Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Obama's Emission Reduction Pledge Paints Future for Autos

President Barack Obama's plan to announce the U.S. will cut its greenhouse emissions 17% by 2020, may finally kill off those who continue to believe new fuel efficiency and tailpipe emission standards for autos will never reached stated goals.

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I've been amused, and frankly a little confused whenever I've heard people say, "I know the automakers agreed to tighter standards, but that really won't happen." Here's a little message for those people—the tighter standards are coming and the industry won't be turning back.

Remember, just last spring President Obama was joined in the White House Rose Garden by the CEOs and top executives from leading automakers to announce a new fuel efficiency proposal. The target: 35.5 MPG by 2016. It's an ambitious goal, and one that targets fuel efficiency 30% better than where the industry is right now. Given the long history of auto companies fighting tighter mileage requirements, it's easy to see why there are still some skeptics who doubt the U.S. will ever get close to the new target.

What those critics are overlooking is the fact the Big 3 mindset has changed.

The spike in oil prices, the accelerating development of electric vehicles, and the changed attitude in management at GM, Ford, and Chrysler makes it clear Detroit will not return to the days when horsepower and size dictated product platforms. Those days are over. The new world order in the auto business is dictated by the belief cheap gas is not coming back. Look at any business plan from one of the Big 3 and you'll find they are forecasting gas to be in the $3.50-$4.50 range three or four years down the road, and those estimates may be conservative.

With that in mind, the auto industry is not only on board with President Obama’s fuel efficiency goals, it’s moving fast toward electric cars. Sure, the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are getting the most attention, but other automakers are also targeting electric cars that will start rolling out in the next couple of years. EVs are attractive for a number of reasons, including the fact that they have zero, or very, very limited tailpipe emissions.

A greener auto industry is coming, whether you want it or not.

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