands, subsidies for oil , road maintanance, road construction , bridge construction, the creation of the 'suburbs', parking lot creation, etc....all are subsidies for driving more and thus have made it cheaper and cheaper for people to use their cars instead of , their legs.

there is a simple method of increasing fuel conservation not only amongst the auto-manuracturers, but far more importantly amongst consumers who purchase cars, and additionally , in their role as drivers, who purchase gasoline.
that is simple , increase gasoline taxes.

the one guy who suggested this idea early on, perhaps as an alternative to CAFE, was immediately fired by gerald ford for discussing the idea publicly.

yes, u.s. gas taxes should make gas the same price as it costs in europe. this would require a political tradeoff so the masses don't rebel. simple----eliminate all payroll taxes.

if you want to talk about non-gas tax policies. i will commend the government for making mandatory tire pressure sensors in all new cars. i believe this was instituted a few years ago and it is a good idea, because it actually saves gas and it is simple, just like seat belts save lives and they are simple, and were made mandatory in all new cars.

here's a list of 'low hanging fruit' that could be implemented while cafe is totally scrapped.

1) mandatory anti-idling technology in all new mfgd cars that burn fuel while not moving. idling is a huge huge cause of wasted fuel and should simply be banned. simple. NO MORE IDLING.

2) mandatory digitally programmable speed limiters on all cars. while cruise control should not be required on all new cars , a version of this device should be required that allows the driver to ensure they never go beyond a certain speed limit that they choose. ----speeding is a HUGE destroyer of fuel mileage and also causes accidents which cause traffic for others and result in fuel wasted by traffic jams.

these 2 technologies are very simple, they exist now, they are cheapish for all manufacturers to install , they do not constrain manufacturers' choices in designing the car in any meaningful way, AND they DO NOT limit the consumers choice in any way, they only increase it.

of course there are many other good ways to make cars more efficient but they do not all make such easy and obvious candidates for being a mandatory government requirment for manufacturing.

rembember KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID. kiss.


Nice post Zeev. Hybrids use the no idling technique well to extend MPG. On the speed limiter, does a driver have to program the thing whilst driving?


zeev, i'm not so sure cafe is a huge failure. if you look at U.S. national fuel consumption, it did drop after cafe started. The autoco's said it was impossible to meet cafe standards but mysteriously managed to meet them.
But I agree that gasoline should be more heavily taxed, and would be more effective than cafe.


When taxes and prices were raised on tobacco, about 80% stopped smoking. Would a similar 500% rise (to about $15/gal) in fuel price have the desired effect? Would 80% switch to more efficient Hybrid and electrified vehicles.


Harvey, stopping smoking, an unhealthful habit, is nowhere near the economic impact on a commuter or tradesman who relies on auto transport. Gas taxes hurt the poor the most. Should a marginal income family go without food so dad can get to the plant or office where he works for minimum wage??

Unless you're going to buy them all new cars.

Roger Pham

"Raising taxes" is a dirty word in politic.
Fossil-fuel price stabilization is more tolerable politically. The public is well aware that petroleum price will gradually rise, due to limited supply and rising demands in the East.

Hence, all the gov. has to do is to ensure that petroleum retail prices will rise at a steady pace of ~7% yearly, by adjusting the petroleum taxes monthly to achieve this goal. When this will be announced far and wide, people and businesses will shop for energy-efficient vehicles and appliances, thus will not cause any economic hardship.

This, coupled with the fact that the prices of Lithium battery has been declining at an average rate of 7-8% yearly since the past decade, and that solar PV electricity will soon be cost-competitive with coal-fired electricity, means that we will maintain a healthy investment in renewable energy developments. Cheap and energy dense solid-state Lithium battery will open the door for massive V2G with long-range Plugged-in Electric Vehicles in order to manage the intermittency of solar and wind energy, and synergistically, will sustain a high rate of investment in solar, wind, PEV's and infrastructures for renewable energy development.

The upshot of rapid ramping up in investments in alternative energy will be economic growth and massive job creation, and social stability. This is a politically very desirable objective. Seems like it will be a win-win situation for everyone. The Gov must not micro-manage, nor pick and choose which technologies to support, since this will lead to corruption and cronyism. Just make highly-transparent and long-term strategic policy, and watch "a hundred flowers bloom."


I think I've won at least one convert to my "nickel per gallon a month" camp.


Interesting club EP. Economies of scale could reduce the tax to nickel per 100, 1000 gallons equivalent.

Stan Peterson

It never ceases to amaze me that the answer to a problem always ends up as: "You give me money!". Nor do I promise to actually use the money for any such purposes, I just want it. The solution is ALWAYS the same.

Volcano erupting? You give me the money and it won't erupt.

The Nile River not flooding and irrigating your crops? You give me the money and I'll build a Pyramid. The solution is always the same. "You give me the Money!"

Real fuel economy, as proven by the unchanging CAFE tests, has almost quintupled in the past forty years, even as cars have gone from polluters to ambient air cleaners. The automakers have been busy re-inventing the car.

There are NO CLEAN DIESELS, despite propaganda otherwise. Perhaps there should be by now, if Europe where diesels predominate, was doing its job. Even while US automakers bankrupted themselves following mandates, and inventing inexpensive OTTO engine controls. But it hasn't. Inexpensive Diesel cleanup technology similar to that of Otto cycle equipment, has just not been invented yet. Maybe someday it will. But I am not sure there are even laboratory examples of T2B2, ie Clean Air, compliant Diesel engines, yet.

The end of toxic emission problems is solved; and on the verge of being routinely required, at least in America. T2B2 (genuine Clean Air), regulations finish the job making the ICE Otto engine fully as clean as a BEV, and actually cleaner in reality. Because such a vehicle cleanses the air as it is driven, while a BEV does no such thing.

In the past forty years electric autos have advanced almost to the point of beng practical. Batteries have advanced from wholly inadequate Pb-acid through metal ion to todays Lithium ion batteries that are barely practical. Tommorrows Li-Air batteries might be sufficient to make BEVs entirely practical alternatives.

In the mean time the VOLT has shown that we can have practical transportation even without resort to Oil. We can make do with synthetic manufactured liquid fuels, as the curent volume of manufactured ethanols is sufficient to drive all the cars in the country if they were Volts.

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