Automakers take aim at Obama admin’s fuel economy analysis

Source: Camille von Kaenel, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Automakers have slammed the federal agencies setting fuel economy standards for their analysis of available fuel-saving technologies.

In the first of several official comments to U.S. EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, car manufacturers hit back hard against Obama administration findings that they could meet the 2025 fuel economy standards with existing or imminent technologies like turbocharged engines or dual-clutch transmissions.

“The Alliance [of Automobile Manufacturers] has significant concerns with much of the data and analyses in the [draft technical assessment report],” the automaker lobby group wrote in¬†comments¬†submitted to the agencies. “Simply stated, there are numerous flaws in the modeling, and additional (and more costly) technology will be needed than suggested.”

The agencies must decide by spring of 2018 whether to tighten, loosen or maintain the standards as part of a midterm review. The standards represent a key part of President Obama’s efforts to tackle climate change.

Yesterday marked the deadline for sending feedback to the agencies on a technical report published earlier this summer. In a sign of the debate to come, industry groups had pushed for an extension, citing the complexity and length of the analysis. Regulators rejected the request.

The alliance, which represents 12 manufacturers of cars and light trucks, suggested yesterday the agencies organize public workshops to go over the modeling.

Environmental advocates defended the agencies’ analyses, pointing to a study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 that also found that automakers could meet the 2025 standards.

“The industry has a long history of grossly overestimating the cost to comply with regulations,” said Luke Tonachel, the director of the clean vehicles and fuels project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s a lot of innovation already happening, and we can expect more innovation to happen.”

The disagreement in part stems from differing assumptions about the number of plug-in vehicles required to meet the standards in 2025. The agencies said the standards could be met with no more than 2 to 3 percent electric vehicles. Automakers say the standards will require “significant” and costly numbers of electric vehicles. They say sales of electric or fuel-efficient vehicles remain lower than expected, and cheap gas is enticing consumers to buy larger, gas-guzzling trucks.

Complicating the picture is California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate, which requires electric vehicles to represent 15 percent of sales in California and nine other states by 2025.

The federal fuel economy standards and the ZEV mandate “are not necessarily complementary and industry has a limited capacity to nudge buyers to purchase vehicles they either don’t want or cannot afford,” wrote the automakers.

They say they want the agencies to better harmonize the regulations and model the costs of complying to separate rules.

Tonachel said that EPA included the effects of the ZEV program in its analysis and that it found that complying with the ZEV program made it cheaper to comply with the federal fuel economy program. NHTSA did not take the ZEV program into account, but an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows it makes little difference in the final levels of electrification required for compliance with the standards.