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CR to NHTSA: Good start, but there’s room for improvement

  • Consumer Reports filed formal comments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, urging the agency to set stronger corporate average fuel economy standards that yield most of the consumer benefits of the Obama-era standards set in 2012

  • With its comments, CR submitted 24,700 consumer activist petition signatures in support of the agency holding automakers accountable to meet these stronger standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer research organization Consumer Reports filed formal comments with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), regarding the agency’s proposal for new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards.  

NHTSA’s proposal released on September 3 includes the agency’s preferred alternative for new fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks manufactured between 2024 and 2026. The proposal also presented additional options for the public’s consideration, and CR is strongly urging the agency to move forward with an option referred to as Alternative 3.

“NHTSA’s preferred alternative does not go far enough to help consumers and restores less of the consumer benefits than Alternative 3 would. Consumer Reports has key recommendations that would improve the rule and allow consumers to recover most of the savings they would have had under the standards set in 2012,” says Dr. Quinta Warren, associate director of sustainability policy at CR. 

Consumer Reports is advocating for a restoration of the Obama-era levels of stringency for vehicles manufactured in 2024, especially considering automakers’ plans in place to meet the 2012 standards as recently as last year. In addition, CR is recommending that NHTSA set standards in 2026 at least as strong as its Alternative 3. Consumer Reports estimates that making these changes would increase the total consumer savings from the proposal by 50 percent, delivering a total of $140 billion in net consumer savings through model year 2029. 

Automaker lobbyists advocated for the rollback carried out by the previous administration and auto manufacturers have argued that stronger CAFE targets drive the cost of popular vehicles up, making them more inaccessible for consumers. Since 2005, fuel economy standards have increased over 50 percent, which has saved consumers billions of dollars on fuel costs. During that same period, CR has purchased over 1,000 vehicles directly from dealer lots, and after adjusting for inflation, found little evidence of price increases in most popular cars.

“CAFE standards have been extremely powerful for delivering cost effective fuel savings to consumers. However, the pace of change has slowed down over the past four years as automakers have dragged their feet and lobbied for weaker standards,” says Chris Harto, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports. “We need NHTSA to step up and hold automakers accountable with strong standards. Consumers and the climate don’t have another four years to waste!”

CR knows consumers want better fuel economy for their vehicles and that they support stronger standards by a wide margin. A nationally representative survey conducted by Consumer Reports in 2020 found that 94 percent of consumers consider fuel economy to be important when deciding which vehicle to purchase or lease, and 89 percent of consumers agree that automakers should continue to improve fuel economy for all vehicle types. 

Additionally, 73 percent of respondents said the federal government should continue to increase fuel economy standards, and 74 percent said automakers have a responsibility to consumers to improve gas mileage.

CR has represented the interests of consumers and has provided comments on fuel economy-related public dockets for over a decade, including the setting of the 2017-2025 standards in 2012. Under an executive order issued by President Biden on August 5 this year, NHTSA will also begin work to develop fuel economy standards for cars and light duty trucks for model years 2027-2030. Consumer Reports will engage the agency during that process as well.

Contact: Carsen.mata@consumer.org