Low-volume vehicle producers have been handed a boost following the decision by US authorities to set stringent new fuel consumption standards.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have established new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standards in a bid to increase passenger car fuel economy.

Both bodies estimate potential savings to be in the region of US$3,000 during the life of a vehicle bought in 2016, while conserving some 1.8bn barrels of oil.

Starting with 2012 model year vehicles, the rules require automakers to improve fleet-wide fuel economy and reduce GHG emissions by around 5% per year. 

The DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established fuel economy standards that strengthen each year reaching an estimated 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model year 2016.  

Because credits for air conditioning improvements can be used to meet the EPA requirements, but not those of the NHTSA, EPA standards require that by the 2016 model-year, manufacturers must achieve a combined average vehicle emission level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per mile. 

The EPA standard would be equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon if all reductions came from fuel economy improvements.  

However, after consideration by the US Congress, an exemption has been made for lower-volume manufacturers such as Porsche, which has allowed the NHTSA limited authority to issue certain dispensations.

An NHTSA statement noted: “We can set another, lower standard for a particular passenger car manufacturer, only if they make fewer than 10,000 passenger cars a year worldwide. 

“For those manufacturers, we set alternative standards that we determine are maximum feasible for them, on a case-by-case basis.”
The NHTSA added for larger manufacturers unable to meet those standards, fines are payable under its statute.

Penalties are US$5.50 per tenth of a mpg per vehicle for the whole fleet not meeting the standard.
For purposes of determining compliance, in the case of a manufacturer controlled by another manufacturer, the vehicles produced by both automakers are pooled together.

“We are delivering on our mission and President Obama’s call for a strong and coordinated national policy for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles, and we will do so in a way that does not compromise safety,” said NHTSA administrator David Strickland.

The joint final regulation achieves the goal set by President Obama to develop a national programme to establish federal standards

Obama first announced the effort last May with a coalition of automakers, the United Auto Workers, states, and the environmental community.

The NHTSA added it expected automobile manufacturers to meet these standards by “more widespread adoption of conventional technologies already in commercial use, such as more efficient engines, transmissions, tyres, aerodynamics, and materials, as well as improvements in air conditioning systems.”

In conjunction with the US, Canada is also to introduce light duty vehicle greenhouse gas emissions regulations. The EPA and NHTSA have worked with Environment Canada to ensure a common North American approach. 

Further details are expected from Porsche among other manufacturers.