Diesels can meet tomorrow's CAFE goals today

By Ron Kotrba | March 23, 2010
Posted April 1, 2010

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. EPA established new federal rules on April 1 setting the nation's first greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards into place, and significantly increasing the fuel economy of all new U.S. passenger cars and light trucks-and clean diesels are ready to meet the challenge today.

Clean diesel technology was given special mention as one advanced pathway to increasing automakers' fleet fuel economy standards. "EPA and [the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] expect that some manufacturers may choose to pursue more advanced fuel-saving technologies like hybrid vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles," the DOT stated.

Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, said, "Today's announcement requiring more efficient cars will mean more clean diesel choices for American consumers in the coming years."

On March 31, Mazda announced it would bring a clean diesel car to the U.S. market in 2012, what Schaeffer called the "first evidence of what we believe will be many more announcements that underscore the role of fuel-efficient clean diesel technology in manufacturers' plans to meet these new requirements."

Starting with 2012 models, the rules together require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce fleet-wide greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 percent every year. The NHTSA has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year reaching an estimated 34.1 miles per gallon (mpg) for the combined industry-wide fleet for model year 2016.

Because credits for air-conditioning improvements can be used to meet the EPA standards, but not the NHTSA standards, the EPA standards require that by the 2016 model-year, manufacturers must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. The EPA standard would be equivalent to 35.5 mpg if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements.

Today, clean diesels already deliver a 10-mpg fuel savings or more compared to comparable gasoline-powered models. The diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI is EPA-rated at 42 mpg highway while the gasoline version is rated at 29 mpg. The diesel Audi A3 TDI is EPA-rated at 42 mpg while the gasoline model is at rated at28 mpg. The diesel Volkswagen Jetta SportsWagen is rated 12 mpg better than its gasoline counterpart. The diesel BMW 335d is rated at 36 mpg and the gasoline version is rated at 26 mpg. In larger SUV segments, the Mercedes Benz GL350 BlueTEC is rated 6 mpg better than the gasoline version.

During an April 1 press conference, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson hailed that the new rules give the "certainty of a single national standard instead of a patchwork" of various rules.

The overall cost to the auto industry to implement these efficiencies is estimated at $52 billion, or approximately $950 per vehicle. These numbers are lower than earlier figures because, as Jackson said, the rule-making process has led to acquisition of better data. The added cost per vehicle is expected to be recouped by the owner within three years after the purchase, due to the savings at the pump. While the aggregate cost seems high, the net benefit of the new rules is said to be $190 billion.

Ray LaHood, transportation secretary, said his team has been working night and day to finalize these new rules, and once they have gotten a chance to sleep and the public has absorbed the rules, work on initiatives for years beyond 2016 will begin.
 
 
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