“These fuel standards represent the single most important step we’ve ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Obama said in a statement.
This second phase of standards, which apply to model years 2017 to 2025, will double the efficiency of the U.S. fleet compared with vehicles manufactured in 2008.
Tuesday’s announcement marked the culmination of a compromise the White House forged between the auto industry, environmentalists, labor unions and the state of California.
California enacted its own greenhouse gas emissions standards several years ago, and it battled the auto industry in court until the administration brokered a deal between all the parties in May 2009.
“Customers want higher fuel efficiency in their cars and trucks, and GM is going to give it to them,” said Greg Martin, General Motors’ executive director for communications. “We expect the rules to be tough, but we have a strong history of innovation, and we’ll do our best to meet them.”
Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group’s clean-energy program, said the fact that so many people now accept the idea of greater fuel efficiency does not lessen the rules’ “historic” importance.
“We’ve just come a long way in five years,” Cuttino said, noting that in 2007 lawmakers debated whether the U.S. fleet could average 30 mpg by 2025. “This gives me hope for energy policy in this country.”
Auto dealers warned Tuesday that making the technical changes required to achieve greater efficiency would increase the average price of a vehicle by $3,000 by the time the rules are fully implemented.
“This increase shuts almost 7 million people out of the new-car market entirely and prevents many millions more from being able to afford new vehicles that meet their needs,” Bill Underriner, who chairs the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a statement.
While the sales of some electric cars have failed to meet industry expectations — GM initially predicted its electric Chevy Volt would sell 45,000 units in 2012, and it now projects it will reach sales of 20,000 Volts by the end of next month — the overall efficiency of the American auto fleet continues to rise.
Edmunds.com senior analyst Jessica Caldwell said buyers have begun to place fuel efficiency “at the top” of their shopping priorities, regardless of the size of the car they’re buying. But she cautioned that it remains to be seen whether sales of electric vehicles or hybrids — which make up just 3 percent of the U.S. auto market — will expand, or whether more-efficient internal-combustion engines will dominate a decade from now.