Green Update: Chrysler and Nissan Commit to Impossible Green Goals

October 25th, 2011

A hybrid for this car?

The tougher U.S. fuel economy (CAFE) standards have forced some radical rethinking by two of the world’s largest auto companies.

They really have no other choice, as long as the government commits to the flawed idea of CAFE, with all its loopholes, contradictions and costs of enforcement.

The 54.5-mpg requirement for passenger cars by 2025 (really around 40 mpg per EPA window sticker) has forced Chrysler to start making and selling hybrids and diesels. In 2013, the Chrysler 300 (above) will have a hybrid version, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee will offer diesel. The Fiat 500 EV will be coming next year.

Last year, Chrysler trailed all 14 major carmakers with a 19.2-mpg average. Regarding CAFE, CEO Sergio Marchionne has said, “I have no other way of getting to 2025 numbers than by going to hybrids.” He is also hopeful that CNG infrastructure will take hold.

Carlos GhosnNissan has laid out a bunch of very ambitious goals in its Green Program 2016 and in CEO Carlos Ghosn’s often-quoted prediction that electric cars will achieve 10 percent of the market by 2020. By 2016 Ghosn expects to sell 1.5 million zero-emissions and hybrid cars, with a 35 percent increase in CAFE numbers compared to 2005 levels.

So Sergio, who has said he hates hybrids (too expensive to produce and very low sales), will be forced to spend billions producing them. Carlos puts a better face on it and proclaims impossible numbers, which Nissan will achieve in part by creating two new hybrids, one a plug-in.

Both these guys are smart men, and both know that CAFE standards are much more costly (2-3 times) than a gas tax, which would focus on the demand side (consumption) rather than the supply side (carmakers).

But achieving a gas tax is a political impossibility, as neither side of Congress will even discuss it. The media won’t discuss it because it’s a political no-no, and the public won’t discuss it because it prefers to keep the costs hidden by paying the enormous price of subsidizing gas and oil.

There’s a lengthy, revealing and accurate history of our energy delusions here, which I recommend to all of you. The geopolitics of oil are troubling and fascinating. They begin, incidentally, with Maommar al-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader just assassinated, who brought Middle East oil and OPEC to power.

Our “addiction to oil” can be summed up in our refusal as a people to pay the true price of the fuel we use. Chrysler and Nissan are just pawns in this game.

Will the new fuel economy standards work to reduce consumption? Will they be enforceable?

—jgoods

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Used Chrysler 300
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  1. Randy
    October 26th, 2011 at 06:56 | #1

    I’m talking about automotive regulation in general, of which CAFE is an important part. That’s where that engine management computer comes from, that fuel injection, computer-controlled transmissions, and literally hundreds (or thousands) of patents and inventions that improve the efficiency and drivability of your car. And having watch the history unfold first hand, I can tell you that the car companies said the early fuel economy and emission standards set by the government COULD NOT BE MET. Yet, they were met (and exceeded). I think the new standards are a good target to pursue and hopefully someday we will be able to ween ourselves from overpowered, inefficient cars and stop being the world’s energy hog, taking far more than our fair share of energy. I think the truck segment is the weak area of the current CAFE package (as you note) and I’d like to see some work there.

  2. jgoods
    October 25th, 2011 at 17:06 | #2

    @ Randy
    You choose to misunderstand: I am not talking about NHTSA’s writing and enforcing SAFETY standards. I am talking about the CAFE FUEL ECONOMY standards. And I think most of them are indefensible. Look at the SUV-light truck loophole, for instance. NHTSA has several missions, one of which is safety, another is administering the CAFE standards.

  3. Randy
    October 25th, 2011 at 14:59 | #3

    If it wasn’t for a long progression of automotive regulations passed over many decades now, we’d still be driving death traps that get 10mpg and belch clouds of pollution. Frankly, the CAFE standards you complain about brought us emission controls (and much cleaner air), computer engine management systems, and cars that can deliver perfectly adequate performance and not have to drive from gas station to gas station. Not to mention safety regulations that have, more than anything else, helped to reduce highway deaths by tens of thousands.
    The problem has always been self-centered egotists that want to drive pollution-belching overpowered cars with no seatbelts (or motorcycle helmets for the 2-wheel retards) and don’t care if they burn enough fuel to keep a small town running. We can thank government rules and regulations (much more than automakers who fought them tooth and nail) for cars that are smooth, quiet, highly drivable, economical, with great brakes, stability, and dozens if not hundreds of life-saving safety features like padded dashboards and tempered glass. I remember those old cars, the yearly (or more often) tune ups, the stink, the bad mileage, and horrible bloody accidents with the victims crushed to a pulp by their own cars.

  4. panayoti
    October 25th, 2011 at 14:34 | #4

    Fuel economy standards don’t vote. People do.

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