NHTSA Finalizes Fuel Economy Standards Stricter Than Previously Proposed

Government regulators have finalized tougher standards for industry-wide fuel economy in passenger vehicles and light trucks.
Written by Andrew Kidd
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
U.S. auto
safety regulators
finalized tougher fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles in the latest update of CAFE standards.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
(NHTSA) announced April 1 that the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards will require an industry-wide fleet average of 49 mpg for passenger cars and light trucks in the 2026 model year.

Strictest fuel economy standards to date

The announcement marks the most stringent cost savings and fuel efficiency standards to date. The goal is to increase fuel efficiency 8% annually for automakers’ 2024-2025 model year vehicles and 10% annually for 2026 models—or face fines.
Automakers are also required to increase the fleet-wide average by 10 miles per gallon for 2026 compared with 2021.
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Back on track for efficiency

Automotive News
(AN) reports, the new standards are more strict than the agency’s previous proposal in August, which would have increased CAFE requirements by 8% annually for the 2024-2026 model years for a fleet-wide average of around 48 mpg by 2026.
Both proposals contrast with the Trump administration’s rule requiring a 1.5% annual increase in fuel efficiency through 2026, which was itself a rollback of the Obama-era 5% annual increase.
“Today's rule means that American families will be able to drive further before they have to fill up, saving hundreds of dollars per year,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in the announcement. “These improvements will also make our country less vulnerable to global shifts in the price of oil, and protect communities by reducing carbon emissions by 2.5 billion metric tons.”

Better fuel economy, cleaner environment

NHTSA estimates that Americans who purchase a new vehicle in 2026 will get 33% more miles per gallon compared to vehicles sold in 2021. That means fewer fill-ups per week. And compared with the old standards, the new CAFE standards should reduce oil consumption by more than 200 billion gallons through 2050.
More importantly, it means reduced emissions from consumer vehicles. According to the
, the average passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.
Another benefit NHTSA has called out that will result from these stricter standards is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, which disproportionately affect low-income communities of color living near freeways and other high-traffic roadways.

Is electrification the future?

The new standards aren’t too surprising; most automakers have been responding to consumer demands for cleaner cars, adding electric vehicles to their lineups over the past few years. As AN reports, officials said automakers should have no trouble meeting these standards if they continue to invest in more efficient vehicles, both internal-combustion and
Electrification is the future in states like New York and California, which are intent on abandoning gas-powered cars completely. New York’s governor signed a law banning the sale of gas cars in the state by 2035 and medium- and heavy-duty trucks by 2045. It followed a similar law in California that would ban gas vehicle sales by 2035.
With the cost of gas being a major topic of contemporary concern, the jump to electrified vehicles may happen sooner than we think—if global supply chain issues can sort themselves out.
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