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Auto industry, regulators prepare for "mid-term review" of CAFE

Ford Motor Company

To most of us, 2017 is three years away.

To the auto industry, it's just around the corner.  The fast-paced industry develops its vehicles three to five years ahead of when they will be on the market.

So, there's already a lot of talk about what's going to happen during the midterm review in 2017.

That's when everyone gets together to determine if the nation's ambitious new fuel economy standards for the years 2022-2025 are technologically feasible - without making vehicles so expensive we can't afford them, or so impractical we don't want them. 

Michael Olechiew is with the Environmental Protection Agency.  He's optimistic, based on all the improvements he's seen so far.

"We're seeing (improved) transmissions, engine friction reduction, brake reduction, aerodynamics, mass reduction like the aluminum F-150...." says Olechiw, ticking off a handful of the strategies car companies are using to squeeze more and more miles out of a gallon of gas.

Olechiw says those improvements, most of them on cars with internal combustion engines, have changed people's thinking about what consumers would have to buy by the year 2025 to make the targets.

Estimates for electric and plug-in electric car sales have plummeted, from about 20% of the market, to less than 10%.

But automakers say it will get harder and harder, the closer they get to 2022-2025, to meet the targets.  All the low-hanging fruit such as powertrain efficiency may be picked by then.

And there's a wild card that will be very difficult to predict.  That's consumer acceptance.

Auto companies fear that consumers may not accept either the new technologies that will be required - or the higher sticker prices. 

People may choose to hold onto their old car longer rather than buy something they think is too costly or not what they want - which could hurt sales and profits.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.