Planet Gore

Fuel-Economy Hocus Pocus

Detroit –– I drove to Columbus, Ohio, and back this weekend in the best-selling small car in America, a Honda Civic. I averaged 30 mpg, which is about right given the little two-door’s 26 city/34 highway rating (29 mpg combined).

So how will automakers reach an average 35.5 miles per gallon for all cars AND trucks in just four years (that’s one product cycle)? And how will they reach the 56.2 miles per gallon by 2025 reported today by the Wall Street Journal?

They won’t, but let’s say they did.

The federal fuel-economy mandates are an elaborate lie, a con built to force American automakers to make “transformative” electric cars that President Obama wants even as automakers continue to churn out the gas-powered SUVs that consumers want (and that drive company profits). The resulting, growing gulf in government demand vs. market demand has resulted in the government investing billions in the automotive-battery production business and a government fleet of hybrid-electric vehicles at the same time that automakers are investing billions in Washington lobbying to make sure the so-called CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards) fib about the real numbers.

CAFE makes the Machiavellian, back-room federal lightbulb ban look positively forthright by comparison.

“The nation’s cars and light trucks are expected to set a record for fuel efficiency for the 2008 model year, according to . . . the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” reported the Detroit News in August, 2008. “Passenger cars were estimated to average a high of 31.2 mpg (and) light trucks were estimated to average 23.4 mpg. [Thus] the nation’s fleet of passenger cars and light trucks averaged an estimated 26.8 miles per gallon.”

Huh? How can passenger cars AVERAGE 31.2 mpg when my best-selling 2007 econobox only gets 29 mpg? (Note, auto mpg capabilities and fleet mix — cars and trucks split the market 50/50 — haven’t changed since 2008.)

Because your government is lying.

In fact, reports the same Detroit News a year later, “all vehicles sold in the 2009 model year are expected to average 21.1 miles per gallon in ‘real world’ driving, which is one-tenth of a mile better than in the 2008 model year.”

What’s the difference between the 26.8 mpg government number and the 21 mpg “real world” number? The real world figure was “based on actual sales” (Honda’s entire fleet, for example, led the industry with an average of only 23.6 mpg).

Meanwhile, the government numbers are based on . . .  hocus-pocus. More precisely, a byzantine formula of credits that few people understand — but that is heavily inflated by lobbying dollars.

“There’s no question we can do 50 mpg. The only question is when,” John German, Honda’s manager of environmental and energy analysis told the News in 2008.

Heck, they can do 60 mpg. Or 100 mpg. Or 150! All it takes is a little magic.

Henry Payne — Henry Payne is the auto critic for the Detroit News.

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