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Obama wants 35 mpg by 2016, Greens score a huge win

Posted by: David Welch on May 18, 2009

Environmental lobbyists scored a big victory on fuel economy rules. President Obama announced Tuesday that he will boost the nation’s average fuel economy for new models just north of 35 miles per gallon by 2016. That’s about four years earlier than the Bush Administration originally proposed and similar to new greenhouse gas rules that California wanted to put in place on its own.

Here’s where the green lobby showed some real savvy. They knew they couldn’t get the Bush Administration to pass tougher rules. But groups like the Sierra Club figured they could get California to bite. So in 2002, they got California Senator Fran Pavley to sponsor a bill that would put tougher rules in place to govern carbon dioxide emissions. California has long had its own rules to govern emissions and pollution. But carbon dioxide can’t be scrubbed or filtered like other pollutants. You can only cut emissions by burning less gasoline. So any rule restricting it is a de facto rule on fuel economy. The industry tied the California proposal up in court, hoping to keep the feds from granting California a waiver.

Even Toyota opposed it, saying they didn’t want two standards, one for California and the states in the Northeast who follow its lead, and one for the rest of the country. So the new rule is a compromise that adopts rules as stiff as California wanted for its carbon dioxide targets but lets the federal government enforce it. And it’s one rule for the U.S., which makes planning new models easier.

The problem for carmakers is that the “one standard” is the toughest Obama could have picked. And the green groups knew they would get their way. See, New York, New Jersey and the New England states often follow California’s lead. Add them all up and it’s not far from half the car market. No carmaker wants to engineer two cars for the same market, so the industry pushed for one standard. Since Obama owes California and the Northeast his election, he was bound to side with them. He said he would when he campaigned. Plus, two of Detroit’s Big Three-who have been the political foes of fuel economy rules—are getting loans from the government and can’t fight tougher regs. It all came into place for environmentalists.

Carmakers will find a way to meet the new rules. Some will use hybrids or direct-injection gasoline engines and turbo chargers. We’ll even see more diesel engines. The question is, how will carmakers make a buck on these new efficient models? Hybrids and clean diesel engines can add thousands of dollars in cost. With cheap gasoline, consumers won’t pay up for it. The industry will have to raise prices, but getting enough of a hike to make a profit on green technology has been elusive since hybrids first went on sale. Green profits will be tough to find until gasoline prices rise again.

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Reader Comments

Ross Nicholson

May 19, 2009 01:20 AM

All the industry needs to do is to quit 'styling' cars and start building aerodynamic cars. Just bend the sheet metal right, and mileage can dramatically improve. New engines and turbochargers cost money. Put bellypans and boat-tails on the cars, enclose the silly wheel wells! It isn't rocket science.


May 19, 2009 01:33 AM

They could eliminate the useless, luxury tech-gimmicks cars are stuffed with.
Today, even entry-model cars come with power windows, locks, seats, 10 speaker audio system etc...

If all car makers have to adjust, there will be no competitive change.


May 19, 2009 02:10 AM

Nice explanation. Seems like they were pretty savvy to me and I, for one, am grateful for their work. I already am looking at 35 mpg and thinking, "is that all?". I want more! But I know that will just have to come in the future. One step at a time....but at least we're moving in the right direction.


May 19, 2009 04:15 AM

Well done, Obama. Finally the car industry will have to start thinking really innovatively, instead of just tinkering a bit at the side and opposing common sense in much the same way as the tobacco industry is practising since decades..
Reminder: to innovate, involve all your employees, not just the 20.000 mile high flying C-level executives who do not really care about employees or environment, but just about their (unearned) bonuses.


May 19, 2009 04:49 AM

"The question is, how will carmakers make a buck on these new efficient models?"

Since all car makers have to d it, anyone buying a new car will be buying new efficient model. Also since it is a fleet average Just charge more SUVs and other large inefficient models. If poeple don't want to spend the money the'll buy something smaller. Really what percentage of drivers needed an SUV and how many got them because of large marketing ushes and the desire to look cool.


May 19, 2009 06:04 AM

Excellence is our only option. Time to throw the excuses to the curb.


May 19, 2009 06:42 AM

Yes, we can! Yes, we have done!

Who else it better placed to make fuel efficient cars than the high-tech car industry?
The car industry revolutionised vehicle safety after governments legislated, in the late ’80s and early ’90. Airbags became standard and ABS crept into our vocabulary. A whole new set of TLA’s (three letter acronyms) came into being, just to show the consumer how much the car makers care and invest in our safety.
Yes, some of it comes still as an optional extra, but the majority is often standard equipment and somehow, the auto industry made it affordable. Though at the time, I can guess that they and their suppliers invested hundreds of millions making it possible and then affordable.
We know that university students can make a “car” run at thousands of miles per gallon, just taking a look at the shell eco marathon.
So the big questions are: why are we still waiting for even 100mpg to hit volume production and why are we as customers putting up with poor fuel economy?
I guess, looking at vehicle safety, we’d answer, “because it’s not killing us, yet!”
Looking at the other side of the question, the one the car makers see, we could find different answers. Firstly, developing new engines costs more investment that developing a new “car,” and we sell cars! Secondly, an engine production line- the investment in manufacturing- is extremely expensive so the basic build of current engines could actually be decades “old.”
Oh, and we still managed to see a production car with a 78mpg average fuel economy back in 1999, from Audi, the A2 3L (3Litres/100km = 78mpg US). Just as we expected from Audi, not cheap, but in this case, not really beautiful either.
So, we know the car manufacturers can do! In this case, they already did... but 35mpg as a target?
Now who is laughing?


May 19, 2009 07:40 AM

The Bush science shows that the global warming has nothing to do with burning of fossil fuels.


May 19, 2009 07:51 AM

That's about 6.7 liters/100 km. in european terms.

Not that great, my 10 years old toyota does significantly less. And no, it does not run on diesel, but in unleaded gas.

As always, US comes later to the gas eficiency game.


May 19, 2009 08:33 AM

I knew there was a reason I loved Obama. Too bad he wasn't around years ago and for those who must drive a gas hog i say thats OK as long as they searve in Iraq for a year to keep the pipe line open


May 19, 2009 09:46 AM

Of course Joe,

I forgot we went over there for oil. Great point. And for those that have to drive "gas hogs" know like the ones who make less than $30k.......or about 75% of the US military.......i guess they will have to wait around until tree huggers like yourself come down from that $40k price tag


May 19, 2009 10:14 AM

I like this move. Since the oil industry got deregulated in 2000 by Republicans and Ken Lay, the measure screwed the airlines and just about everything including the American automobile industry (by means of partnering up with the oil industry folks for years). GS and alikes profit big time from this deregulated measure. Only when the American manufacturers starting to make reliable, fuel efficiency, and good design, then I will start buying. Until then, screw it.


May 19, 2009 10:26 AM

This isn't the job of the president. When will people realize this? We're Americans. We're Capitalist. We should vote with our dollars. Hybrids are not a national issue--independent companies will follow what the market wants and produce cars that benefit both auto maker and consumer--if left to flourish on it's own.

And sorry Joe, but conscription isn't the answer. I have a large family (something liberals hate) and I need an SUV to get them + gear + dog around. Do not trivialize the good people that keep this country safe so that you have the right and privilage to say what you want.

Grant, your idea isn't sound either--why punish people by making them pay more--not everyone can go out and buy a new car nor can use a smaller one. It sets up a dangerous idea--one that when something you feel is your right, I'm sure you'd have an issue too. It's like smoking. People don't like it, so they think it's ok to add more and more prohibitive taxes. I don't like smoking, but I do not think I have the right to impose my views on someone via money. That just says that any one rich enough can opt out of any rules people set up.

I'm quite surprised at the lack sight on many of your view points.


May 19, 2009 10:44 AM

A new passenger car is already one of the most efficient machines on the planet. Trying to squeeze a few more MPG out of passenger cars is poor allocation of resources that betrays an ignorance of optimization.

What needs to be tightened up are the CAFE and pollution regs on diesel trucks. Then, to get the most bang for the buck, we should offer tax breaks for the recycling (meaning they must be chopped up and recycled, not resold) of old inefficient passenger vehicles. Just cranking up CAFE on passenger cars is a foolish and short-sighted policy (but it is politically much easier than taking on the diesel trucking industry).

john shantz

May 19, 2009 11:06 AM

Re: Bush
Its no longer 'global warming'. Its climate change. Watch for tomorrow's excuses for the 'warming trend' thats freezing us all. Today its 33 degrees in North Dakota.


May 19, 2009 11:12 AM

This is easily attainable. MPG is basic physics.... Mass and Aerodynamics...get the weight out of cars and make them more aero dynamic without sacrificing human comfort....shit...current V-8 SUV's could be getting 50-60 MPG's... The problem is the industry retooling the production lines and making it profitable.... Composite technology frames and structures for strength with less weight... wind tunneling design for aerodynamics matched with new engine technology should easily meet and surpase these requirements....diesel being one of them.!


May 19, 2009 12:39 PM

2016??? - why can't a president state that "something specific" like this will be done during his/her time in office? Why must the president always push something out for 10-20 years? This is just smoke and mirrors. If Obama said within 2 years I would say "right on" But 2016? No one is going to remember what he said never mind follow through with these guidelines.


May 19, 2009 12:42 PM

Thats funny, I thought businesses were supposed to provide what the customer WANTS and will buy, not what the govt wants people to do.

Hugo van Randwyck

May 19, 2009 02:03 PM

How is it that over 500 politicians in Washington seem to come up with the worst option?! What is the price of a gallon in teh countries of the auto transplants in America, and also looking to buy some of the Big 3? about $8-10 a gallon. Why has America's petrol consumption fallen over the last year - because the price rose to $4 and people changed their driving habits - granted a severe recession also made an impact, however consumption was changing before. So a simple solution is - increase the price signal! Incrementally increase it to around $8 a gallon, how about adding 10 cents every month - however refund the tax, do not let the politicians touch it. A $1.20 increase would give about $600 a year refund. An easier way is for all the Governors to get together, and agree to a 10 cents a month increase which they refund to their own voters. Problem solved, free enterprise, energy independence in 4 to 8 years.


May 19, 2009 02:13 PM

Can't wait until this is reversed by our new president in 2012.


May 19, 2009 02:15 PM

"Thats funny, I thought businesses were supposed to provide what the customer WANTS and will buy, not what the govt wants people to do."

Thats just one religion and there are others...


May 19, 2009 02:20 PM

Tim, if Obama wanted to get this done within 2 years he'd essentially be putting an expiration date on Ford, GM, and Chrysler and their suppliers. That many people out of a job won't help his popularity.


May 19, 2009 02:58 PM

People buy what they want. Why is it so hard for government to understand that? Hybrids are stacking up by the thousands on dealers lots. The entire soultion is very simple. Increase the gas tax, PERIOD! More money for the government and less miles driven. Following California's lead means only problems for the rest of the country.


May 19, 2009 04:27 PM

This piece has been featured at as Best Opinion >


May 19, 2009 07:05 PM

I drive a Hemi Dodge Ram that gets 11 mpg with dual straight pipes running out the back...and im proud. This is not something Obama needs to be focusing on. Lame ass hippie.

Elizah Leigh

May 19, 2009 08:21 PM

Even though I am a member of a green social network (,I am slightly looney enough to recycle grocery receipts and expired coupons, and I walk a pretty green line in general, I am not wearing green-tinted glasses with regard to my eco-expectations of the population at large. I am totally in favor of the new push for higher fuel economy, but what we should do concurrently is to reprogram consumers to be far more practical in their daily lives and not use the "better mileage" as an excuse to drive to the store whenever the whim strikes them.


May 19, 2009 10:00 PM

I rented a French car in Italy last summer. Clean diesel, it's the only way to go. Average, 3.9 l/100km. OUr American cars are a joke!!!


May 19, 2009 10:39 PM

California should be ashamed of itself for blaming car companies for a mess it created. Ford and GM did not create urban sprawl. Ford and GM did not create traffic snarls that make a 10 mile commute last 30 minutes.
The simple fact is cities could do a lot more to ease traffic congestion by simply timing traffic lights to move traffic more effectively. Governments need to promote 4 day work weeks and encouraging employers to allow telecommuting, flex-time, and work at home offices. All of these would have an immediate impact at reducing road congestion without driving up the cost to citizens.
Obama could do a lot more than blame auto companies.

Paul (Vw)

May 19, 2009 11:25 PM

>>> Greens score a huge win

>>> four years earlier than the Bush Administration originally proposed

That's "huge"? A few years earlier?

>>> They knew they couldn’t get the Bush Administration to pass tougher rules.

Right now the US auto industry is in shambles...would Mr. Obama have taken such an initiative if it was not currently American automotive Armageddon? I suspect Mr. Bush and even Mr. Clinton would have upped CAFE standards higher if it would not push the Big3 automakers into a mess.

Mr. Obama missed a great opportunity--he should have raised oil taxes to affect consumer demand instead of mandating to car companies what they should make. Mandating higher efficiency standards to the auto industry will not necessarily translate to decreased energy consumption by ordinary citizens.

Let's hear from the man himself:

>>> "The fact is, everyone wins," Obama said..."Consumers pay less for fuel..."

Great, 36 years after the '73 oil embargo and our leaders still don't get it.


May 20, 2009 10:21 AM

Great move by President Obama. I am just a little disappointed that 35 mpg is all they could get. I was hoping for 50 or 75. I think the "g" part of "mpg" will soon be obsolete. I hope to be driving an electric car by 2016 and hope to never have to look at fossil fuels or the infernal Internal Combusion Engine ever again.

Question - why do we even need the old technology of drive trains and transmissions? Can't we just hook up the electric batter to two motors powering the wheels?


May 21, 2009 11:17 AM

It would be nice if someone would explain to the public how controlling anthropogenic CO2, which contributes less than one-tenth of one percent of the total greenhouse effect, is going to have any measurable effect on our environment.


May 22, 2009 01:52 AM

The 2010 Prius gets between 45 and 50 MPG,
already, so I don't see the big deal. If
we are still driving cars that get less than this in 2016, heaven help us because
5 dollar a gallon gas won't. Wake up
American and smell the gas!!!


May 23, 2009 09:07 AM

Real nice that you liberal commies like he new milage standards. Just wait till you find out where the gas lost gas tax revenue comes from,how bout out of your paychecks you idiots. Thats if you tree huggers even have a job.Now im going out getting in my silverado 2500HD truck and just gonna cruise around to look for a hummer to buy.


May 23, 2009 08:41 PM

"This is easily attainable. MPG is basic physics.... Mass and Aerodynamics...get the weight out of cars and make them more aero dynamic without sacrificing human comfort....shit...current V-8 SUV's could be getting 50-60 MPG's... The problem is the industry retooling the production lines and making it profitable.... Composite technology frames and structures for strength with less weight... wind tunneling design for aerodynamics matched with new engine technology should easily meet and surpase these requirements....diesel being one of them"

ya right, and the average person could really afford them. technology comes at a price.composites, magniesium parts are not cheap. steel is abundant, cost effective, strong for added safety.our country needs to concentrate on renewable energy and put dollars towards something our country can process and provide jobs.diesel should be our future power for cars. oils can be processed from many types of plants and can even be made from algae.


May 23, 2009 11:17 PM

What bothers me is people see this as a "threat" rather than a good thing. Higher milage standards are a GOOD thing, because that means we get more miles for our buck. I don't see why Conservatives aren't for this. It saves American's money. Or are we just against it because it's from the left? Why can't we take good ideas from both sides and not reject them just because they happen to be proposed from the left or right.

I don't think it's fair that they should FORCE these new cars on people. We should be able to drive what we want. With that being said, a lot of you here have posted against smaller greener cars, and the thing is, just as much as you have the right to drive a SUV, I have the right to drive a Smart Car. Why can't we just have a healthy balance? Make the bigger cars less polluting and stop attacking those who choose to drive smaller.

I don't understand why people don't want these cars. They are smaller, get better gas milage and aren't unsafe most of the time. If this mindset keeps holding, we won't ever have futuristic cars that get better milage or run on other types of power, because people will be too close minded to the newer technologies.

You can like alternative energy without being a hippie. It's not "uncool" to like new energies. Damn it, if not just for our national security.


May 23, 2009 11:43 PM

Can't wait for the other repercussions from this. Haul anything for work or fun? Sell it and watch the RV industry die. Ditto for the boat industry, as nothing that get's 35mpg is going to haul a bass boat. Hunters. Figure out how to cut up a 1000 bull elk and fit into a Prius or take real good care of your pickup. Haven't read any comment that has talked about the other repercussions on other industries by this action. Heck, after school sports even, unless you can figure out how to pack a couple of kids worth of football gear into a matchbox car. So all those who so far have talked about changing America's driving habits, those changes will reach places you haven't thought about yet.


May 24, 2009 11:01 PM

diesel is the way to go!!! europians have figured it out, we are just 15yrs behind on technology.
a friend has a 2002 f250 w/ a diesel and we just recently took a 400+ trip and we averaged 23mpg doing 75-80mph. my 05 f150 nor 07 ram 2500 (both gas) only get 17-18mpg on the same tripdoing 70-75.
the big 3 need to push diesel under the hoods of more cars.
whats funny is diesel is cheaper to produce, but the oil companys want to cash in while they can

other Tom

June 3, 2009 02:47 PM

Hey Tom. Where do you think that the electric for those plug in cars comes from? Power plants which burn FOSSIL FUELS, since you idiot greens don't like nuclear. Moron.

Clean diesel works. Also, instead of focusing on electric and other silly things, and making cars smaller, they ought to be helping to finance the companies that are working on petroleum substitutes like oil from Algae and poplar trees (green gas), which is 100% compatible with gasoline and requires NO new engines. We can drive our muscle cars and SUVs and still be "green". Go research it and learn. Apparently this oh so intelligent President is as clueless as most of you. Sad.


June 4, 2009 11:11 AM

john shantz wrote: "Watch for tomorrow's excuses for the 'warming trend' thats freezing us all. Today its 33 degrees in North Dakota."

Wow, I'm convinced, climate change is NOT happening.... based on today's temperature in North Dakota.


June 10, 2009 05:40 AM

This should be BEYOND the control of the Government, this is an interference with capitalism, this needs to be STOPPED. This is absolutely crazy im sorry, but Obama is such a hypocrite to speak of the freedoms and opportunity of this country and then dictate to the automakers what kind of cars to make. Absolutely crazy. If you're in favor of this 35mpg requirement you belong in Europe with the rest of your 100hp mini-car fanatics. Here in this wonderful country we call AMERICA we have freedoms to have pretty much whatever we want. I have no problem with my neighbor owning a prius, as long as I have the freedom to NOT have one. My business REQUIRES a small fleet of at least 5 large trucks (at any given time) so THANKS Obama for thinking of the little guy.


July 20, 2009 03:00 AM

You know, in Europe we would consider 35mpg a pretty dire fuel economy for a new car. Even family saloons are pushing 50mpg combined. My 13 year old Ford Escort manages 35mpg on 80:20 highway:urban mixed tank.

Michael, you might be unaware that there is a whole range of vehicles between car and trucks (we call them vans) that might be suitable for your business. Most of them don't require a 5 litre engine to get them moving either.


October 26, 2009 01:12 PM



November 24, 2009 12:52 PM

We in europe understand and respect your US attatchment to "freedom", although we don't always understand the different ways you choose to define that.
For Micheal, for example, part of that definition would be "capitalism" or what we'd probably call "free entreprise" over here (we defend that too, actually).
However, I had understood that the American auto industry was presently supported by taxpayer dollars, which seems rather contradictory, unless those taxpayers are getting something back ?


April 1, 2010 06:58 AM

Well- this is just a great decision- NOT! Unemployment is up to nearly 10%, American Farmers have already been struggling and lost their business to imported goods for the past 20 years; the dairy farmer makes all of .12 cents per gallon if they are lucky on a gallon of milk that costs the average consumer nearly $3.00; taxes are increasing, bonuses and cost of living allowances are decreasing, health insurance is now a mandate for all ( those of whom do not have insurance to begin with probably don't have it because they can't afford it) and now we're going to tell people they have to start budgeting the few - if any pennies they have left- in order to buy a new car in the next few years.
What happened during the cash for clunkers? The answer, millions of perfectly good vehicles were brutally murdered, brought to and filled junk and scrap metal yards that were able to make a buck off of the steel and aluminum only to be crushed, while people who could downsize from an SUV or truck were rewarded for purchasing vehicles with better gas mileage and those who could not, for example: farmers who need to pull trailers full of cattle, produce and milk,and maintain fields with tractors weren't able to trade their old vehicles in. Not were contractors who need to pull trailers full of tools to job sites to build small family homes of 4,000 sq ft (don't believe me- guess you haven't been to NJ in a while where 2 and 3 people build, maintain, heat and cool their 'small' homes). Nor were members of the Military who have to load up their household goods, children, pets and recreational vehicles to move every two years, usually without their spouses who are now deploying for the 4th and 5th times in the past 8 years.
While increasing gas mileage and decreasing poor emissions may be a benefit to Americans living on the populated coast lines or in city centers IT IS YET ANOTHER BLOW TO BLUE COLLAR AMERICANS LIVING IN THE MID-WEST, AND THE RURAL NORTH.

What ever happened to American's who saved today in order to prosper tomorrow? What ever happened to buying produce from your local farmer? What ever happened to lesson number one in personal finance and budgeting (ie. Live within your means so you can keep your income higher than your debt ratio) Why can't we Reduce, reuse, recycle...and replace the vehicle(s) that suit our personal NEEDS with enhanced technologies as those vehicles reach their end life?
Why can't and why shouldn't Americans expect quality vehicles with a life of at least 10-15 years of good running condition if we're spending between $25,000 and $55,000.00 per vehicle plus sales taxes, and registration fees every year? If we purchased quality products at reasonable prices wouldn't it reduce the number of vehicles being crushed and taking up space while leaking engine fluids in our landfills? Would this not ensure that vehicle makers produced quality that was worth the amount consumers were paying for their vehicles? Would having to buy fewer vehicles and provide fewer repairs to the vehicles you purchase over your life time not be more economical? Would it not reduce the amount of personal debt American's have? Would it not FORCE Americans to analyze both what they want and need in a vehicle along with what is practical and affordable?


It's simple- make responsible decisions, identify wants and needs- spending first on NEEDS- take care of your 'toys'- and share your skills with your neighbors while they share theirs with you. We were a nation built on bartering, hard work, and freedom of decision. We are a nation who's founders escaped the over involved governments and excess taxes of European Governments...we are a nation who has forgotten our identity... we are a nation in desperate need of a LEADER who is able to remind us and renew our sense of pride in our national identity.
Health care mandates last week, mandates about vehicle type this week... next week Socialism, Dictatorship, or will it be deportation of Americans who can not comply with new mandates because they've been without a job for more than a year?


April 2, 2010 10:30 PM

Obama is a hippie.Just had to get that out of the way.You people need to wake up that support government taking control of and putting requirements on industry.Do you know of anything that they run right? Post office?,,,oh yeah,,goin broke,,social security,,oh yeah,,goin broke...medicare,,oh yeah,,broke,,medicade,,oh yeah,,,broke,,,,amtrak,,oh yeah,,broke...get the idea? Let them make small fuel efficient cars for people that want them and trucks and suv'sfor people that want them and let supply and demand of vehicles and fuel take care of itself.One day pretty soon because of obama and the libs were gonna wake up and wonder what happened to the country we grew up in.There will be no choices because they are choosing for us.There will be no freedom to go out and buy what we want because we either cant afford it due to price or availability due to companys no longer being able to make it.Go ahead and support obama and the libs policies and one day you will realize that "the older people" really knew what they were talking about.

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