Automakers have a "wide range of cost-effective technologies" at their disposal to meet 2025 fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks.
But they may fall short of achieving the proposed fleet-wide fuel economy average of 54.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2025 because of increased demand for SUVs and pickups.
That assessment came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the California Air Resources Board in a recent report.
The draft Technical Assessment Report estimates a fleet-wide efficiency average between 50.8 mpg and 52.6 mpg by 2025, if gasoline prices remain low and SUV and truck sales continue to surge.
Cars, SUVs and light trucks for model years 2017 to 2025 are covered under the greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards issued in 2012. The federal regulations get tougher each year, and automakers are required to reach a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of 41 mpg by 2021. The ultimate goal is 54.5 mpg by 2025.
Publication of the July draft assessment report marked the start of a midterm review to determine whether federal fuel economy standards should be changed for model years 2022 to 2025. A final decision based on the evaluation is expected in April 2018.
When it comes to technology, automakers have numerous "cost-effective" options for meeting the original targets, which can be achieved by "relying primarily on advanced gasoline vehicles," government officials said.
In recent years, automakers "have been rapidly adopting fuel-efficient technologies like turbo charging, engine downsizing, more sophisticated transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, aerodynamics, and idle stop-start, along with improved accessories and air conditioning systems," the agencies noted.
Currently, there are over 100 car, SUV, and pick-up truck versions on the market that meet the standards for 2020 or later. Auto manufacturers also beat the fuel economy targets by 1.4 miles in 2014.
"Automakers have already implemented new technologies that are saving American drivers money and cut national fuel consumption and carbon emissions today," National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a statement. "The draft report supports that the administration's fuel economy program can continue to incentivize innovation and reduce fuel consumption while also ensuring that consumers can continue to choose the vehicles they want to drive."
But the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers responded that it would be "a daunting challenge" to hit the future standards.
"Given changes in the market landscape, it will be a daunting challenge to meet the very aggressive requirements of the 2022-2025 federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas rule," reads a statement from the alliance. "Absent a vigorous commitment to focus on marketplace realities, excessive regulatory costs could impact both consumers and the employees who produce these vehicles."
For its part, the Association of Global Automakers called the midterm review "a critical reality check to reexamine the initial assumptions and their impact on the feasibility of the national program."
"Market conditions today are very different from when the standards were developed five years ago," the group said in a statement. "As we continue to work with the agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we must ensure that the standards take into account what consumers are likely to buy."
Environmental groups, on the other hand, are urging the federal government against weakening the standards.
"This is a defining moment for the auto industry," said Roland Hwang, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy and transportation program. "All signs show that the standards that drive clean cars to market are getting stronger, not weaker. It's time for U.S. automakers to put their clean car programs into high gear."
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp added: "America's clean car standards are already revving up a stronger economy and putting the brakes on dangerous climate pollution. The clean car standards are delivering vital public health, environmental and economic benefits to our country now, and the innovative technologies that are being developed every day will help us continue to meet our goals. Addressing the threat of climate change is the race of our lives, and we can't win the race unless we're driving the cleanest possible cars. We must keep the standards strong, and all Americans must continue to work together to forge common sense solutions for our environment and our economy."