Office of Government Relations

White Paper Proposing that the Biggest Single Step We Can Take to Save Oil and Curb Global Warming is to Raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards for Both Cars and Light Trucks

November 20, 2002
Office of Government Relations

Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign
110 Maryland Avenue NE, Suite 108
Washington, DC 20002
Tel: 202.544.3110 Fax: 202.543.1297

Corporate Average Fuel Economy
A Fact Sheet

The Biggest Single Step we can take to Save Oil and Curb Global warning is to Raise Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards for both cars and light trucks.


A responsible energy policy must reduce our dependence on oil. American cars, SUVS and other light rucks now guzzle 8 million barrels of oil everyday (mbd). We can do better than that! For example, raising fuel economy standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to an average of 40 miles per gallon (mpg) over the next 10 years would save nearly 2 mbd in 2012 and nearly 4 mbd by 2020 – more oil per day than we import from the Persian Gulf and could extract from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, combined. This responsible step would save consumers billions of dollars at the gas pump and slash heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming.


In 1975 Congress passed and President Ford signed the law establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. CAFE standards set the minimum average fuel economy that a manufacturer’s fleet of cars must meet. Congress required cars to ramp up from 13.8 mpg to 27.5 mpg by the late 1980s. However, despite dramatic advances in technology, 25 years later that standard is still in place. Congress also asked the Department of Transportation to set light truck fuel economy. Light truck standards inched up to 20.7, but have viturally stagnated for 20 years.

The Benefits of CAFE Standards

  • Raising CAFE Standards will Improve our Energy Security:

We import 52 percent of our oil. Our cars, SUVs, and other light trucks guzzle 40% of the oil used in the U.S. every day. Current CAFE standards save 3 mbd. Raising CAFE standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to 40 mpg is the biggest single step we can take to curb our oil dependence.

  • Raising CAFE Standards will Save Consumers Money, Stimulate our Economy, and Create Jobs:

CAFE standards already save consumers money at the gas pump. Because fuel economy for cars doubled between 1975 and the late 1980s, a new car purcharser saves thousands of dollars at the gas pump over the lifetime of the car. Now it is time for Detroit to pass on savings to SUV owners. Making the Ford Explorer go from 19 mpg to 34 mpg would cost $935 in technology, but would save the owner $790 each year on gas. Raising CAFE standards for new cars, SUVs and other light trucks to 40 mpg over the next 10 years will save consumers $16 billion annually by 2012.

Consumers would spend this money at home, rather than sending it overseas to oil producing nations, thus stimulating our economy, improving wages, and creating jobs. A 1997 report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy conluded that raising CAFE standards would translate into a net increase of 244,00 jobs nationwide, with 47,000 of these in the auto industry.

  • Raising CAFE Standsards WIll Protect the Environment:

Raising CAFE standards would curb global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions from our cars and trucks add to the CO2 blanket around the earth, which prevents heat from leaving the atmosphere, causing global warming. America’s cars and trucks alone emit more CO2 than all but four countries in the world — the U.S. as a whole, China, Russia, and Japan. Each gallon of gasoline burned pumps 28 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere, thus the more efficient the vehicle, the lower the CO2 emissions. Raising CAFE standards to 40 mpg would slash our CO2 emissions – greatly reducing our contribution to global warming.

Technology Advances and Safety

The technology exists to provide Americans with safe, efficient vehicles that curb global warming pollution. More efficient engines, transmissions, and better aerodynamics could dramatically increase the fuel economy of our cars. Hybrid gas-electric engines offer even better gas mileage. However, so far only Japanese manufacturers are using this technology. Three hybrids are currently in production: the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Honda Civic Hybrid, all of which get over 50 mpg.

While CAFE standards doubled fuel economy from 1975-1989, the highway fatality rate dropped by 50 percent. Modern technologies can bring us even safer and more fuel efficient vehicles today.

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