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The EPA credits fuel-saving innovations such as this recently launched Ford 10-speed automatic transmission for a marked upward march in U.S. fuel efficiency (image: Ford).

EPA: Engine, transmission advances make 2025 CAFE regs attainable, affordable

Although the Trump Administration has indicated intent to roll back the ambitious light-vehicle fuel-economy standards initiated by President Obama in 2012—and many automakers suddenly have reversed their advocacy of the guidelines that shaped product-development plans for the past half-decade—Michael Olechiw, director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Light-Duty Vehicle and Small-Engine Center, told attendees at the SAE’s 2017 High-Efficiency IC Engine Symposium in Detroit that swiftly “mainstreaming” powertrain advances such as direct fuel injection and advanced transmissions are bringing automakers the kind of fuel-economy gains that make attainable the goal of fleet-average fuel economy of 54.4 mpg (3.4L/100 km) by 2025.

Moreover, while the auto industry’s primary lobbying group called the potential cost to comply with the 2025 regulations “staggering,” Olechiw presented the EPA’s most recent estimate of the cost to consumers: about $825 per vehicle in the 2021-25 model years—using “very much conventional technologies.” Meantime, he added, consumers would reap a fuel-cost savings equivalent to double the cost: about $1,650.

Olechiw said direct fuel injection (DI) now is fitted to nearly 50% of all new light vehicles sold in the U.S., with automakers such as Mazda at 100% and six other OEMs with 75% or more of their engines fitted with DI. And vehicles with transmissions with at least seven forward speeds now account for about 20% of all new models; the number is similar for continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

Although admitting that only about 5% of current models would comply with the 2025 CAFE regulations (and all of them are hybrid-electric or full-electric), Olechiw dispelled the notion that the marked consumer shift to heavier trucks and crossover models will make it impossible to attain the final goal of 54.5 mpg. The regulations’ “footprint”-based structure allows larger, heavier models to emit relatively more than smaller vehicles and the EPA is satisfied with the results: “So far, the program has been working just as designed,” he said.

Emissions credits to go around

As validation, Olechiw said there currently are about 280 megagrams of credits that automakers have generated since the start of the phase-in period. A megagram is equivalent to about 80 g of CO2 reduction per mile for the entire U.S. vehicle fleet and there are sufficient “banked” credits, he said, to bring the U.S. fleet into compliance for several years.

He also tacitly gives credit to the CAFE regulations for fostering a consistent and distinct advance in fundamental engine efficiency. In 2008, the EPA said gasoline-engine peak thermal efficiency was about 34%; by 2016, with the increasing penetration of DI and other advances, thermal efficiency rose to 36%. Now, Olechiw said, downsized and turbocharged engines incorporating all or most of the latest efficiency-enhancing technologies have reached about 38% efficiency.

Olechiw said that in early March the new Trump Administration’s EPA concluded it will review the 2025 regulations (an action originally provided for in the law) and will by issue its Final Determination regarding the standards by 2018.

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