Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The EPA is Failing Us

                Fuel is a four letter word.  Fuel economy can be a rude phrase in certain circles.  Everyone is talking about fuel economy numbers, even the president of The United States.  The EPA is the government agency responsible for monitoring and releasing fuel economy estimates for vehicles sold on these shores.  ‘Estimates’ being the most important word in their findings.  Normally cars get a city, highway, and overall estimate.  The government also regulates that car manufacturers have to reach a certain combined mpg within their fleet of sales.  This is called the CAFÉ standards.  It has nothing to do with coffee however.  If you think gas is expensive imagine if your car ran on Dunkin.  How seriously can we take these estimates?
                Lately Ford has come under some heat about their cars EPA mileage estimates.  Consumer Reports recently posted an article comparing Ford’s Ecoboost engines against some of Ford’s rivals.  Ford’s Ecoboost engines use turbo chargers on smaller displacement engines in order to receive higher gas mileage without sacrificing power.  The idea at least is a sound one.  Car buyers like extra power but government regulations aren’t going to allow for all cars to have V8s any longer.  Consumer Reports runs a very different test than the EPA in order to determine gas mileage.  CR claims their test is more in line with real world driving.  CR found that not only were standard sized, naturally aspirated engines from Nissan and Honda receiving better fuel numbers but they were also getting better acceleration than similar Fords.  Now part of this discrepancy comes from the weight advantage both the Nissan Altima and Honda Accord have over the Ford Fusion that CR was testing.  CR failed to mention this in their report.  One thing that bothers me about CR’s findings is the gap between their findings and that of the EPA. The EPA found that almost all the cars should have been getting better mileage.  Why the difference?
                Consumer Reports isn’t the only group of testers finding issues with Ford’s EPA numbers.  In a recent test of the Ford Fusion Hybrid by Car and Driver’s Csaba Csere (don’t ask me to pronounce it), he reported decent fuel economy numbers of the high 30’s mpg but nowhere near the EPA’s estimate of 47 combined mpg.  Johnny Lieberman found out the same thing when testing the new Ford C-Max Hybrid. He reported almost the same numbers as Car and Driver.  I don’t think Ford is lying when they are putting these numbers on new car stickers.  I think it is highly possible that they have found a loop hole in how the EPA determines fuel mileage.  Ford boasts how their hybrids are getting better EPA estimates than their competitors but those claims are not relating to the real world.  The problem does not fall to Ford but to the EPA who provides these numbers. 
                If the EPA is not accurate, then do we even need them to provide these figures to the public? I feel they could be doing more harm than good to the car buyer. This is an area that clearly the open market can handle.  We have more car reviewers and testers in the public realm than ever before. Plus car magazines and online bloggers take no tax dollars for their research.  CAFÉ standards also put on unnecessary strain on car manufacturers to provide a certain level of fuel economy.  Can the free market not decide for itself that we want better fuel economy?  CAFÉ standards are making Ford work the system to provide better numbers for the EPA instead of just making a better car on the road.  Dodge spun off the brand Ram so that Dodge’s overall fuel economy numbers would go up.  By making Ram trucks its own brand and not under the Dodge badge it makes the fuel economy numbers for the whole Dodge line up jump even though their cars actually achieve no better mpg.  That’s not better for the consumer it is just better for Dodge. 
                In a country that tries to outlaw trans fats because they are unhealthy and puts warning labels on cigarette boxes because apparently cigarette buyers don’t realize they are dangerous, I get that buyers aren’t making good decisions.  I feel like we should be smarter about how we shop not just for cars but for all products.  I believer car buyers want better mileage cars.  I also think car manufacturers want to provide those cars. I also feel that car manufacturers can make a profit on those cars.  I just think it is time to realize the government inclusion on this issue is foolhardy. 

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