Wake Up and Smell the CAFE
A friend with a high-priced one-year-old Hyundai recently had a flat tire. When he looked in the trunk, he was surprised to see that he had no spare tire. In an article I wrote thirty-seven years ago, I explained why station wagons were disappearing and would likely never return. In the 1990s, auto companies began to produce millions of SUVs annually.
These three phenomena may seem unrelated. They’re not. They are all consequences of regulations that the federal government imposed in a 1975 law in the midst of the energy crisis. The regulations mandate something called Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE for short. At first those regulations made cars lighter and more fatal to their occupants in the event of a crash. Now they are lighter and, though safer than their lighter counterparts of decades ago, are still more dangerous than heavier vehicles. The rules also make cars look more and more alike. Have you ever looked for your Toyota Camry in a large parking lot and instead found yourself heading toward a Honda Accord or even a Chrysler? I have. The regulations also cause engineers in the United States and other countries, many of whose employers want to produce for the US market, to put a large percent of their effort into compliance. And, most important, beyond the other negative consequences, the CAFE regulations have substantially reduced the freedom of producers and car buyers.
These are the opening 2 paragraphs of my latest article for Hoover, “Wake Up and Smell the CAFE,” Defining Ideas, February 3, 2022.
But whether the goal is to rein in global warming or to reduce dependence on foreign supplies, there’s a big problem with the regulations even beyond the ones I’ve discussed above: they don’t reduce fuel usage as much as advertised because of two factors: the “rebound effect” and what might be called the “older car effect.”
Read the whole thing.