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Clean Vehicle Standards: Anatomy of a Rule

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They say honesty is the best policy. My vote is for vehicle standards. Puns aside, it’s true that today’s cars are safer, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient than their predecessors because of vehicle standards. But let’s face it, outside of the folks who deal with these regulations on a daily basis, very few people have any idea how they work, or what they will (and won’t) do. Worse yet, a lot of misinformation exists on these topics. Enter this first post in a new blog mini-series.

Why standards?

Whether we’re talking about safety standards, clean air standards, or fuel economy standards, regulations (also known as rules) provide automakers with clear targets that enable them to set their engineers loose. The results are all around us: seatbelts, airbags, electronic stability control, near-zero-emission gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrid-electric powertrains, and the list goes on. With the clarity of standards, automakers time and again have risen to the occasion with products that help answer the social and economic challenges presented by our transportation needs.

Why now?

It turns out we’re at a particularly exciting time in the automotive world right now, for a new set of vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards is about to be implemented that will nearly double the average new vehicle mpg by 2025, and lay the groundwork for a future vehicle fleet that’s even less reliant on oil. The implications, and stakes, couldn’t be higher. With three-to-four dollar (or more) a gallon gasoline and unprecedented climate challenges, these standards will serve a critical role in helping improve our economy, our environment, and our nation’s energy independence.

Admittedly, the regulations covering vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel economy aren’t nearly as concise as the old honesty adage. Inevitably, policy — that is, government policy — is complex in order to deal with the complexities of the real world. Which, of course, makes understanding the rules difficult.

Over the years I’ve found that despite hundreds of articles being written on the topic, a lot of confusion persists about the way the standards work. This naturally leads to questions about how the standards will affect the vehicles we choose to drive. In the coming weeks and months I’ll add to this “Anatomy of a Rule” mini-series, touching on — in bite-sized portions — various elements of the new rule: design elements, technical details, potential pitfalls, impacts on automakers, and so on. So hop on in and join the conversation. The road awaits…

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About the author: Jim Kliesch is an engineer with expertise in fuel efficiency, battery, and hybrid electric vehicle technologies and the policies needed to turn them into real solutions for U.S. oil dependence, air pollution and global warming. He holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and a master's degree in environmental and energy policy.

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