Obama Ratchets Up CAFE to Match California’s Standards

President Obama gathered auto executives, auto workers, environmentalists, and top federal and California officials at the White House this week to unveil a new consensus on fuel economy standards. His plan will harmonize the federal government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (better know as CAFE) with tougher tailpipe standards for CO2 poised to take effect in California and 17 other states.

Obama traded up, according to close Detroit observer Jim Motavalli, who writes in  the New York Times’ Wheels blog that the new-and-improved CAFE is “roughly equivalent to those proposed under California’s tailpipe greenhouse-gas program.” As Motavalli and others noted, automakers had no choice but to join Obama and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  march to higher efficiency, with the feds holding their much-tightened purse-strings.

CAFE will start rising in 2012 and reach 39 miles per gallon for cars and 30 mpg for trucks by 2016, with a fleetwide average of 35.5 mpg. That’s quite a jump from the current standards of 27.5 mpg for cars and 23.1 for trucks. It’s quite an acceleration from the CAFE boost approved by Congress and President Bush in 2007, which would have not have reached a combined average of 35 mpg until 2020.

This is very good news for technology developers. As your author documented in early 2008, the 2007 upgrade would have required minimal implementation of next-generation technologies — such as advanced electric drivetrains and light-weight composite parts — that will be required to put personal transport on a path to sustainability.

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This post was created for Energywise, IEEE Spectrum’s blog on green power, cars and climate

Lutz Departure Another Modest Sign of Modernization

GM's-Bob-Lutz-with-the-7-seater-Buick-TerrazaMany in the green car movement are cheering the announcement that Bob Lutz, GM’s vice chairman, will retire at the end of 2009. Environmental Defense Fund automotive guru John DeCicco celebrates the news on HybridCars.com today, calling Lutz part of a “cohort of corporate leaders who rose to the top eerily disconnected from the parallel rise of environmental values in American culture.” But a speech last week by Hyundai North America’s CEO — billed as a wake-up call by the Detroit News — reinforces the impression that changing the industry’s environmental perspective will require a much broader shift in personnel.

Lutz earned the ire of the environmentally-inclined for two reasons. As product development chief he contributed to GM’s reliance on ever larger and less fuel-efficient SUVs trucks. And he made headlines with his contempt for the theory of climate change. Dallas-based D Magazine quoted a private conversation with journalists just one year ago in which Lutz called global warming a, “total crock of ****.”

Lutz added, according to D, that, “my opinion doesn’t matter.” But how could that be, with GM gearing up to woo environmentally-minded consumers with advanced vehicles such as the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt? Such comments reverberate louder still within the industry, signaling to junior engineers that an environment-be-damned ethic endures in Detroit’s board rooms.

Continue reading “Lutz Departure Another Modest Sign of Modernization”