The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Energy

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Energy

© Daimler AG

CAFE Standards

One of the most impressive efficiency successes in modern memory is the result of the federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards established in 1975. CAFE standards stipulated that the average fuel economy for new passenger cars would be 27.5 miles per gallon (mpg) by model year 1985—up from 18 mpg for model year 1978, an improvement of more than 50%. The U.S. Department of Transportation later stipulated that the average for light trucks would be 20.7 mpg. Automakers complied, dramatically improving the fuel economy of the nation’s light-duty vehicle fleet, reducing dependence on imported oil, improving the nation’s balance of trade, and reducing CO2 emissions. Had the CAFE standards not been enacted (and had fuel prices not increased), America’s gasoline consumption would now be 14% higher than it is, or about 2.8 million barrels more per day.

Had the CAFE standards not been enacted (and had fuel prices not increased), America’s gasoline consumption would now be 14% higher than it is, or about 2.8 million barrels more per day.

In December 2007, Congress passed an updated CAFE law mandating that new cars, SUVs, and light trucks together average 35 mpg by 2020, an increase of 40% from the previous 25 mpg average. In 2009, President Barack Obama proposed a plan that would speed up that timetable, requiring the average to be 35.5 mpg by 2016, and added a regulation requiring a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. If the proposal passes into law, this legislation will further push technology, leading to greater fuel economy and reducing fuel consumption in the fleet.

Automotive technology also demonstrates how developments and breakthroughs in fields unrelated to energy can have a profound effect on the energy sector. The electronics and computer revolutions of the 1960s and 1970s, which continue to this day, led to the development of very small sensors and computers. In addition, the ability to develop new materials such as catalysts—substances that prompt chemical reactions—led to ways to cut down on the pollutants in automobile exhaust (and in power plants). Putting these technologies together into systems on automobiles has led to more efficient automotive drivetrains, more power, better control, and lower emissions.

Learn more about these related topics:

Explore Other Topics

Energy Hands-on

What do you know about energy?

Which of the following is not considered to be a drawback to wind energy?

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    While wind energy has many benefits, all of the above are considered drawbacks to wind energy.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    While wind energy has many benefits, all of the above are considered drawbacks to wind energy.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    While wind energy has many benefits, all of the above are considered drawbacks to wind energy.

  • Correct!

    While wind energy has many benefits, all of the above are considered drawbacks to wind energy.

Energy Defined

Hydrogen Fuel Cell

An emerging technology which uses a controlled combination of hydrogen and oxygen to generate electrical current, giving off only water vapor as a by-product.

View our full glossary

National Academies Press

Search the National Academies Press website by selecting one of these related terms.