NHTSA Issues New Vehicle Fuel Mileage Standards

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued new Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards that require an industry-wide fleet average of approximately 49 miles per gallon for passenger cars and light trucks in model year 2026.

[Above photo of GM plant via Wikimedia Commons]

The agency said in a statement that the new standards would increase fuel efficiency 8 percent annually for model years 2024-2025 and 10 percent annually for model year 2026. They will also increase the estimated fleet-wide average by nearly 10 miles per gallon for model year 2026, relative to model year 2021.

NHTSA added that its new CAFE standards for model year 2024-26 should reduce fuel consumption by more than 200 billion gallons through 2050, as compared to the old standards.

The agency also noted that this final CAFÉ rule follows President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, which directed NHTSA to review the 2020 “The Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks” final rule.

NHTSA also emphasized, however, that “real-world fuel economy” is generally 20 to 30 percent lower than the estimated required CAFE level stated above, while also noting that actual CAFE standards serve as a “footprint” or “target” curves for passenger cars and light trucks. That means ultimate fleet-wide levels would vary depending on the mix of vehicles that the industry produces for sale in those model years.

This agency added that its final rule reflects a conclusion “significantly different” from the conclusion it reached in the 2020 final rule. However, this is because “important facts have changed” and because NHTSA has reconsidered how to balance the relevant statutory considerations in light of those facts.

NHTSA concludes that these significantly more stringent standards are feasible and vehicle manufacturers can achieve them during the period covered by this new final rule. Standards that are more stringent than those finalized in 2020 appear economically practicable, based on manageable average per-vehicle cost increases, large consumer fuel savings, minimal effects on sales, and estimated increases in employment, among other things.

EPA Proposes New Emission Rules for Trucks, Engines

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to introduce stricter heavy-duty vehicle and engine emission rules starting in model year 2027.

[Above photo by the Missouri DOT]

The proposed standards would reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides or NOx from heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines, EPA said, while updating commercial vehicle greenhouse gas or GHG standards in certain categories. 

Those GHG revisions focus on “subsectors” of the transportation industry where “electrification is advancing at a more rapid pace,” the agency said, such as school buses, transit buses, commercial delivery trucks, and short-haul tractors.

[Editor’s note: The U.S. Department of Energy released a 69-page study on March 7 compiled by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory purportedly showing that, by 2030, nearly half of medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be cheaper to buy, operate, and maintain as zero-emissions models versus traditional diesel-powered units.]

In a separate action, EPA said it plans to establish new GHG emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles as soon as model year 2030 – and action it said would “more comprehensively address” the long-term trend towards zero-emissions vehicles across the heavy-duty vehicle sector.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan noted in a statement that the proposed rule would help “chart a path” to increase the use of zero-emission models while reducing the exposure of communities comprised of “low income” residents and “people of color” to the pollution that causes respiratory and cardiovascular problems, among other serious health effects.

Consistent with an executive order issued by President Biden in August 2021, the new proposed rule would reduce NOx emissions from trucks by as much as 60 percent in 2045, with benefits exceeding its costs by “billions of dollars,” the EPA said. Those potential benefits include:

  • Up to 2,100 fewer premature deaths.
  • Roughly 6,700 fewer hospital admissions and emergency department visits. 
  • Some 18,000 fewer cases of asthma onset in children.
  • About 3.1 million fewer cases of asthma symptoms and allergic rhinitis symptoms.
  • Some 78,000 fewer lost days of work.
  • About 1.1 million fewer lost school days for children.

The EPA added that this rulemaking effort is the “first step” in its longer-term “Clean Trucks Plan” – a series of clean air and climate regulations that the agency said it plans to develop over the next three years to reduce pollution from trucks and buses and to advance the transition to a zero-emissions transportation future. 

Several states are creating similar emission reduction plans for vehicles, with state departments of transportation taking an active role in such efforts.

For example, in August 2021, the Colorado Transportation Commission proposed new transportation pollution reduction planning standards to cut GHG emissions from the state’s transportation sector while improving statewide air quality and reducing smog.

That proposed rule would require the Colorado Department of Transportation and the state’s five Metropolitan Planning Organizations to determine total pollution and GHG emissions increase or decrease expected from future transportation projects while taking steps to ensure that total GHG emission levels do not exceed set reduction amounts.

Furthermore, the Colorado DOT – in partnership with the Colorado Energy Office and Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment – recently unveiled the daft of a “Clean Truck Strategy” that seeks to lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from heavy- and medium-duty vehicles by at least 45 percent statewide by 2050.

Meanwhile, in January, California introduced a $6.1 billion zero-emission vehicle or ZEV fiscal support package to accelerate the state’s transition to ZEVs and “fight climate change” in the process.

Combined with a $3.9 billion ZEV investment package signed into law in September 2021, California would ultimately outlay $10 billion to support broader ZEV deployment statewide. That spending also dovetails with an executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom (D) in September 2020 that requires that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California by 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles.

Concurrently, the Maryland Transit Administration – a division of the Maryland Department of Transportation – is moving forward to implement the state’s new Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act, which mandates all new buses procured for Maryland’s transit fleet be emission-free beginning in 2023.

The agency said it has committed to converting 50 percent of its bus fleet to zero-emission by 2030 while “seamlessly providing reliable, efficient service throughout the transition and beyond.”

Colorado DOT Helps Craft Clean Truck Strategy

The Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado Energy Office, and the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment recently unveiled the daft of a “Clean Truck Strategy” that seeks to lower greenhouse gas or GHG emissions from heavy- and medium-duty vehicles by at least 45 percent statewide by 2050.

[Above photo by the Colorado DOT]

That strategy is part of a package of initiatives undertaken by Governor Jared Polis (D) to improve air quality and reduce emissions while saving money for citizens and small businesses.

The Colorado DOT noted in a statement that heavy- and medium-duty vehicles include semi-trucks, school buses, snowplows, delivery vans, large pick-up trucks, and many different vehicle types in between. The agency added that they are the second-largest source of GHG emissions in the state’s transportation sector, contributing 22 percent of on-road GHG emissions despite being less than 10 percent of all Colorado vehicles.

This new multi-agency strategy seeks to accelerate clean truck adoption to help fight climate change, improve air quality, and help communities “disproportionately impacted” by transportation pollution emissions, Colorado DOT said.

[Editor’s note: At the national level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new clean air standards for heavy-duty vehicles and engines starting in model year 2027. The proposed standards would reduce emissions of smog- and soot-forming nitrogen oxides or NOx from heavy-duty gasoline and diesel engines while updating GHG standards for select commercial vehicle categories. Overall, the EOA expects its proposed rule to reduce NOx emissions from trucks by as much as 60 percent by 2045.]

The strategy also predicts that owners of medium- and heavy-duty trucks – most of whom are small businesses – could save an estimated $5.8 billion by 2050 from reduced vehicle maintenance costs and fuel cost savings by switching to zero-emission vehicles, the agency noted.

The multi-agency Clean Truck Strategy also includes a “prioritized set” of 34 actions that state agencies will implement to support the transition to zero-emission heavy- and medium-duty vehicles across seven different categories of initiatives, including procurement policies and programs, vehicle incentives and financing, infrastructure planning and investments, utility strategies, workforce development, and regulatory actions.

The plan also relies in part on proposals with the governor’s fiscal year 2023 budget plan, including a new electric school bus incentive program and a clean truck replacement program, alongside new federal funding opportunities to build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

As part of this multi-agency clean truck draft, the Colorado DOT said Gov. Polis’ administration is expected by the end of 2022 to submit a request to set a hearing to the state Air Quality Control Commission to consider adopting rules to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles and to further support the transition to zero-emission trucks and buses.

California Governor Proposes Zero Emission Vehicle Package

Governor Gavin Newsom (D) (seen above) has introduced a $6.1 billion zero-emission vehicle or ZEV fiscal support package to accelerate the state’s transition to ZEVs and “fight climate change” in the process.

[Above photo by the California Governor’s Office]

Combined with a $3.9 billion ZEV investment package signed into law in September 2021, California would ultimately outlay $10 billion to support broader ZEV deployment statewide.

That spending also dovetails the governor’s executive order issued in September 2020 requiring that all new cars and passenger trucks sold in California by 2035 must be zero-emission vehicles.

“The future is electric, and we’re making it easier and cheaper than ever before to go electric. That means more assistance to help folks buy clean cars and more charging stations in more communities throughout the state,” said Gov. Newsom in a statement.

This latest funding proposal would also support the construction of vehicle charging stations and other infrastructure needed to “facilitate” the state’s transition to ZEVs.

The governor’s $6.1 billion package includes:

  • Low-Income Zero-Emission Vehicles and Infrastructure: $256 million for low-income consumer purchases, and $900 million to expand affordable and convenient ZEV infrastructure access in low-income neighborhoods. These investments will focus on planning and deploying a range of charging options to support communities, including grid-friendly high-power fast chargers and at-home charging.
  • Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles and Supporting Infrastructure: $935 million for the purchase of 1,000 zero-emission short-haul drayage trucks and 1,700 zero-emission transit buses. Another $1.5 billion would support the purchase of electric buses for school transportation programs. A further $1.1 billion would help buy zero-emission trucks, buses, and off-road equipment plus related fueling infrastructure, with $400 million to enable port electrification.
  • Zero-Emission Mobility: $419 million to support sustainable community-based transportation equity projects that increase access to zero-emission mobility in low-income communities. This includes supporting local clean mobility options plus sustainable transportation and equity projects.
  • Emerging Opportunities: $200 million to invest in demonstration and pilot projects in high carbon-emitting sectors, such as maritime, aviation, rail and other off-road applications, as well as support for vehicle grid integration at scale.

New EPA Rule Mandates 55 MPG by Model Year 2026

The Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing new federal greenhouse gas or GHG emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2023 through 2026 – establishing a 55 miles per gallon corporate average fuel economy or CAFE target for model year 2026 vehicles.

[Above photo by Ford Motor Co.]

The EPA expects its new rule – consistent with an executive order issued by President Biden in August 2021 – to “unlock” $190 billion in net benefits by reducing climate pollution, improving public health, and saving drivers money by reducing vehicle fuel consumption.

The agency also calculates that American motorists will save between $210 billion and $420 billion through 2050 on fuel costs due to this new rule.  On average over the lifetime of an individual MY 2026 vehicle, EPA estimates that the fuel savings will exceed the initial increase in vehicle costs by more than $1,000 for consumers.

The agency added in a statement that it plans to initiate a separate rulemaking to establish multi-pollutant emission standards under the Clean Air Act for MY 2027 passenger cars and light trucks and beyond to “speed the transition” of the country’s light-duty vehicle fleet toward a zero-emissions future consistent with the president’s abovementioned executive order.

The EPA also expects its new rule to spur increased production and sales of electric vehicles or EVs. As the GHG standards get stronger over the four-year period encompassed by the new rule, the agency said sales of EVs and plug-in hybrid vehicles should grow from about 7 percent market share in MY 2023 to about 17 percent in MY 2026, the agency projects.

Those increasing levels of EVs will position the United States to achieve aggressive GHG emissions reductions from transportation over the long term, EPA noted.

Grants Issued to Replace Aging Diesel Transit Buses in Ohio

The Ohio Diesel Emissions Reduction Grant or DERG program recently awarded six grants totaling more than $9 million for replacing 25 aging diesel transit buses with cleaner diesel or alternative fuel technology. The Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency jointly administer the state’s DERG program.

[Above photo by the Ohio DOT]

In a statement, the Ohio EPA estimated that those new buses should cut emissions by more than six tons of air pollutants annually; an air quality benefit that should continue to accrue each year the new buses remain in service.

Projects receiving funding include:

Funding for those DERG grants comes from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. The Ohio DOT noted that the next DERG application deadline occurs in the fall of 2022.

Ohio Unveils Connected Mobility Corridor

The recently opened 33 Smart Mobility Corridor in central Ohio is a connected highway project that seeks to enhance motor vehicle safety, reduce traffic congestion, and improve fuel economy.

[Above photo by DriveOhio]

This connected highway project – overseen by InnovateOhio, which coordinates service integration among state agencies – involves the Ohio Department of Transportation, DriveOhio, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the NW 33 Council of Governments, among others.

With a 35-mile redundant loop of fiber connectivity, the corridor includes 432 strands of available fiber, 63 roadside units, and 45 connected intersections. The route also encompasses diverse geographical and meteorological scenarios to provide a one-of-a-kind vehicle testing “ecosystem” for developing and testing smart mobility technology.

“Transportation is evolving, and mobility technology solutions that have and will be tested on the 33 Smart Mobility Corridor will save lives,” noted Jack Marchbanks, Ohio DOT’s director, in a statement. “The partnership framework we have established during this project is a model for future programs across the state, as we work to improve the quality of life for all Ohioans.”

“We know that connected and automated vehicle technology will continue to mature and scale at an ever-increasing pace,” added Howard Wood, executive director of DriveOhio, which is a division of the Ohio DOT. “As these systems are tested and refined, infrastructure plays a major role in the development cycle as mobility technology interphases with our legacy transportation system.”

“[This] corridor enables us to conduct real-world testing of our SAFE SWARM technology, which uses vehicle-to-everything communication to help mitigate collisions, improve traffic flow, increase fuel efficiency for all road users, and prepare for higher-levels of automated driving features,” said Sue Bai, chief engineer at Honda Research Institute USA, Inc.

Currently, Honda is operating over 200 connected vehicles along the corridor to understand how technology impacts the customer and realize a connected ecosystem that protects everyone sharing the road, including pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicyclists.

“This initiative is helping us develop the transportation ecosystem of the future with like-minded partners in the auto industry, government, academia, and the private sector,” Bai added.

Twelve Governors Urge Biden Administration to Impose ZEV Mandate

The governors of 12 states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington – recently signed a joint letter urging the Biden Administration to establish national zero emission vehicle standards. They also urged the administration to leverage the proposed $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan to provide more fiscal support for ZEV infrastructure construction.

[Above photo via the Massachusetts Governor’s Office.]

The April 21 letter calls on the administration to require all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks sold to be zero-emission by 2035, with all new medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2045.

“By establishing a clear regulatory path to ensuring that all vehicles sold in the United States are zero-emission, we can finally clear the air and create high-road jobs,” the governors said in the letter.

“Moving quickly towards a zero-emission transportation future will protect the health of all communities,” they added. “With bold federal leadership, American workers will lead the way in designing, building and driving clean and affordable vehicles.”

The governors highlighted how investments proposed within the administration’s American Jobs Plan investments could support the “scaling up” of ZEV charging and refueling infrastructure – enhancing the investments already made by states.

For example, the California Department of Transportation in February installed 22 new “fast-charging” stations for electric vehicles or EVs at nine locations along the state’s highway network.

Six energy utility companies announced in March that they are joining forces to build a seamless network of EV charging stations connecting major highway systems from the Atlantic Coast, through the Midwest and South, and into the Gulf and Central Plains regions.

Meanwhile, the governors also requested in their letter an expansion of tax credits to support the manufacturing of zero-emissions trucks, buses, and charging stations and funding to promote equitable access to ZEVs and transportation electrification at the local level.

One example of that is the deployment by the Cherokee Nation of two electric transit buses to transport employees and tribal citizens to work and tribal health centers, along with an electric school bus.

The tribe said it used a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant awarded in 2018 to help pay for those buses as well as construction of the recharging station.

“The Cherokee Nation has always been a leader in environmental conservation and forward-thinking efforts that will reduce harmful activities impacting our natural resources,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a statement. “As we work to reduce our carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2027, we are investing in sustainable projects that will have many long-term benefits,” he added. “Our responsibility as stewards of the land, air, and water will always be one of our most significant values, and introducing these eco-friendly transit vehicles into our fleet is an example of how we can make a great difference in our environment.”

Coalitions Help States Tackle EV Infrastructure Barriers

As transportation-fueled greenhouse gas emission concerns rise across the country, wholesale deployment of electric vehicles (EVs) still faces roadblocks as advocates try to develop an expensive infrastructure to support EVs that most people won’t buy.

Only one-third of U.S. adults said they would buy or lease an all-electric car, with the majority citing the scarcity of public charging stations and the EV’s high purchase price, according to a report from Morning Consult. EV purchases are rising, but they comprise only 2 percent of all light-duty vehicles.

“The barriers to buying EVs and building out EV infrastructure are closely connected,” said Tim Sexton, assistant commissioner, and chief sustainability officer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Most EV owners charge at home or at work, which makes it “difficult for private charging companies to be profitable until the EV market share grows,” he added.

Photo courtesy Oregon DOT

According to the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), the country currently has nearly 25,000 public charging stations. DOE’s interactive map tool shows where the stations are, what kind of station (Level 1, Level 2, or DC Fast Charging) is at each location, and can plot an optimal EV route for nearby charging stations. The center also keeps track of how many charging stations are in each state.

However, consumer “range anxiety,” a lack of public awareness of EV purchasing and ownership benefits, plus a complex labyrinth of infrastructure financing have prompted some states to seek a regional approach to electrifying the highways.

To address those issues, three coalitions of states – one on each coast and one in the west – are developing model EV policies, creating consumer awareness campaigns, and building partnerships with businesses, utilities, local governments and public interest groups. It is slow going, but they are starting to show some results.

The Transportation and Climate Initiative is one coalition that includes transportation, environmental and energy officials from states in the Northeastern Association of State Transportation Officials, plus Virginia. One of the group’s goals is to enable drivers “to drive their plug-in cars and trucks from northern New England to D.C. and anywhere in between.” TCI aims to finalize a new multi-state memorandum of understanding in the coming months.

Washington, Oregon, and California are installing hundreds of new EV charging stations in part due to their membership in the West Coast Electric Highway initiative. Those three states are now home to more than 8,800 charging stations – more than a third of all such EV stations in the entire country.

Finally, there is the Regional Electric Vehicle or REV West coalition of eight states – Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – which aims to enable anyone to “seamlessly drive an electric vehicle across the Signatory States’ major transportation corridors.”

Even small progress on building out an EV infrastructure will encourage people to switch to electric vehicles, Minnesota DOT’s Sexton said. “Public EV chargers are critical for long-distance travel, and it helps normalize EVs,” he explained. “The more chargers people see, the more ‘normal’ the idea of driving an EV becomes.”