Friday, May 22, 2009

CAFE Standards Are Perverse

CAFE is perverse. Politicians say it is supposed to clean the air and reduce our foreign oil dependency.

However, American cars are cleaner because other legislation and regulations limit the amount of harmful automobile emissions from cars and trucks. That is why we have catalytic converters in our cars and engines are designed to produce fewer harmful emissions. CAFE was a response to OPEC and the long gas lines of the 1970s. It predates global warming concerns.


Most of our imported foreign oil, about a third, comes from North America, i.e. Canada and Mexico. Include South America and we are at about half of our oil imports. Add the UK, Norway, Africa, and Russia (about 4 percent) and we are at 80-85 percent. 15 to 20 percent of our imported oil comes from the Middle East and about two thirds of that from Saudi Arabia. Additionally, a third of our oil comes from the US, which obviously does not count as an import. The Middle East represent about 10- 15 percent of our total oil use. Only, 3 to 5 percent of our total oil use is from the Middle East and is not from Saudi Arabia.

Furthermore, about 45-50 percent of oil is used for gasoline. The rest is used for jet fuel, petroleum products, asphalt, plastics, synthetic fabrics, etc.

Therefore, only 1-3 percent of our gasoline is from Middle East countries other than Saudi Arabia.

If we reduce our imported oil use, how will we know which country will reduce its exports to us. What if they sell it to another country that sells it to us?


CAFE is an average based on sales and not miles driven or types of driving, such as low mpg stop and go city driving, or high mpg long mileage highway driving. All cars sold in any year are treated equally.

Figuring the average of two cars is as complicated as those hated high school algebra work and mixing problems. The CAFE average of a 20 mpg car and a 60 mpg is not 40 mpg. It is 30 mpg. Trust me. If the second car got 100 mpg, the average with the 20 mpg car is 33.3 mpg, not 60 mpg. (Hint: The average is computed using gallons per mile and then converted into miles per gallon.)

The practicality of CAFE standards for mpg requires that most cars sold have to be above the average because the computation severely penalizes cars below the average. Significant changes to cars will be made to meet the new CAFÉ requirements. There will be less weight, smaller engines, and less use of heavy materials, such as glass.

CAFE mpg numbers are not the same numbers consumers see on the sticker of a new vehicle. It is based on a different methodology than the EPA uses to compute the mpg window sticker numbers for new cars.

CAFE numbers only apply to new cars sold in a given year.

A gasoline tax is much more effective at achieving our intended results of reducing oil use, and improving the efficiency of automobiles and trucks. A gasoline tax, unlike CAFE, affects all cars and makes mass transportation a better alternative.

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