Climate

EPA: New Cars Are More Efficient Than Ever, Beating Standards By A ‘Wide Margin’

CREDIT: shutterstock

For the second year in a row, new cars are ahead of the game when it comes to reducing their carbon footprint.

According to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency, the auto industry beat out domestic greenhouse gas emissions standards by a “wide margin” in 2013, with cars getting an average of 1.4 more miles per gallon than required.

This trend is promising as the EPA is tightening greenhouse gas compliance regulations on light-duty vehicles — cars and small trucks — each year in an effort to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards’ target of an average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg by 2025. Nine of the 13 biggest-selling automakers beat the CAFE targets.

Vehicles from 2013 achieved an all-time record fuel economy of 24.1 mpg, a 0.5 mpg increase over 2012 and an increase of nearly 5 mpg in the last decade. The CAFE standards covering vehicles made between 2012 and 2025 are projected to save 12 billion barrels of oil, cut 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases and save drivers more than $8,000 in fuel costs, according to the EPA.

The standards also help protect consumers from the pocketbook pain that can come from volatile gas prices.

“I think everybody is familiar with the fact that gas prices go up and down over time,” Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA, said on a press call. “The best way for people to make sure that they’re going to be able to weather high gas prices or low is to invest in a fuel efficient vehicle.”

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), 2013 cars are emitting 9 percent less carbon pollution than in 2010.

“The EPA report shows that tailpipe emissions are falling, improvements in air-conditioning technology are happening even faster than expected, and on average, vehicles are a full year ahead of where they need to be to keep up with the standards,” said Don Anair, the research and deputy director of the Clean Vehicles program at UCS.

Two-thirds of the over-compliance in 2013 vehicles came from reductions in tailpipe emissions, according to the EPA, with the remaining third deriving from air conditioning improvements and automakers using credits for building things like flex fuel systems.

“In the design of the program, we anticipated automakers taking advantage of these different market mechanisms, so this was always part of our projections,” Chris Grundler, the EPA’s director in the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, said on the press call. “The fact that the industry is doing substantially better is very good news and tells us that this kind of innovative policy design is indeed producing the results that we expected.”

While consumers turned towards fuel-efficient cars during the economic downturn and sustained period of high gas prices, the recent plummet in gas prices has caused interest in large, heavy-emitting vehicles to spike again. As Bloomberg reports, interest in “gas guzzling trucks and SUVs” started to pick up early in 2014 and has continued to increase as gas prices fell to their lowest levels in half a decade, approaching $2 a gallon.

At the same time, interest in electric vehicles is ramping up as companies like Tesla and GM plan more affordable models of their EVs. Last year Tesla announced it was building its $5 billion lithium-ion battery “gigafactory” in Nevada. The plant is primarily meant to provide batteries for the forthcoming Model III EV, expected to be released in 2017 with a price tag of around $35,000.

In January, Chevrolet, a division of GM, revealed plans to launch the $30,000 Bolt, a car that the company thinks will directly compete with Tesla’s the Model III, which will have a similar price tag and a similar range of slightly over 200 miles-per-charge.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, EV battery prices have been falling faster than expected and these vehicles may be able to compete economically with gas-powered cars sooner than expected.

“If prices keep falling at this rate, we could be on course to reach $150 per kWh — the price point around which some people believe EVs can become directly competitive with petrol-driven cars — in the next decade,” said the authors of the study, who work for the Stockholm Environment Institute.