EPA/DoT Report Says Automotive Emissions Targets Can be Met

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Photo: Hessam Bakhtiarzadeh

The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), today released statements about the release of the draft Technical Assessment Report (TAR) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation and California’s Air Resources Board.

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The report is the first step in the mid-term evaluation of fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions regulations and it examines a wide range of technology factors relevant to the 2022-2025 automotive model year standards.

Hybrid Car

Can a 54.5-miles-per-gallon average for all cars on the road be reached by 2025? Source: Adobe Stock/6th Gear.

The main question the report was created to address is should federal authorities adjust miles-per-gallon calculations in order to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets for the 2022-2025 model years. The stated goal by the Obama administration is to cut carbon emissions radically with rules that tighten to a nominal 54.5 mile-per-gallon average by 2025.

“As noted in today’s report, mass reduction is an important contributor to fuel economy and we continue to work with automakers on solutions utilizing advance high-strength steels,” said Lawrence W. Kavanagh, president of SMDI. “The mass reduction and overall value delivered with these advanced steel grades are why they are the fastest growing class of automotive material.”

Steel and aluminum are the two metals used for construction of most automobile bodies on the market today and we have extensively covered the car wars between high-strength steel and aluminum alloys to fulfill that role and how each can help reduce weight, fuel consumption and emissions of an automotive fleet. SMDI got its message out with the release of the report.

“The North American steel industry collaborates with automakers to ensure the development of new, advanced steel technologies will significantly contribute to meeting fuel economy requirements,” said Dr. Jody Hall, vice president of the automotive market for SMDI. “In addition to reducing tailpipe emissions, steel’s lower material production emissions compared to alternative materials could provide further reductions from the transportation sector.”

How Emissions Targets Were Reached

Based on current trends, the average automobile would get between 50 and 52.6 miles per gallon by 2025, falling short of the original projection of 54.5, according to the report. However, the report also said automakers can draw on an array of technologies — such as those aluminum alloy and high-strength steel bodies — to satisfy the target It also said it will cost less than expected to get to a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 by 2015. Real-world tests and hundreds of thousands of computer simulations of vehicles using a wide variety of technologies.

“The draft report supports that the administration’s fuel economy program can continue to incentivize innovation and reduce fuel consumption while also ensuring that consumers can continue to choose the vehicles they want to drive,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a news release about it.

Automaker Pushback

However, the automotive industry still believes the 54.5 mpg CAFE goal is unrealistic and said as much.

“Given changes in the market landscape, it will be a daunting challenge to meet the very aggressive requirements of the 2022-2025 federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas rule,” said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for major automakers including General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Toyota Motor Corp., and Volkswagen AG. “Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles.”

The assessment triggers a 60-day public comment period, with the technical report and the feedback guiding regulators as they make decisions next year on the final fuel economy and carbon dioxide emission requirements for 2022-2025.

Estimates vs. Technology Reality

The document estimates that automakers will spend about $1,100 per vehicle for new technologies required to meet the targets, such as 10-speed transmissions which is close to the government’s $1,070-per-vehicle projection four years ago.

While the report has some interesting facts in it, it continues to exist more to draw battle lines between the automotive and regulatory authorities involved. Many of the assumptions made in the report are still based on what may or may not happen in the future.

In 2012, the EPA and NHTSA projected that the new standards would lower tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide by 35% by 2025, to 163 grams per mile. But on Monday, the agencies said that if U.S. gasoline prices remain low, tailpipe CO2 emissions may only fall by 29%, to 178 grams per mile. Quite an assumption. The smaller improvement means that preventing the release of each gram of carbon dioxide would be more expensive.

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As both sides pick data from the report to bolster their arguments for keeping or changing the carbon reduction targets — and the steel and aluminum lobbies release white papers saying how their materials can help achieve those targets — it’s important to remember that there are a litany of factors that could change the assumptions in this report.

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