Remember when everyone in the automotive industry said that the U.S. CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards were unrealistic and result in everyone driving vehicles like the Toyota Yaris? That kind of dystopian future where everyone drives beige boring boxes in order to be slaves to the “green” revolution (you know, the one that cares about things like air pollution and nonrenewable energy usage) just doesn’t seem to coming to fruition. In fact, automakers have been so innovative in the face of change that they are actually trending to beat the new standards, according to a recent report by Wards Auto.
In case you don’t remember now, CAFE mandated back in 2009 that each automaker’s fleet, which is weighted based on sales, achieve an average fuel economy of 35.5 mpg. The goal has to be reached by 2016. That kind of fuel efficiency used to be reserved only for basic economy cars, but times are changing.
The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has reported that right now, light vehicles sold in the U.S. average 25.5 mpg. Add to that the fact that Michael Olechiw, who is the director of the EPA Light-Duty Vehicle Center, says that almost 35 percent of all 2014 models already meet the 2016 fuel economy standard, and things are looking pretty good.
There has been a flurry of new technologies, as well as renovating old ones, to help cars consume less fuel. For example, quite a few new cars make use of forced induction (turbo or supercharging), lightweight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber, direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, cylinder management (which shuts off some of the engine’s cylinders when the vehicle is cruising), and stop/start systems that help drivers avoid idling while sitting at lights and elsewhere.
The pace that automakers have been innovating in the face of government regulation has been startling, says Olechiw. Not only are the different companies meeting the challenge at a much faster pace, they have been developing technologies that were wholly unexpected.