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US EPA, NHTSA finalize revised CAFE and GHG emission standards for MY 2021-2026 light-duty vehicles

1 April 2020

The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule setting corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) and CO2 emissions standards for model years 2021-2026 passenger cars and light trucks.

The rule relaxes GHG and fuel economy standards for MY 2017-2025 vehicles that were adopted in 2012. The final SAFE rule will increase stringency of CAFE and CO2 emissions standards by 1.5% each year through model year 2026, while the standards issued in 2012 would have required about 5% annual increases.

In terms of projected CAFE fuel efficiency, the final rule will require automakers to produce a fleet averaging 40.4 mpg by 2026, compared to the previous requirement to reach about 46.8 mpg by 2025.

The final rule is somewhat more stringent than the “Preferred Alternative” of the 2018 proposal, which did not require any increase in fuel economy for MY 2021-2026 cars and light trucks.

The SAFE Vehicles Rule reflects the realities of today’s markets, the EPA said, including substantially lower oil prices than in the original 2012 projection, significant increases in US oil production, and growing consumer demand for larger vehicles. The EPA estimated that as a result of the rule, the average price of a new vehicle will be reduced by about $1,000.

The relaxation of the federal GHG emission standards puts the EPA/NHTSA on a collision course with California. In July 2019, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced a voluntary framework to reduce GHG emissions, intended to provide an alternative path forward for clean vehicle standards nationwide. Automakers who initially agreed to the framework included Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen, and were later joined by Volvo Cars. Under the CARB scheme, the carmakers would improve their fleet’s average efficiency by 3.7% a year.

In September 2019, the EPA/NHTSA issued a final rule titled “One National Program Rule”, which withdrew the Clean Air Act (CAA) preemption waiver for California GHG and ZEV programs, and warned CARB that their voluntary framework to reduce GHG emissions “appears to be inconsistent with Federal law”.

CARB has not yet issued a formal response to the final SAFE rule.

Source: US EPA