GM: Federal CAFE standards good for nation, industry

By Nicholas Zeman | May 11, 2009
Posted May 20, 2009

Legislating tougher Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirements will lead auto manufacturers to take a look at their diesel offerings as compression engines have better fuel efficiency and lower carbon dioxide emissions, said Dave Barthmuss, group manager for General Motors Environment and Energy Communications North America.

Auto manufacturers won't necessarily be running out right away, however, to bring more diesel models to the market. "It is tough to bring diesel engines to a broader range of products," Barthmuss told Biodiesel Magazine. "Because diesel engines have greater fuel efficiency and can operate with biodiesel-which is a low-carbon fuel-expanding this area will be considered, but our plan is to achieve the reductions with our current portfolio."

Along with compression engines and biodiesel utilization, corporate fleets will use flex-fuel, hybrid, plug-in and other alternative fuel vehicles to cut back on their petroleum usage and comply with the more stringent CAFE program.

"The new standards, covering model years 2012-2016, and ultimately requiring an average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg in 2016, are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program with a fuel economy gain averaging more than five percent per year and a reduction of approximately 900 million metric tons in greenhouse gas emissions," stated the White House Press Office in an official release on May 19. "This would surpass the CAFE law passed by Congress in 2007 which required an average fuel economy of 35 mpg in 2020."

Because diesel engines can offer fleet operators savings on CAFE requirements, it has been speculated in the short time since the new CAFE overview was published that the sector could see more business. This could be a boon for biodiesel. "There definitely has been more of a push from the current administration to implement programs that help the biofuels industries," said Robert Dascal of New Energy Fuels in Waller, Texas. "Increased diesel fuel utilization obviously opens up more of a market for us."

The CAFE standard set by the Obama administration for model year 2011 is 27.3 mpg for the light duty fleet, which includes passenger cars and light trucks. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) reported that its standard for model year 2011 is 26.7 mpg for the light duty fleet, which includes passenger cars and light trucks. "We have a lot of customers here in the Houston area starting to be educated on the benefits and performance characteristics of biodiesel," Dascal told Biodiesel Magazine. "If there are more nationwide incentives to use biodiesel, we hope that our base will expand."

GM says that previously there have been different approaches to enforcing CAFE from several different states, along with DOT and EPA standards, all of which have made life hard on auto engineers. Now, with a federal standard on the front, there will be more of a consistent platform on which to base plans for future product lines. "The ultimate winner will be the consumer because the industry now has a consistent guide-one national standard-when it comes to fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions, which will save time, labor and money," Barthmuss said.
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