American Cars Could Get 60 MPG by 2025 Using Existing Technology

Later this month, the President Obama has an opportunity to take a dramatic step that would be good for consumers, good for the environment, and good for jobs.

The President is due to i­ssue two critical proposals regarding new fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for cars. Today, NRDC and 18 other leaders of environmental groups sent a joint letter to President Obama urging him to set the strongest and most practical standards possible: 60 miles per gallon by model year 2025.

That number may sound bold, but it is an achievable target.

We can achieve 60 mpg by 2025 using and improving on technologies that already exist such as hybrid electric cars. And, of course, we have the know-how to do it without compromising affordability, safety, or consumer choices.

Oil is an extraordinarily precious resource. We enter into wars to protect it, engage with despotic regimes to buy it, and endanger natural treasures like the Gulf and the Arctic to drill for it. We should be using this resource as efficiently as we possibly can, not wasting it by burning it in outdated engines and old technologies.

New standards will help us do that. Not only will they save drivers money at the pump and make America’s car industry more competitive, but they will also dramatically reduce our need for foreign oil and cut down on global warming pollution. By 2030, it will cut our oil consumption by 49 billion gallons per year and more than 535 million metric tons of carbon pollution.

Some auto companies say these new rules would hurt the car industry. They said the same thing when the government first required seatbelts and airbags.

Instead of listening to those that say “it can’t be done,” we need to set strong standards so that automakers can harness old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Because it can be done.

Strong standards will accelerate the adoption of a new generation of clean and efficient vehicle technologies, such as hybrid electric and battery electric cars. Over the next five years, automakers are planning to rapidly increase the offerings, from today’s 23 models of hybrids, to more than 100 conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric cars.

Already we have seen the power of the hybrid to dramatically change the game. Just 10 years ago, hybrids were novel and untested. Now they are all over the road and available in many models. This is a sound, proven technology. More automakers should embrace it.

A recent study from the University of Michigan confirms that technology is not the limiting factor. Indeed, it estimates that fuel efficiency can be tripled, to almost 75 mpg, by 2035. 

Unfortunately, past history has shown that left to their own devices, American car companies have fallen behind on efficiency.

In 1991, the on-road fleet of American passenger cars averaged 21.1 miles per gallon. By 2008, the average car was getting 22.6 miles per gallon in real world driving. That’s an improvement of 0.9 percent. When it comes to driving more efficient cars, we lost 20 years.

Americans who want to drive more efficient vehicles have looked largely to Japanese and European automakers. That’s one reason for our global trade deficit: for the past 20 years, about two-thirds of the U.S. trade deficit is a result of importing oil and cars.

If the United States would get serious about manufacturing a world-beating fleet of fuel-efficient cars, the country could begin taking a bite out of that trade deficit. The result would be better earning for millions of Americans and trillions of dollars that stayed in this country. What on Earth are we waiting for?

We don’t have to stand by and watch more market share and more jobs leave America for Asia.

Instead, President Obama can call on U.S. automakers to rise to the challenge of making the most efficient, cleanest, and most cost-effective cars on the road.