The volatility of gas prices has changed the fundamentals of the cost of driving. A decade ago, the cost of owning a vehicle – including loan payments and maintenance—was the largest single component of the cost of driving. Since then, the cost of car ownership has come down by about 20 percent, while the cost of gas has tripled. Last year, for the first time, the cost of gasoline for the average family ($2,850) equaled or exceeded the cost of owning a vehicle. Over the long term, the price of oil is trending up.
Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, two of the country’s leading consumer groups, believe that the best way to insulate American households from volatile gasoline prices is to create a passenger vehicle fleet that gets more miles to the gallon.
Consumers consistently agree. A recent poll by Consumers Reports found that the number-one consideration for prospective buyers shopping for new cars is good gas mileage—topping quality, safety, value, and performance. In a recent Consumer Federation of America poll, 74 percent of respondents said a standard of 54.5-mpg by 2025 is a good idea.
Consumer demand is one reason that automakers are supporting the new standard, and are already working to deliver more fuel-efficient cars. The number of passenger cars and trucks getting over 30-mpg has more than quadrupled in the past 5 years, increasing from 12 models to 52. You can’t turn on the television without seeing a car commercial that brags about more miles per gallon.
But it wasn’t always this way—fuel economy was stagnant for decades before the Bush Administration and Congress took action in 2007 to issue new standards for light trucks and improve fuel economy standards for cars from 27.5 mpg to 35 mpg by 2020. Automakers improved their vehicles so much that by 2009, the Obama Administration further strengthened the standard to 35.5 mpg by 2016.
The new 54.5-mpg by 2025 standard will keep this momentum going. It gives all automakers a long-term fuel efficiency target, regardless of short-term volatility in oil prices that could otherwise create market uncertainty. Redesigning vehicles to be more fuel-efficient, improving traditional internal combustion engines, and developing hybrids, electrics, and other alternatives take time. The new rule gives car companies the time they need to innovate and do the job right.
The Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union commend the Obama Administration in setting an ambitious but achievable new target for gas mileage. We credit automakers for supporting the new standards and for working hard to bring more fuel-efficient vehicles to showrooms across the country. We are proud to have joined together with business and labor leaders, national security experts, and policymakers on both sides of the political aisle who made this great moment in American consumer history possible.
Champion is senior director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports, the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Cooper is director of research for the Consumer Federation of America, a national association of nearly 280 non-profit organizations working to advance the interests of consumers. Gillis is director of public policy for the Consumer Federation of America and the author of The Car Book.