CAFE sucks

This week saw a fine example of political gamesmanship from the Obama administration. He let down his base yet again by opening up certain portions of the U.S. coast to offshore petroleum drilling in an attempt to undercut his (supposed) foes across the aisle, and upped CAFE standards. The former has gotten a lot more press than the latter. Neither are quite what they seem.

All the opponents he hoped to undercut with the announcement are still unsatisfied, because he left some areas untouchable. That’s not going to make his environmentalist supporters feel any better, but no matter as the administration seems to believe that there is an infinite amount of room under the bus.

So to make them feel a little better, he tossed them a bone by raising CAFE standards. This man knows hollow, political gestures like he was born to make them. CAFE sucks. It’s a system designed to be gamed, and this grand announcement doesn’t change that.

The numbers being touted in the press are either the 2016 fleet average for passenger cars (37.8 mpg) or the 2016 average of cars and trucks (34.1 mpg). You’ll have to dig a little deeper to see the truck average (28.8 mpg by 2016) and understand how CAFE works – along with automotive classifications for the purpose of CAFE – to see how this move is about as substantial as Obama adopting “Drill, baby, drill,” will be to our dependence on foreign oil over the short, medium and even long term.

First, even the 37.8 is rather abysmal in the grand scheme of things, but so long as Americans demand obese vehicles in which their Big Gulp is climate controlled; in which their asses are never too warm nor too cold; in which they can be wrapped in a cocoon of perfect safety to save them from their own idiocy (or that of others); and that require little actual driving, we won’t see good numbers. It’s the market for the lowest, common denominator, stupid.

Second, it’s worth going to the EPA’s fuel economy site and clicking on the lineup for individual automakers. The EPA divides the lineups into cars, minivans, trucks and SUV’s. For most manufactures, trucks and SUV’s account for at least half the lineup. In more than a few cases, trucks outnumber passenger vehicles in the fleet by two to one. And, yes, that includes the liberal environmentalists’ darling Toyota. So what we’re really dealing with is an increase to a whopping 28.8 mpg by 2016.

Third, remember that this is a fleet average number, not a requirement for every vehicle. The automakers will game this system with America’s newest class of vehicle, the “crossover”. Sure, the crossover is a step in the right direction and away from the Stupid Useless Vehicle that Americans adore, but it’s still considered a truck for fuel economy purposes. Christ, America, drive wagons because they’re cool. Don’t ruin wagons by requiring them to be morbidly obese. Next time you see an ad for this or that “crossover”, replace the marketing brand with “fat wagon” because it’s far more accurate.

For example, “The brand-new Chevy equinox, America’s most popular fat wagon, achieves 32 mpg on the highway…your results from equipping it with an automatic transmission and not knowing how to drive may vary…but still, that’s not bad for a chunker, eh?”

Of course, there will be special dispensation in the new CAFE regulations for hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. We love us some greenwashing, don’t we? Don’t get me wrong, it would have been awesome if Ford and Edison had pulled off the electric car for the masses in 1914; we’d have a century of electric vehicle technology advancement under our belts and a grid system designed for them. But they didn’t.

Toyota’s synergy drive, the industry benchmark, is pointless and serves to do little more than soothe the conscience of people hoping to save the planet by making slightly better consumer purchases. It contains two complete systems trying to work together. The end result is two incomplete systems powering a vehicle that can’t match a modern diesel in either efficiency or cleanliness.

The basic concept underlying Chevy’s Volt is good, because the internal combustion engine never drives the vehicle. It’s an electric car with an on-board generator to charge the batteries, meaning that a tiny engine can be tuned for maximum efficiency since the driver will never ask it to speed up or slow down. Unfortunately, GM’s making it a technology platform instead of a practical platform and like the behemoth’s foray into diesel in the 80’s it will probably flop and ruin the idea for a generation.

And of course there will be credits for the grandest boondoggle of them all: E85. Yes, that’s the ticket, a little more socialism for agricultural conglomerates who’d rather use farmland for growing a terribly inefficient fuel than providing sustenance for the nation.

For all i know, the administration’s heart is in the right place, but as it seems overly committed to the formalisms of Versailles it doesn’t really matter where its heart is located. The end result are pointless little tweeks around the edges of a broken system that please few and do little for the average American.

*Don’t look at me, i keep a 24 year old vehicle running. And if the federal government wasn’t so concerned with making sure we all use enough oil to keep corporate profits plump i’d be driving a Kei truck from Japan, as i need to travel several hundred miles to find a speed limit higher than 55. I’ll take 800 lbs of capacity, fold down bed sides, simple construction, off road capability, 40 mpg and right-hand drive, FTW.

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~ by Lex on April 4, 2010.

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