How Automakers will Meet 54.5 mpg: LA Auto Show Provides a Peek Under the Hood

Today, the Obama Administration released its official regulatory proposal to strengthen standards to deliver 54.5 mpg by 2025. What should drivers expect their cars to look like in 2025? It may come as surprise to many, but according to the experts at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, the workhorse gasoline internal combustion engine will continue to be the mainstay of our 2025 fleet.

But that doesn’t mean consumers won’t get better technology.  In fact, every gasoline engine will come loaded with new fuel-efficient technologies. And while drivers may think of these technologies as exotic now, they will be increasingly commonplace in the future. The LA Auto Show opening to the public on Friday has long been known as the “green auto show”. It provides the perfect opportunity to preview the coming pipeline of fuel-efficient products that will be showing up in increasing numbers in your dealer showrooms.

Technologies Well-Known and Affordable

The technologies needed to meet a 54.5 mpg standard are well-known, affordable and require no radical technical or cost breakthroughs, including gasoline direct injection engines, turbochargers, 8-speed transmissions, lower cost hybrids and electric cars. The EPA and DOT analysis of the specific technologies can be found in Chapter 3 of their “Technical Support Document”.

Drivers can expect a greater range of vehicle choices in fuel-efficient offerings without sacrificing performance.  One thing to be aware of is that “54.5 mpg” is the certification level that is higher than what you will see on the window sticker because it’s tested using laboratory conditions. The “label” value which reflects real-world driving will be more like an average of 40 mpg.

EPA and NHSTA estimate the technologies will add about $2000 to the cost of a 2025 car. But drivers will save $5200 to $6,600 over the life the car in reduced fuel bills. Most drivers finance their purchase so will see an immediate savings in their monthly car and fuel payments.

By 2025, over 80 percent of the fleet will be powered by conventional, but high-tech gasoline engines. The remainder will be hybrids or battery electrics.

So what will you see under your hood in 2025? The three key new drivetrain technologies will be:

  • 67 percent of the fleet will be turbocharged, downsized, gasoline direct injection engines.  A great example is the Ford Ecoboost engine. 4 out of 10 F-150s sold are these more fuel-efficient option. Less cylinders, same or more power, more mpg. What’s not to like?
  • 15 percent of the fleet will be hybrids.  Many automakers are already introducing Improved, lower-cost hybrids technologies called “parallel 2-clutch” systems including Hyundai, VW, and Nissan. 2 out of 10 Hyundai Sonata’s sold today are “P2” hybrids, making it already the second best selling hybrid in the country. The market is currently at about 2 percent but poised to expand rapidly with more hybrid models on the way.
  • 3 percent of the fleet will be plug-in hybrids or battery electrics, equivalent to about 500,000 vehicles. Nissan Leaf and the GM Volt are the first major manufacturers out the gate with plug in cars, but soon just about every major manufacturer will have a plug-in car on the market.

The remaining 15 percent of the fleet will be non-turbocharged gasoline direct injection engines, as well likely some clean diesels. In addition, other key technologies include:

  • Lightweight, high-strength materials to reduce mass 5 to 9 percent from 2016 levels, consistent with auto industry trends.
  • 8-speed automatic and dual-clutch transmissions
  • New, low pollution air conditioning refrigerant

Tomorrow’s Cars Here Today

According to EPA engineers, nearly 40 models offered for sale today that basically meet the 2017 carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards. Eight models even meet the 2025 standards. (See Chapter 3 page 3-89 of this document for a complete list of vehicles).

The 40 models include midsize cars, minivans, sport utility vehicles, compact cars and pickup trucks. These all meet 2017 requirements with no technology improvements other than air conditioning system upgrades.

These models include hybrids and diesels but also high volume conventional models, such as the Buick Regal (A6, 2.4L), Buick LaCrosse (A6, 2.4L), Ford Fiesta (1.6L), Ford Focus (2.0L), Honda Civic (1.8L), Honda Odyssey (3.5L), Toyota Tacoma (2.7L). In addition there are over 40 models that come within 5 percent of meeting the standard, including the Ford F-150 (3.5L and 3.7L), Kia Sorento 4wd (2.4L), Hyundai Sonata (2.4L), and Audi A6 (2.0L).

Vehicles that meet the 2020 standards today include the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius, Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

LA Auto Show: Concrete Proof Regulation Drives Innovation

The LA Auto Show abounds with examples of advanced and fuel-efficient vehicles. I’ll be there on Thursday to check out in person these new technologies.

  • Turbocharged, downsized, gasoline direct injection engines . One of the best examples is the 2013 Ford Escape unveiled today at the show. Ford expects 90 percent of the Escapes will have a four cylinder turbo-charged “Ecoboost” engine under the hood, allowing it to reach up to the low 30’s in mpg. And hang on, even less cylinders are on the way. A 3-cylinder, 40+mpg Ford Fiesta will hit our shores sometime in the next year or two, after it’s introduced in Europe. Ford’s F-150 V-6 Ecoboost introduced this year is already a runaway hit, with about 4 of 10 buyers choosing it over thirstier options.
  • Hybrids. Don’t miss the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima Hybrids which are selling like hotcakes. 2 out of 10 Sonatas sold are hybrids. Other hybrids to look out for are the Buick LaCrosse eAssist, the Buick Regal eAssist, Nissan M35 Hybrid, and Porsche Panamara S Hybrid, proof that hybrids are spreading to every model segment.
  • Plug-in Electric Vehicles.   Loads of great product including the Toyota Prius Plug-in and the Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids. Consumers will soon be able to choose among half a dozen pure battery EVs. Besides the Nissan LEAF, there will be a Ford Focus EV, Coda sedan, Mitsubishi i, Toyota RAV4 and BMW i3.

For pure engineering coolness in a vehicle destined for production, don’t miss the BMW i3 carbon fiber body, all electric concept car that BMW promises for 2013.  For decades, visionaries like Amory Lovins have been dreaming about a high volume, affordable carbon fiber super fuel-efficient car. The BMW so-called “Megacity” car may be the first to market to use this light weight materials that was once exclusive domain of fighter planes, but now common place on mass produced road bikes.

I’ll blog more soon on what I see at the LA Auto Show.