Polls: Americans support 60 mpg fuel economy standard; blame oil companies, OPEC for price hikes

With gas prices soaring to near-record levels, a majority of Americans say they support an Obama Administration proposal to raise nation-wide vehicle efficiency standards to 60 mpg by 2025, according to a new report from the Consumer Federation of America. The current standard is 27.5 mpg, with the requirement moving to 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Over the last year, the amount that Americans are paying at the pump has increased dramatically. Here’s an excerpt from the report:

“‘Concern about volatile gasoline prices and support for higher standards is driven by the huge and rising bite gas expenditures are taking from household budgets””from less than $2000 in 2009 to more than $3000 this year,’ said Mark Cooper, CFA’s research director and energy expert. ‘Pain at the pump, along with the country’s oil import dependence, has produced a growing consensus that the federal government should substantially increase fuel economy standards. And among independent technical experts, there is a growing consensus that committed car companies could meet these higher standards.'”

In the survey, 62% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats supported doubling fuel efficiency standards – illustrating that when people’s wallets are impacted, efficiency and conservation are a bipartisan issue.

According to a piece in the Christian Science Monitor:

“Economic, not environmental, concerns seem to be driving attitudes about improved fuel economy, with gas prices averaging $3.81 per gallon in May, according to AAA.

Gas prices are the main driver of smaller vehicle or more fuel-efficient vehicle purchases,’ says Camyrn Craig, a research analyst at Kelley Blue Book, which tracks car sales. Her company found that gas mileage was a consideration for 84 percent of car buyers in April.”

Americans are looking for someone to blame too. A recent Politico Battleground poll shows that 38% of people polled blame oil and gas companies for high gas prices.

Who is to blame for high gas prices?

1.      Oil and gas companies   38%
2.      Exporting nations           22%
3.      Obama                            12%
4.      Economic cycle              11%

These poll results come as Senate Democrats push for eliminating $21 billion in tax breaks for the five biggest oil companies: Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and the U.S subsidiaries of BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

— Stephen Lacey

26 Responses to Polls: Americans support 60 mpg fuel economy standard; blame oil companies, OPEC for price hikes

  1. Chad says:

    Why don’t we just mandate that we all ride flying pigs to work? The car companies can only sell what consumers want to buy. How is GM supposed to sell a 60 mpg fleet when buyers don’t want those cars, given today’s subsidized oil prices? Fuel economy standards for cars are just a cop-out that will accomplish little at best. Seriously, Joe, do you think that Americans would tolerate an auto market that only had Volts and Leafs for more than one day?

    *Demand* for cars has to change. Sellers will then adapt to that market. This plan puts the cart before the horse.

    [JR: I don’t get this comment. The U.S. car companies have a multi-decade history of 1) ignoring warnings about inevitably rising gasoline prices, which left them vulnerable when gasoline prices inevitably rose and 2) pushing false advertising to create demand for things like SUVs [by, say, leaving people with the impression that SUVs are safer when they ain’t. You are apparently unaware of the remarkable advances occurring in straightforward efficiency and hybrids, and then we have clean diesel (and advanced gas engines) and then PHEVs. Gasoline prices may well average $5 this decade — and fuel economy standards are a critical strategy for pushing innovation and maintaining a competitive US auto industry.]

  2. George Ennis says:


    Chad, most people will respond quite quickly and favorably to mandated 60 mpg fuel standards if they realize that the rest of their friends and neighbors are in the same position of having to sacrifice gas guzzlers for something more affordable. This would be easier still if they understood the big picture re climate change, but for the short term I would settle for affordability.

  3. Mike # 22 says:

    That still leaves America importing a lot of petroleum in 2025, which assumes that a) the dollar is still strong enough, and b) the world has not shifted petroleum from a freely traded commodity to a strategic mineral.

    Not very clear how they get to 60 mpg, except through a lot of electric miles.

    (That first line should probably read 60 mpg by 2025)

  4. Jon says:

    “to raise nation-wide vehicle efficiency standards to 60 mpg by 2015,”

    2025 according to other news coverage. A good thing since otherwise I’d have to agree with the car industry claiming the proposal is too ambitious.

  5. Stephen says:

    Jon — You are absolutely right, 2025 not 2015. That was a typo. Thanks for pointing out.

  6. John Mason says:

    I drive a small SUV that gets 50mpg right now – and am looking to replace it in a year or so with one of the 80mpg vehicles that are now becoming increasingly available here in the UK. Why?

    a) lower emissions
    b) I don’t like burning money for the sake of it

    Cheers – John

  7. malcreado says:

    >Not very clear how they get to 60 mpg

    Reduce weight. Aluminum frame. Less sheet metal and more composites. Smaller turbocharged engines. And hopefully a lot of electric miles.

    [JR: It’s not hard. Advanced hybrid technology, Atkinson engine or improved efficiency gasoline engine or clean diesel, a mix of plug-in-hybrids….]

  8. MarkF says:

    how about, this radical cost saving idea;

    slowing down?

    any car gets better miles per gallon, if driven at somewhat slower speeds.

    and how about….. fifty five miles per hour speed limit?

  9. OgreMkV says:

    There’s only one problem with a mpg increase like that. It’s not new cars. It’s the thousands of old cars. Oh and full size pickup trucks are not (usually) included in CAFE like requirements.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for it. I just wish the US would get some decent cars like John Mason’s vehicle. Heck, I drive a Subaru WRX and can get 33 on the highway and 25-20 in town (depending). That’s only 25% less than a Prius.

    Hybrid does not automatically mean ‘better gas mileage’. I believe it was the Lexus hybrid sedan that got the exact same gas milage as the non-hybrid version.

    Personally, I just want a Tesla-S. The extended range version would be perfect. I haven’t driven more than 250 miles from home in a decade.

  10. malcreado says:

    Slowing down and better driving don’t count toward the CAFE rating, but it does make a big difference in the real world mileage you get. For instance my insight is rated at 41mpg combined and I got 53mpg this morning in it on my 55 mile commute by just some mild hyper-mileing. It only counts 41 toward the cafe rating though.

  11. Joan Savage says:

    Another mental calculation is the gas cost per mile. It’s been eerie for me to have that number hover around ten cents a mile, from a passenger car that got 16 mpg when gas was $1.60 a gallon, through to a present 40 mpg at $4.00 a gallon. Surely there’s been a lot of inflation, so it doesn’t make sense as actually being a flat cost. It may say more about my socioeconomic stratum and what kind of vehicles I’ve been buying. Maybe someone else only buys trucks and has a comfort level for twenty-five cents a mile?

    The idea of 60 mpg seems wonderful at $4.00 a gallon, but the future could fit the trend line and gas rise to $6.00 per gallon.

  12. sinz54 says:


    We had a 55 mph speed limit in the 1970s and 1980s. It was routinely flouted by over half of the cars on any highway, making enforcement virtually impossible. And it proved so unpopular that no politician dared defend it. The only thing it did was create a market for radar detectors to evade police radar.

    President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, repealed the 55 mph limit during his administration.

    Americans will support positive measures to reduce fuel consumption, such as higher energy efficiency standards for vehicles. They may even reduce their own consumption voluntarily. But they have proven time and again that they will oppose any attempt to force them to do so.

    And this is the problem with most of the policy recommendations I see. They start by forcing consumers and working families to change their behavior by punitive measures, rather than providing positive incentives and alternatives to auto transportation. You’ll impose a 55 mph speed limit rather than take the time and effort to build safe, efficient mass transit systems which might actually lure folks out of their cars.

    For myself, I would love to take a 200 mph maglev train from Boston to Washington DC. It doesn’t exist. And mandating a 55 mph speed limit doesn’t do anything to build the train. How do we know? Because we had a 55 mph speed limit already–yet the mix of energy resources remained exactly the same.

  13. MarkF says:


    thanks, your explanation makes sense.

  14. MiMo says:

    I have to agree with Chad #1 above. Americans do not seem to want small fuel efficent cars. Ford does not sell Explorers and Expeditions in Europe – ditto for Toyota that does not sell the Tundra.

    Ford and GM are happy to sell small fuel efficent diesel models in Europe because consumers want them and are ready to pay good money for them.

    In the US the money is still in big cars, and apparently none wants diesel, that is currently the cheaper way to get good mileage.

    [JR: Gas has been cheap historically, and US car companies haven’t built good small cars. Both are changing. Also people have bad memories about diesel. That may change, though hybrid tech is getting better.]

  15. Joan Savage says:

    An observation about the decline in trolley car use was that given the option of a personal car, Americans liked the sense of social control that comes with being able to pick the moment of departure.

    That would seem like a cultural bottleneck in trying to get more riders back on mass-trans, except that Bogotá’s Transmilenio service has an answer of sorts. The Transmilenio system has real-time monitoring of traffic density and discretionary dispatch of more buses, reducing waiting time at bus stops.
    > Sistema TransMilenio > Componentes > Sistema de Control

  16. Mike Roddy says:

    Pretty sweet for the oil companies, since they’ve obviously figured out that they don’t need majority American opinion when it comes to specific issues. If they just send out enough of their Congressmen to keep repeating “working American families”, they’ll get enough votes in Congress to keep pushing us around.

  17. Chad says:

    Joe, imagine you owned a grocery store. Imagine the government came to you and all your competitors, and mandated that you sell twenty bananas per apple each apple. How would you accomplish this, assuming that current market demand is one to one? The market sets prices, not you. Are you simply not going to sell apples, despite the demand for them?

    There is no magic technology out there that auto makers can just insert and significantly improve mileage, let alone more than double it. The only way auto makers could meet the 60 mph goal is to sell cars in a ratio that consumers don’t want at current or even future prices. Production is going to match the underlying demand. That is what must be changed.

    [JR: No magic technology, but lots of existing ones, as noted above. Sorry that you have bought into the myth that the car companies are just doing the customers’ bidding — rather than fighting tooth and nail against every innovation as they have done since the days of airbags and even seat belts.]

  18. Laphroaig says:

    John Mason @6

    I assume you’re figuring miles per Imperial gallon. 50 mpg(Imp) would be ~41.6 mpg(U.S). The 60 mpg(U.S.) CAFE std would be 72 mpg(Imp).

    Also, NB that the CAFE std is the sales-weighted harmonic mean. Gas-guzzling behemoths have a disproportionately large effect. A large increase in CAFE can be obtained (not all the way to 60 mpg, alas) simply by replacing the most inefficient vehicles with more efficient ones that are currently manufactured and sold – no new tech required.

  19. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

    Bravo to the Sulzbergers, the nation’s paper of record The New York Times, Bill Keller, the folks who plan the front page, and Daniel J. Wakin for the front-page-center article yesterday (Tuesday, May 17) about those misleading “foreign orchestras with exotic or impressive-sounding names” that are “not always what they seem”.

    And watch out, American public! Don’t get fooled again!

    Alas, it’s great to know that The New York Times is on the beat, making sure that nobody nowhere can get away with feeding us half-truths, misleading us, or lulling us into dangerous situations.

    Investigative journalism is back in full force! The New York Times is telling it like it is. And they’re using the front page to do it. I always enjoy seeing courage in the media. “Public good”, here we come!

    Now if only The New York Times could use the front page to shine light on the half-truths, less-than-half-truths, downright falsehoods, confusions, dodges, deceitful tactics, and harmful messages that ExxonMobil and much of the rest of the oil industry have been foisting on the public in recent years regarding climate and energy issues, much of which The New York Times itself has hosted in the form of front-page ads, full-page ads, and two-page-spreads. Now that The Times has seen fit to warn us about those deceitful foreign orchestras on the loose, will it begin to shine light on ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, and the gang?

    (I’m putting this in the comment string, but the point is a big one, and valid. Perhaps Joe and CP will run it, or something like it, as a guest post?)

    Watch out for those foreign orchestras, now! And keep your children inside and tucked in at night!


  20. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The preference for gas-guzzlers was simply an assertion of dominance, so vital to the self-image of the Right. That’s why several Middle Eastern countries have been devastated and millions of their populations killed, injured and exiled, with others in the gunsights, by US led Western aggression. The US ruling caste acknowledged the reality of Peak Oil, but efficiency is anathema to that type, and violent expropriation much preferred. So Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Syria have been attacked, and Iran will be. It’s designed to de-rail China’s rise, too, but the Chinese will probably act rationally and reduce their demand, through greater and greater efficiency, while the US elite continues to play global bully.

  21. MiMo says:

    Both GM and Ford produce perfectly good small cars in Europe (I owned both a Ford Fiesta and an Opel Astra)…why don’t they sell them in the US? Out of deviousness or maybe because no American is prepared to pay a resonable amount of money for them?

    It seems to me that is Joe that is buying a myth, not Chad.

  22. nyc-tornado-ten says:

    When the US government mandated a doubling of auto fuel efficiency from 1974 to 1983, total US oil consumption dropped from 17 million barrels a day in 1973 and 1979 to 13.5 million barrels a day in 1985, even with a huge increase in the number of miles driven. When gasoline prices went up from 1 dollar a gallon in 1999 to over 4 dollars a gallon in 2008 and almost 4 a gallon now, gasoline consumption has dropped a few percent (from the 2007 high levels). Government regulation blows away “market based solutions” again.

    Now that americans are competing with 2.5 billion chinese and indians driving small cars and motor scooters, cheap gas will not likely be available for any extended periods of time, and economic decline will force americans to drive smaller cars for shorter distances. The current energy crisis, combined with the wave of mostly climate related catastrophes is having a much heavier toll on our economy than the economists have told us, but the statistics are beginning to show it now, in a few more months the economists will no longer be able to cover up the fact that our economy is declining again.

    They can blame Obama all they want, but it is america’s over-dependence on oil and fossil fuel that is causing our decline. We can fess’up now, or we will continue to decline while the “emerging markets” take control (and i am glad i invested my retirement money in those markets over the last decade!).

  23. Barry says:

    Chad and MiMo, the reason Europeans have bought small efficient cars is because gasoline has been expensive there.

    How expensive? According to the US EIA the average price of gas in nations like France, Germany and Italy throughout the in the 1990s and up to around 2002 was $3.50 to $4.00 a USA gallon.

    Americans are no different. Few will want to buy the 10,000 gallons of fuel required to shove an SUV around at $4/gal. Uh, $40k just for gas? Compare to $13k for gas to drive a Prius the same distance. Hey you can buy the Prius and the gas for less than just the gas for an SUV today.

    For those Americans with the ability to spot a huge barreling train of a trendline that is about to run them over, they will look at current EU prices of $8.50 to over $9.00 and think…do I want to buy an SUV that might cost me $90,000 in gas?

    I think our government could get the biggest bang for the buck by requiring all new cars to have a big window sticker that lists the total cost to buy gas for that car over its lifetime at $3, $5 and $7 a gallon. Talk about sticker shock! It move our fleet to higher mileage quickly with little cost to anyone. The EPA could produce the dollar amounts in about a day.

  24. malcreado says:

    >It seems to me that is Joe that is buying a myth, not Chad.

    We are talking about 14 years from now. What do you think the price of gas will be then? Especially considering: “The IEA’s position is . . . conventional crude oil production has already peaked in 2006!” Every time the price of gas spikes small car sales rise. Yes you can buy more efficient cars in Europe where fuel costs more. We could build the same efficient cars here but we have marketed more power/torque instead of better gas mileage. Like the Hemi for instance, great engine, used to own one. Does one really use all that horse power though, not really. A smaller engine with turbo for when you need the kick can satisfy the need (but maybe not the ego). If you really want performance, go electric! Most of the energy in an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) is lost to heat, hence the radiator. No radiator in an electric car, it puts most of its energy to work propelling the car. Tesla roadster has a 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds; talk about neck snapping torque and a cafe rating way over 60mpg.
    In 14 years we can easily get a cafe of 60mpg. Electric car costs will come way down and ICE efficiency will go up and there will still be performance cars for the serious motorheads. That is not even going into ways to lighten the vehicles to improve your power to weight ratio.

  25. Andy says:

    I disagree with Chad and MiMo. Things have finally changed. As of the 2010 and 2011 model runs, combustion engine technology has leaped forward and is now on show room floors. I follow automotive trends by an excellent daily write up in my hometown newspaper (In Motion – Houston Chronicle). Direct injection and soon, very high compression gasoline engines without spark plugs, has meant very high horsepower and incredible response from tiny engines. I doubt we’ll see many engines over 1.6 liters in anything but work trucks in a few years.

    Coupled with electric hybrid engines, these autos will get incredible mileage. There’s a reason that we don’t hear as much squalling from the automotive industry these days. They have the technology to achieve high mileage and are racing each other to provide it. They know the era of cheap gas is over and that their future depends on building these cars.