Jim McFarland
October 27, 2010

Nitrous Oxide
The hobby must work with legislators to mitigate legislation that would ban the installation of power booster systems, including nitrous oxide systems intended for off-road (track) use. The SEMA model bill aims to do just that with language that provides for the operation of a vehicle equipped for nitrous oxide, so long as the nitrous oxide is disconnected from the engine when the vehicle is anywhere other than the track.

Gas-Guzzler Laws
Gas Guzzler laws primarily come out of state legislatures in misguided attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A bill in New York, for example, seeks to establish a progressive purchase or lease surcharge for some new motor vehicles based on calculations of carbon emissions. Depending on the vehicle purchased, this surcharge could require owners to pay up to $2,500 more for a vehicle. Another bill in New York proposes to create a task force that would recommend higher toll and registration fees for vehicles based on the vehicle's weight, emissions and fuel-efficiency ratings.

In California, a similar measure was recently defeated that would have added a surcharge to some vehicles based on state calculations of carbon emissions. If such an effort was successful, the effects on a consumer's ability to purchase their vehicle of choice, not to mention vehicle safety, would be dramatic. These measures would also make popular performance and luxury cars, as well as SUVs, light trucks and minivans, substantially more expensive to own without necessarily curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, since greenhouse gas emissions have more to do with overall basic vehicle maintenance than with owning and operating any particular class of vehicle.

CAFE and CO2 Standards
Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards strive to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in the amount of fuel new vehicles burn. Manufacturers are given a fuel economy rating, measured in miles per gallon, that their fleet as a whole must average in a given model year. Congress passed a law in 1973 directing the EPA to set CAFE standards, making these standards a tool exclusively wielded by the federal government. The federal government finalized new fuel-economy standards as well as a national carbon dioxide emissions tailpipe standard in April this past year. The two issues are related since CO2 is released in direct proportion to the amount of carbon-based fuel that is burned. Under the new rules, NHTSA has set CAFE standards for model year '12-'16 vehicles and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established corresponding CO2 emissions standards. The combined action would match CO2 emission standards previously adopted by California and 13 other states.

The average CAFE rating will be 35.5 mpg in 2016 based on a combined 39 mpg rating for passenger cars and 30 mpg for light trucks. The EPA's CO2 emissions standard is 250 grams per mile for vehicles sold in 2016, roughly the equivalent of 35.5 mpg. The automakers support, and participated in formulating, the rules since they provide a reasonable national approach to regulating CO2 emissions rather than a patchwork of state rules.

NHTSA will use an attribute-based system which sets CAFE standards for individual fleets of vehicles based on size, taking into account the differences between cars and light trucks (SUVs, pickups and vans). Individual car companies will have flexibility on how to achieve the rules, whether placing more emphasis on hybrids or reducing vehicle size and weight. Nevertheless, a standard based on each vehicle's footprint should force automakers to increase the efficiency of every vehicle rather than downsizing some vehicles in order to offset the sale of bigger cars. Automakers will likely rely on more fuel-efficient tires, turbochargers, low-friction lubricants, six-speed automatic transmissions and similar technological means to achieve the standards.

While the new CAFE and CO2 standards for 2016 are reasonable, the Obama Administration announced plans to put in place stronger rules for 2017 and beyond. In May, President Obama directed the EPA to also reduce emissions of conventional pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides. The president also instructed regulators to establish fuel economy and CO2 standards for medium-and heavy-duty trucks for the first time beginning in MY 2014. Since the government is to regulate CO2 emissions from automobiles, it should do so through the CAFE standards and not allow any individual state to set overly harsh standards.

The California Air Resources Board is also pursuing CO2 standards for MY '17-'25 cars and trucks. CARB intends to coordinate its action with the EPA and NHTSA, along with the automakers and other stakeholders, with the goal of setting a single national standard. Federal regulators intend to issue a "game plan" for MY '17-'25 light-duty vehicles by September 2010 and adopt a final rule by mid-2012, while CARB officials want to complete action on the CO2 standards by the end of 2010.

Drastically increased CAFE potentially limits consumer choice if manufacturers are forced to make smaller, less powerful and less useful cars and light duty vehicles in order to meet government fuel economy demands. Market-based solutions must be employed which allow the consumer to participate in and respond to national energy policies.