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FAQs on Fuel Economy

Frequently Asked Questions on Fuel Economy Standards

 How do fuel economy standards work?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set average mile-per-gallon targets and emissions targets for each car manufacturer’s fleet. The CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards are based on “footprint” curves, where each vehicle has a different fuel economy target depending on its footprint, or size. Generally, the larger the vehicle, the lower the corresponding vehicle fuel economy target. Footprint-based standards help to distribute the burden of compliance across all vehicles and all manufacturers.

Why do we need fuel economy standards?  Can’t consumers just buy whatever level of fuel economy they prefer?

Consumers value fuel economy, but its value is often underappreciated until after the vehicle is purchased.  Consumers get burned by failing to take fuel costs into account at the time they’re scrambling to find the best deal on a car.  Thanks to new EPA fuel economy labels, it’s now easier to compare fuel costs among vehicles, but this information often isn’t on consumers’ radar until it’s too late and they’re stuck with high gas bills as prices rise at the pump.  Automakers tout good fuel economy numbers when gas prices are high, but then are mum when prices fall and push other features instead.  Automakers need certainty to invest in consistent improvements in fuel economy, and CAFE standards provide just that.

What are the benefits of updating fuel economy standards?

CAFE standards make fuel efficiency more affordable and save the nation billions of dollars from being drained from our economy.  The proposed standards will reduce fuel costs by an average of more than $6,000 over the life of a new vehicle and provide consumers with more fuel-efficient and non-gasoline powered vehicle options.  Reaching the proposed targets will also accomplish major national energy and environmental goals and is expected to cut gasoline consumption by four billion barrels over the lifetime of vehicles manufactured between 2017 and 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 billion metric tons.  Improving CAFE standards from 32.7 mpg in 2016 to 49.6 mpg by 2025 will save consumers an average of $740/year in fuel costs in 2025 (by driving a new vehicle that meets the standards for 16,000 miles per year).  These improvements will also help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, save consumers money, and improve air quality, while spurring the development of clean cars and domestically-sourced alternative fuels.

How much will fuel economy standards cost consumers up front?

Delivering more fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles will require investment in vehicle technology development and manufacturing.  The average cost increase for passenger vehicles to meet the new targets in 2025 is about $2,000 per vehicle.  The expected average cost increase for light trucks (SUVs, vans, and small trucks) is $1,500.  Because of the long lead time for these standards, auto manufacturers will be able to incorporate new technologies as part of their regular redesign cycles.  The fuel savings more than outweigh the upfront costs, for a net average savings of approximately $4,000 per vehicle.

Will more efficient cars be safe?

Safety standards will remain in place, regardless of a car’s fuel economy.  Cars have been getting safer as fuel economy has improved, and this trend is likely to continue.  Advanced materials and other technologies have created important new possibilities for simultaneously improving both fuel economy and safety.

Will I still be able to buy a large vehicle?

The short answer is yes. The proposed standards preserve consumer choice by scaling the fuel economy target based on the size of the vehicle. They require improvements across all vehicle sizes, so each class of car will see efficiency gains.  This means that no matter what size vehicle you’re looking for, you can expect to see more fuel efficient options once the standards are in place.

Where can I learn more about fuel efficient vehicles?

Consumer Reports on Cars


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rulemaking

For California Standards, visit:

Cal Clean Cars Campaign

California Air Resources Board