How to power a new fuel economy

Marketplace Staff May 19, 2009
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How to power a new fuel economy

Marketplace Staff May 19, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: This has been a spectacular day in the nation’s capital. Sunny, crisp and cool. Not a cloud in the sky. The kind of day that just makes you want to take a deep breath and smell the roses. Unfortunately, if you did that as I did this morning not far from the White House, you’d have gotten a snootful of car and truck exhaust from all the traffic going by.

So really it’s no small irony that President Obama chose to be outdoors today in the Rose Garden for his big announcement on new mileage and emissions standards. By 2016, new cars and light trucks will have to average 35.5 miles a gallon. That’s up about 9 MPG from today’s standard. And the news ends a bitter fight between carmakers and states like California that have been trying to enforce their own tougher standards. And the president said it will give companies clear guidance for how to produce 21st century cars. Tamara Keith has more now on what those cars might look like.


TAMARA KEITH: In 2016, vehicles will probably look a lot like they do today. Charles Torrito is with the Alliance for Automobile Manufacturers.

CHARLES TORRITO: Some will be smaller and lighter, some will be less powerful. Some may be more powerful.

There won’t be a tectonic shift in the showroom, in part because fuel economy standards will vary depending on a vehicle’s size.

TORRITO: For those who really do want a full-sized Tahoe or Suburban they will still be available. They won’t necessarily be any smaller.

John DeCicco is at the Environmental Defense Fund. He says those mega SUV’s will have more efficient engines, and they may be built with the kind of steel he recently saw at an industry symposium.

JOHN DECICCO: You would be amazed by the innovation in steel technology. I was picking up steel parts that were less than half of the old steel parts because they’re using new advanced lightweight steels.

Experts say most of the technology needed to green the nation’s vehicles is on the shelf now. Daniel Sperling directs the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

DANIEL SPERLING: We’ll see more diesel engines; we’ll see more hybrid vehicles. And we’ll just see better internal combustion engines, better management of the valves. Better transmissions.

And yes, cars will probably be more expensive. But depending on gas prices come 2016, drivers may just be willing to pay for efficiency.

In Washington, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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