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In the United States, where the vehicle fleet largely mirrors that in Canada, average fuel economy across the board increased 15 per cent between 1980 and 2006 – while the average curb weight of vehicles increased 26 per cent and horsepower rose 107 per cent. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
In the United States, where the vehicle fleet largely mirrors that in Canada, average fuel economy across the board increased 15 per cent between 1980 and 2006 – while the average curb weight of vehicles increased 26 per cent and horsepower rose 107 per cent. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

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Auto industry's sharp gas pains Add to ...

The challenge is made more enormous by the simple fact that consumers have spoken for decades about fuel economy – with their buying habits. Consumers may talk the talk of fuel economy, citing it as a consistent Top 3 purchase consideration, but they walk the walk of performance and size. Fuel prices have, in fact, been on the rise for years now, yet consumers keep buying pickups and SUVs and cars with relatively powerful engines – vehicles that are not as fuel-efficient as the government mandates call for.

Auto makers, in fact, are starting to question whether consumer buying patterns will ever change. This is why you’re going to see car companies focus on boosting the fuel efficiency of their entire lineups, right across the board. Fleet-wide fuel economy numbers will not be met simply adding more small cars and subtracting bigger ones and light trucks almost entirely.

“I don't see this reshaping the buying public,” Bill Reinert, Toyota USA national manager of alternative fuel vehicles, recently told Automotive News. “We've been through these cycles for two decades, but it's never really taken. I don't see this as a chance for a sales boom for the [Chevrolet]Volt and [Nissan]Leaf [electric cars]”

Government regulators are, however, mandating a tipping point by setting a future date to implement drastic fleet-wide fuel economy rules, regardless of the price of fuel and economic conditions. A more natural tipping point would be found in the price you pay at the pump. However, fuel prices are somewhat unpredictable and largely based on global events – recessions, wars or unstable political situations in oil-producing regions. And governments will not raise fuel taxes to drive buying behaviour to thriftier rides.

For auto makers racing to meet the fuel regs, rapid advances in technology and design offer the only hope of finding an answer to the disconnect between government regulations and consumer wants and needs. The trick is to sell the fuel-sipping benefits to buyers who want relatively large vehicles with strong performance.

That’s why you see Mazda Motor pushing its SkyActiv suite of design and technology advances that deliver better fuel economy, lower emissions without compromising “Zoom Zoom.” Fuel-saving technology, so the story goes, delivers a cost-of-ownership benefit, an environmental boost and without any loss of power and functionality. It’s the same story at Ford, where EcoBoost turbocharged engines are now available in the company’s best-selling model, the F-150 full-sized pickup, as well as the EcoBoost Explorer, Edge and the (upcoming) Escape – all crossovers – and the next-generation Fusion sedan.

Other auto makers are taking their own tack to the regulatory endgame. Toyota remains the market leader in hybrids and Honda is charging hard with better engines and upcoming hybrids, too. Hyundai has put a premium on direct injection engines across its lineup while working on hybrid technology – as is Kia. VW will soon introduce a Jetta hybrid to complement its line of existing fuel-efficient diesels in mainstream models.

The reality, however, is that car companies as a group are far from meeting the 2016 standards. Many, including DesRosiers, believe they will fail as a group to meet the 2016 standards and the rules will be changed or exceptions offered. We know this: time is running out, which means the debate and the speculation will end soon enough.

What’s needed to meet the 2016 fuel economy standards

CARS

Brand

2010 fuel efficiency (litres/100 km)

Improvement required



Closest







Scion

6.8

2.7 per cent



Mini

6.85

3.5 per cent



Toyota

6.96

5.2 per cent



Honda

7.16

8.1 per cent



Volkswagen

7.25

9.5 per cent











Furthest







Aston Martin

13.9

109.9 per cent



Mercedes-Benz

10.77

62.6 per cent



Lincoln

10.41

57.2 per cent



BMW

10.3

55.5 per cent



Infiniti

10.27

55.1 per cent





TRUCKS

Brand

2010 fuel efficiency (litres/100 km)

Improvement required



Closest







Kia

8.13

22.8 per cent



Scion

8.46

27.8 per cent



Hyundai

8.95

35.3 per cent



Subaru

9.24

39.6 per cent



Mitsubishi

9.62

45.4 per cent











Furthest







Land Rover

14.94

125.7 per cent



Porsche

13.24

100 per cent



Infiniti

12.31

86 per cent



Ford

11.99

81.2 per cent



Dodge

11.59

75.1 per cent



Source: DesRosiers Automotive Consultants

Don't forget to check out our gallery: In pictures: Canada's most fuel-efficient vehicles

Clarification

This story highlighted the dramatic fuel economy improvements required by most auto makers to meet the 2016 fleet-wide fuel standards Canada plans to adopt based on U.S. regulations. While the arguments contained in the article remain sound – that the vast majority of car companies face a significant challenge to meet the 2016 standard – a number of the percentages cited for the fuel efficiency improvements required were strictly speaking incorrect from a mathematics point of view. When discussing the “improvements” required to meet fuel economy standards, the article cited research and calculations from DesRosiers Automotive Consultants. The percentages cited for the “improvements” required should have been based on the fuel economy improvements required divided by the current fuel economy achieved. Instead, the calculations reflected the gap between the 2016 fleet-wide standard and the current fleet-wide fuel economy achieved by a number of car companies.

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