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Friday, September 14, 2007


So, you've got your carbon dioxide law. Now what?

I read it in the USA Today this morning: A judge ruled that a laws in a dozen states limiting how much carbon dioxide cars put out can stay. The automotive industry calculates that its requirements would translate into a 43.7 mpg average requirement for cars. It doesn't say if that is according to old EPA estimates or the newer, stricter estimates, but I'll assume it is current standards.

That got me to thinking: How will the automotive industry meet these targets? There isn't much out there in current production that can stand up to something that strict. The EPA list of most fuel efficient cars has only one car that meets the rules, the Toyota Prius. And the Honda Civic Hybrid comes close. So it's possible that we might see a few other medium-to-small hybrids in the pipeline. The only other option is to make cars tiny - really tiny. If automakers have to hit these targets with existing models or ones that are rumored to be showing up soon, here's what the California lineup might look like. This assumes they'd be able to get Federal approval for these models, as most of these would need to be brought in from elsewhere. I'm not entirely sure where some of these would place on EPA tests; the ones I'm not sure about are so tiny I suspect they'd fit in.

Ford: Ka, Fiesta
GM: Opel Corsa (probably sold as a Saturn or Chevrolet)
Honda: Civic Hybrid, possibly the rumored Fit Hybrid or CRX sequel
Mercedes-Benz: Smart
Toyota: Prius

Subaru and Suzuki could have a field day with their line of keicars, while it's possibe that BMW and Chrysler may pull out altogether rather than design a model specifically so they can sell cars in these states, since they wouldn't be able to bring in their existing lineup.

But there wouldn't be much room for large sedans or performance cars here. This list makes a present day Civic Si look like a gas hog. And California has no shortage of enthusiasts who'd want something larger or more powerful than this selection, not to mention people who want a new car but would rather pay $12,000 for a normal econobox rather than $20,000 for a hybrid, families wanting safe large Camries, you name it. It's likely that there will be a large number of people who either bring in barely used models from other states, or simply keep "pre-ban" cars on the road for as long as possible. The end result may be that California winds up with much of the cars on their roads not meeting California emissions standards.

Part of this illustrates why trying to mandate breakthroughs are a bad idea. Calling for a little change and ratcheting things up gradually would be a better idea, one less likely to provoke people into trying to circumvent the law.

But I think this also illustrates why the federal government wants to be the ones who set fuel economy limits. They can impose much tighter rules on what gets imported in here, for one thing. Unfortunately, they've done a bad job of setting fuel economy limits - they've left them lower than they could have been, and they've also used them for corporate welfare programs. Did you know that those E85 cars get to count only the percent of fuel they burn that has to be gasoline in CAFE requirements? And they can do this even though most people won't be running them on ethanol. The federal CAFE needs to be tightened up a bit. But not so much they force everyone into Opel Corsas.

I think this CO2 measure is going to be a bad idea on several levels. Remember, the laws of unintended consequences are strictly enforced.


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