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Summary:

Automakers received yet another push this morning to accelerate efforts to clean up their fleets, with the unveiling of tough, new limits for tailpipe emissions set to take effect in 2012. If the big automakers were interested in bringing startups with clean vehicle technology into the […]

Automakers received yet another push this morning to accelerate efforts to clean up their fleets, with the unveiling of tough, new limits for tailpipe emissions set to take effect in 2012. If the big automakers were interested in bringing startups with clean vehicle technology into the fold before as a way to leapfrog lengthy internal R&D efforts — Daimler, for example, teamed up with Tesla Motors this morning to help get an electric version of its Smart model on the road as soon as possible, and Chrysler tapped startup A123Systems for lithium-ion batteries in hopes of getting its ENVI lineup off the ground — they may now have added pressure to consider such deals.

The Obama administration’s proposal includes a 39 MPG average for automakers’ passenger car lineups, plus a 30 MPG average for light trucks and 35.5 MPG overall — all by 2016. That’s four years earlier than required under the current standards, established as part of the 2007 energy bill. The proposal has tighter standards beginning to take effect in 2012.

The administration wants to go beyond fuel economy to also address pollution. If the proposed rules make it through the EPA and the Transportation Department, it will be the first time the U.S. combines MPG standards and tailpipe pollution controls into a single regulation. It will also be the first national fuel economy standard, as Obama has largely taken up the stricter standards proposed by California and 13 other states. As the Associated Press notes, handing CAFE standards development and enforcement over to the federal government could be a boon for states like California with mounting budget troubles.

The accelerated time table means automakers that are already playing catchup on batteries and other clean technologies have less time to boost their fuel economy and shrink their emissions. This means startups that have cutting-edge technology already in the works could draw more interest from auto companies feeling pressure to meet the proposed national standards. It also intensifies the time pressure on startups racing to grab big licensing or supply deals. Accelerated MPG improvements might in the near term help startups like shocks developer Levant Power and fuel-injection system maker Transonic Combustion, as well as battery makers like GM technology partner Sakti3 and A123Systems.

But as we’ve noted before, persuading automakers to adopt a startup’s MPG-boosting technology isn’t easy: Most young ventures haven’t had time to gather data about how their systems function long term, which automakers, thinking about considerable warranty costs, will want to have before committing to big supply deals. General Motors, for example, chose South Korea-based LG Chem over runner-up A123Systems as the supplier for its Chevy Volt battery cells, in part to avoid the risk that comes with working with a young company.

Efficient diesel engines may also get a boost. As we wrote recently, diesel engines have a role to play in helping automakers meet tightening fuel economy standards over the near term, and thus in the next generation of vehicles on U.S. roads. Startups ready to license technology to U.S. companies or sell plug-and-play components may be able to ride that wave.

Having a better idea of what vehicle standards will look like for the next seven years is important for automakers weighing investments in green car technology, as the U.S. Auto Alliance wrote in a statement this morning:

Automakers would know what standards will be through 2016, which is critical in an industry where bringing a product to market typically takes five to seven years. The National Program is intended to give automakers sufficient lead-time to incorporate technology as part of existing vehicle design schedules, so manufacturers would not have to incur added costs from redesigning all their models at one time.

The question now (well, one of them, at least) is how much of that they’ll do in-house, through established suppliers — and how much they’ll turn to startups. In order to make “sustainable mobility” a reality, Auto Alliance President and CEO David McCurdy said in the group’s release, “we will need to use every engineer we have and every investment dollar available.”

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  1. Fred Moolten Tuesday, May 19, 2009

    Put in perspective, the new mileage standards should probably be seen as a small step forward, but by themselves will reduce CO2 emissions less than needed for a comprehensive CO2-mitigation program. However, an encouraging additional development is the announcement of planned major upgrades in the nation’s electricity grid. Electricity is a far more efficient power source for automobiles than the internal combustion engine, and the combination of an improved grid with the substitution of wind and solar energy for coal in generating most future electricity will go further than mileage standards alone to control carbon emissions at a level that contains future climate change and its consequences within tolerable limits.

    The issue of costs is not irrelevant, but the Administration has appropriately decided that energy independence and climate change mitigation deserve priority. Higher automobile purchase costs are anticipated, but will be offset by lower fuel expenses. It’s also important to note that the new standards are averages, and do not preclude the purchase of cars, SUVs, or trucks that deviate from the average in the case of individuals or families who require such vehicles.

  2. VW Hints at New Electric Concept Car, Insists on Pragmatism Wednesday, May 20, 2009

    [...] VW brand. But they also fit in with the strategies of a growing number of big automakers feeling pressure from government to clean up their fleets. Mainstream is the end goal for new players, too — like Miles EV, BYD [...]

  3. What You Need to Know About the New Car Emissions Standards Thursday, May 21, 2009

    [...] MPG by 2016, four years earlier than previously required. That condensed time frame, as we wrote earlier this week, means big auto companies and young startups alike are under added pressure to get moving on green [...]

  4. The Obama administration’s proposal includes a 39 MPG average for automakers’ passenger car lineups, plus a 30 MPG average for light trucks and 35.5 MPG overall — all by 2016. That’s four years earlier than required under the current standards, established as part of the 2007 energy bill. The proposal has tighter standards beginning to take effect in 2012.

    bravo

    motorcycle transport

  5. GoVios Mobile makes cellular recycling easy and fun with our Students Going Green program! – GoVios Mobile Sunday, May 31, 2009

    [...] now, President Obama’s administration is focusing on fuel economy in the vehicles we drive (which I think is great—we need to lower our use of fossil fuels). Though it’s interesting [...]

  6. FedsBackOff Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    If the Federal Government is going to mandate MPG, and make it to where you have no choice but to buy vehicles that will average that mileage, they should include in that mandate that all of these vehicles have manual transmissions. As it is proven fact vehicles with manual transmissions get better gas mileage. If you “geenies” are going to force me to drive a tin can with the HP of a lawnmower, then I should be able to force you to learn how to shift!

  7. Electric Car Glut on the Way? Monday, June 8, 2009

    [...] this point, the big prize for automakers under pressure to produce more innovative, cleaner cars may be just launching a viable plug-in vehicle. But not too far down the road, we may be seeing a [...]

  8. you fools! Are you crazy!? This means that Chevy and Ford will no longer be able to make mustangs or camaros because they wont be able to meet the mpg requirement. No corvettes, no performance cars!! Obama is already forcing healthcare, the last thing we need is him telling us what kinds of cars we can drive! If you want to drive your little shitty prius everywhere and be as slow as dirt, then by all means go ahead! But this is america ill stick to my mustang thankyou!

  9. Car Buyers Want More Data & Tighter MPG Standards: Survey Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    [...] Published just days ahead of the deadline for public comments on tighter fuel economy standards, the CFA survey finds 78 percent of Americans support raising the bar to 35 MPG by 2016 (up from 25 MPG today) for the average MPG of an automaker’s fleet, as the Obama administration has proposed. [...]

  10. Bob Lutz: Bumpy Road Ahead for Electric Cars Without a Gas Tax Hike Thursday, December 3, 2009

    [...] a surcharge on gas guzzlers), pay-by-the-mile auto insurance, investments in public transportation, stricter fuel economy standards and direct funding for [...]

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