No Silver Bullet To Meet 2025 CAFE Standards, Say Experts | Edmunds

No Silver Bullet To Meet 2025 CAFE Standards, Say Experts


Just the Facts:
  • There is no silver bullet for meeting 2025 CAFE standards, but consumers can expect to see an emphasis on the increased efficiency of conventional powertrains, improvements in aerodynamics, weight reduction and varying degrees of electrification.
  • "There's no one single gadget that's going to put you over the edge," said Gary Horvat, powertrain vice president for automotive supplier Denso International America.
  • The trend toward more multi-speed transmissions is expected to continue into the near future.

ANN ARBOR, Michigan — There is no silver bullet for meeting 2025 CAFE standards, but consumers can expect to see an emphasis on the increased efficiency of conventional powertrains, improvements in aerodynamics, weight reduction and varying degrees of electrification, said industry experts at a conference this week.

"There's no one single gadget that's going to put you over the edge," said Gary Horvat, powertrain vice president for automotive supplier Denso International America. "It's going to be a lot of little things. We need to take a systems approach."

Automotive industry experts and government representatives discussed strategies that automakers will use to meet 2025 fuel economy targets at a conference on Wednesday hosted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

In the area of improvements to the internal-combustion engine, the approach is likely to include the wider use of stop-start technology, cylinder deactivation at highway speed, high-pressure fuel systems and the continued adoption of smaller-displacement engines with turbocharger or supercharger boosts.

In other words, more of the same.

It could also mean that we'll be seeing more diesel engines in passenger cars and light trucks.

According to the experts, one other important powertrain strategy will be extending the trend toward multi-speed transmissions.

Michael Olechiw of the EPA said that 60 percent of new vehicles now have six or more gears. In the near future, we can expect to see more eight- and 10-speed transmissions. Olechiw is EPA director of the light-duty vehicle and small-engine center.

And, although consumer reaction to CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) has been mixed, at best, manufacturers and suppliers feel issues related to the technology can be resolved so that the economy of CVTs can be exploited in future vehicles.

All of the representatives at the conference felt that some degree of electrification will surely be a key part of most automakers' plans for meeting the new mileage targets.

As Luke Tonachel, a senior vehicles analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: "Electrification comes in many forms, and it's going to grow over time."

Electric variations include mild hybrids, those powered by a conventional engine with a supplemental electric motor, like the Honda Insight; conventional hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius; plug-in hybrids, like the Chevrolet Volt; and fully electric vehicles, or EVs, such as the Nissan Leaf.

Fuel-cell vehicles are expected to remain a niche market.

The most recent CAFE standards, set by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, aim to have the average vehicle achieve 54.5 mpg in combined city/highway fuel efficiency by 2025.

However, Ryan Keefe, a U.S. Department of Transportation analyst, stressed that the widely publicized 54.5 mpg figure is a corporate average goal, "not a standard." He noted that specific models have individual targets and that actual government mandates vary by vehicle class and by fleet composition.

How are things looking so far?

According to UMTRI Project Manager Brandon Schoettle, fuel economy for light vehicles is increasing at the rate of 1.0 to 1.5 mpg per year. So, in order to meet the 2025 goals, the rate of mileage gain must escalate.

With continuing improvements in technology this could very well happen.

As Horvat noted: "Manufacturers are developing technology that EPA didn't even consider, and they're marketing technology in greater volumes than expected."

Edmunds says: Although government economy goals are aggressive, manufacturers appear to be equally aggressive in developing technology to meet them.

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