There have been lots of opinion pieces about Obama’s newly proposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, and I’ve weighed in with my own views on the topic. Even though I dislike the full-employment-for-bureaucrats model to curb oil consumption and would prefer a simple, market-driven solution like higher fuel prices, the fact is that our future vehicle fleet will change dramatically.
Radically improved fuel economy isn’t necessarily the end of the world for performance enthusiasts. For as long as I can recall, new cars have gone through growth spurts like an athlete on steroids. It seems that every new model is bigger and more powerful — even the newest 50 MPG Prius and Scion’s xB offerings grew in size and power.
When cars downsized after the 1973 oil embargo, the former Big Three automakers’ small car offerings were hardly competitive with innovative models like Honda’s fuel-efficient Civic and Toyota’s durable Corolla. Chevy’s Vega had lots of innovative technology, but the aluminum engine without steel cylinder liners easily failed while Ford’s little Pinto was fun to drive until it either caught fire or rusted away.
Today, there’s a lot less arrogance in the corner office of a major automaker. Everyone knows that to survive in a universe of overproduction, intense competition, and lackluster demand, you can’t just be good. You had better be brilliant. And if an automaker makes the right moves, it will enhance its chances for survival.
These thoughts occurred to me as I watched the reaction of affluent people to the Northern California unveiling of the Fisker Karma S, a hardtop/convertible version of the company’s extended range electric luxury car. The cool looking Karma sedan was also a big hit with well-heeled residents from California’s Marin County who like the idea of driving green without sacrifice. If Fisker can deliver the car that’s promised on the website, his startup company will be wildly successful.
Ready or not, pure electric vehicles along with “extended range” or “plug-in” electric vehicles are well on the way to a showroom near you. GM is thrilled that the preliminary city mileage specifications for its Chevy Volt under the new “draft” EPA standard is 230 MPG. The company is confident that the EPA combined rating will remain in triple digits.