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Are CAFE (MPG) Standards effective/efficient?
Old 04-06-2010, 12:24 PM   #1
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Are CAFE (MPG) Standards effective/efficient?

OK, starting a new thread branched off from the one on Vehicle Safety (Vehicle Safety: 1959 Chevy crashes into 2009 Chevy).

IP asked this:

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Originally Posted by IndependentlyPoor View Post
This is from the NHTSA site
CAFE | National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NHTSA) | U.S. Department of Transportation
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) First enacted by Congress in 1975, the purpose of CAFE is to reduce energy consumption by increasing the fuel economy of cars and light trucks.

So how did it work? Was it a good government intervention or a dumb one? Some good and some bad? What have we learned from trying it?
OK, hope you don't mind me answering a question with a question to get started. How about a plot of 'energy consumption' against CAFE standards against actual fleet mpg? Hey, you're the guy doing the cool and fancy correlation charts - maybe you could do one that normalizes that against fuel price fluctuations?

And how do we measure 'energy consumption'? Do we isolate the fuels used by fleets? If CAFE standards had spurred a lot of EVs, those would shift some of the energy from oil to coal/hydro/nukes and we would have to account for that energy. But that didn't happen to any significant degree, although I wonder if there is significant energy 'embedded' in the battery packs for hybrids (over/above the larger engine that they replace)? Could be, but I'm sure it is small enough to ignore for this little exercise.

And in a broader sense, since it merely said 'energy consumption', there is no reason to concentrate on vehicles. A gallon of oil saved in heating a home is as good as a gallon of oil saved in driving a vehicle. I'd say we should do whichever has the best ROI. But I guess we have to limit this in some way, so maybe just stick to transportation fuel for now?

-ERD50
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Old 04-06-2010, 12:28 PM   #2
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I suppose compared to 1975 the US fleet is doing great. However compared to how me might have done we haven't done so well.

The actual CAFE measurements are king of gimicky but generaly encourage better fuel efficiency.

From what I understand much higher fuel taxes would do a better job of getting us to drive smaller cars than government mandates. Just look at Europe.

The downside of that, of course, is the higher fuel taxes we'd have to pay.
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Old 04-06-2010, 12:29 PM   #3
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Thanks for starting the new thread. See
Vehicle Safety: 1959 Chevy crashes into 2009 Chevy
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Old 04-06-2010, 12:41 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MasterBlaster View Post
The actual CAFE measurements are king of gimicky but generaly encourage better fuel efficiency.
I think one needs to be careful with using "increasing fuel efficiency" and "reducing energy consumption" interchangeably. They may be related, but often they are not. They can even be at odds with each other.

We took a trip with 7 people and luggage in our mini-van. IIRC, we got about 23mpg on the trip. Two smaller vehicles getting 35mpg would have used more gas, took more energy to manufacture and maintain, took two drivers, and probably about double our chance of an accident (I guess this is kinda related to safety).

Need to keep the eye on the prize, not some number that is piece of the pie.


Quote:
From what I understand much higher fuel taxes would do a better job of getting us to drive smaller cars than government mandates. Just look at Europe.

The downside of that, of course, is the higher fuel taxes we'd have to pay.
Not if you rebate them back to the people.

-ERD50
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Old 04-06-2010, 12:50 PM   #5
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Quote:
We took a trip with 7 people and luggage in our mini-van. IIRC, we got about 23mpg on the trip. Two smaller vehicles getting 35mpg would have used more gas, took more energy to manufacture and maintain, took two drivers, and probably about double our chance of an accident (I guess this is kinda related to safety).
<Sorry I can't help but to poke around at your thinking>

While one could argue that taking two cars doubles the chance of either one of the cars having an accident. The probability of any passenger being involved in an accident remains the same regardless of weather you are all in one van or in two separate cars.

It would be equally safe (by your logic) to ride in either the van or in either of the two cars.
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:21 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MasterBlaster View Post
<Sorry I can't help but to poke around at your thinking>

While one could argue that taking two cars doubles the chance of either one of the cars having an accident. The probability of any passenger being involved in an accident remains the same regardless of weather you are all in one van or in two separate cars.

It would be equally safe (by your logic) to ride in either the van or in either of the two cars.
< I acknowledge your poke, and will now poke back >

OK, I guess the 'people involved in accidents' might be very close either way, but there are still a host of other factors.

An accident in either car disrupts the trip. We probably wouldn't get to our destination on time, etc. So it's bad to double the odds of that.


In general, the larger vehicle will provide more protection to the passengers, that might be the difference between everyone walking away, or several having to be treated.

Two drivers is a huge factor. If I get tired, I can ask my wife to drive (the other passengers were either above or below driving age in our case). But if she's in the other car, we probably push on past the point we should.

I'll agree, it's not so cut and dried, but I think that more people in fewer cars is the right way to go. I've never heard any argument against car-pooling lanes based on occupants/per/car/crash.


I always used to tell my wife that driving really fast was the safest - you spend less time on those dangerous highways!

-ERD50
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:28 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MasterBlaster View Post
<Sorry I can't help but to poke around at your thinking>

While one could argue that taking two cars doubles the chance of either one of the cars having an accident. The probability of any passenger being involved in an accident remains the same regardless of weather you are all in one van or in two separate cars.

It would be equally safe (by your logic) to ride in either the van or in either of the two cars.
To poke further--I think you've ignored two-vehicle accidents. Two small cars=twice the risk of an accident for other vehicles out on the highway. But, we digress . . .

Yes, higher fuel prices/taxes would be much more effective in meeting the stated goal (decreasing the energy used for transportation). It addresses the goal in a staightforward way and lets the market figure out how to solve it, rather than imposing a solution (higher fuel economy for cars). If everyone can choose for themselves then we get all kinds of individually good and appropriate decisions (carpooling, public transit, more fuel-efficient cars, longer but less numerous work days, consolidating errands, etc). With higher fuel prices, you're more likely to get the guy who drives a lot of miles into a more efficient car, whereas if the purchase price of efficient vehicles is lowered (with either government subsidies or "subsidies" made possible by more sales of larger vehicles ala CAFE), then the guy who drives 10 miles per week gets the same incentive to buy a small car as the guy who drives 300 miles per week. Which guy saves the US more energy by driving an efficient car?

In a very limited sense, CAFE did harness market forces by skewing the ratio of big to small cars through private pricing (driven by government taxes/fines). One unfortunate side effect is that the high mileage cars were crappy--GM just pasted together some junky Chevettes they could sell in large numbers so they could sell more Cadillacs. If the Chevettes rusted out in three years, so much the better, because then they could earn more credits by selling more junky tiny cars. Compare this with Europe, where the small cars were well made because the buyers were paying "full freight", not a price that was back-subsidized by sales of large vehicles.
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:30 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
How about a plot of 'energy consumption' against CAFE standards against actual fleet mpg? Hey, you're the guy doing the cool and fancy correlation charts - maybe you could do one that normalizes that against fuel price fluctuations?

-ERD50
At the risk of veering off into yet another thread...
energy.gif
Pretty cool interactive graphic from Google. You can pick what countries you want included.
Google - public data

I don't have any particular insight into what this chart means, but the rise in energy use as an economy booms is pretty clear. I was surprised at how the U.S. consumption has leveled off.
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Old 04-06-2010, 01:34 PM   #9
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Quote:
I don't have any particular insight into what this chart means, but the rise in energy use as an economy booms is pretty clear. I was surprised at how the U.S. consumption has leveled off.
The chart shows energy use per capita. It goes without saying that as the population grows so does the energy use.

The chart is from 2005. I would bet that the energy use in China is now 50% higher since then.
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Old 04-06-2010, 03:12 PM   #10
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I've often said "you can't fool mother nature". CAFE standards were/are an attempt to change behavior that we otherwise would probably not change - or at least we would change it in a different way based on the situation. I've never been a fan of government "mandates" to save us from ourselves. I'm much more into letting folks experience the consequences of their own actions and not bail them out for bad choices. You don't want to wear a helmet on your motorcycle or wear the seat-belt in your car: No problem. You better have d@mn good insurance, 'cause if you become a paraplegic or constant-vegetative-state victim, the gummint isn't going to scoop you up off the pavement and take care of you. You're on your own.

One of the downsides to the standards was that folks switched to vehicles (in large numbers) that were either exempted from them or which had different standards. I recall a time 30 years ago when most people drove "cars". Now, it seems that most personal vehicles are what I would call "trucks" (pick-ups, 4 X 4x, SUVs, Hummers! etc.). Why did this happen? From my talks with a lot of folks, I find that they didn't like the little boxes that they were being forced to buy. A big 'ol pick-em-up had a bunch of power, sat up high and was intimidating to all the little boxes and gas really wasn't an issue at $1/gal (or even $2 or maybe even $3).

I guess my point is that nothing happens in a vacuum. You push something in here, it pops out over there. CAFE standards (and my personal favorite CARB standards) were attempts to make us different than we are. It never really works. You can cause some changes in behavior, but you don't often change attitudes or feelings or basic human needs and instincts with laws. It's not that the goal of better fuel mileage is bad. It's that mandating it is disruptive, expensive, often inefficient, picks winners and losers, and rarely accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. The best "laws" are the "natural laws" (e.g., I will tend to look out for my own self interest). These laws are never repealed. They may have bandages placed over them (or helmets or seat belts) to protect us from our selves, but most folks learn how to peal that bandage right off (anyone ever take their air injector/reactor belt off? Actually, mine broke on my 77 Datsun B210 and I just never replaced it - improved my gas mileage in doing so though I'm sure I polluted a bit more. A bad example, but you get the point). Perhaps a better example is all the labeling requirements for cigarettes for tar and nicotine. Cigarettes can be very low tar/nicotine in testing, but the real world delivery of these substances (those things which actually feed the habit) are nothing like the posted numbers. The tobacco companies found they could lower the numbers by poking holes in the little chamber just in front of the filter. Lots of air came in and diluted the smoke. Real world smokers NEED the nicotine or they would have quit a long time ago. So they block the little holes with their fingers and deliver their "fix" of nicotine in a much more efficient way. Everyone is happy, the smoker, the tobacco company, the gummint, the voters. But nothing much actually changed for all the ballyhoo and expense. One more time: You can't fool mother nature.

Well, I didn't intend this as a rant, but I guess it's turned into one. Better quit.
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