That gallon of gas is going to get you a little farther. The Obama administration signed off on the nation's first rules on greenhouse gas emissions Thursday and set new fuel standards that will raise current standards by nearly 10 mpg by the 2016 model year.
The so-called CAFE standards, issued by the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, cover cars and trucks for model years 2012 to 2016. Automakers will be required to meet a fleet-wide average of 35.5 by 2016.
Although the new requirements would add an estimated $434 per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, drivers could save as much as $3,000 over the life of a vehicle through better gas mileage, according to a government statement. The new standards also will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil and cut carbon dioxide emissions by nearly a billion tons over the life of the regulated models.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised the new standards as "achievable" and said they would encourage new and emerging technologies.
"We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air," LaHood said.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson called the move a "significant step toward cleaner air and energy efficiency." The EPA issued its first rules ever on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions following a 2007 Supreme Court decision.
Beginning in the 2012 model year, automakers must improve fleet-wide fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 5 percent a year. The revised standards move up goals set three years ago that would have required the industry to meet a 35 mpg average by 2020.
President Obama hinted at the new standards during an "energy security" speech Wednesday, saying they would be the equivalent of removing more than 50 million cars a year from the nation's roads.
Dave McCurdy, a former congressman from Oklahoma who leads the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing 11 automakers, said the industry supports a single national standard for future vehicles.
"America needs a road map to reduced dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, and only the federal government can play this role," McCurdy said. "Today, the federal government has laid out a course of action through 2016, and now we need to work on 2017 and beyond."
Environmental groups have sought curbs on greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, and challenged the Bush administration for blocking a waiver request from California to pursue more stringent air pollution rules than required by the federal government. The request was granted by the Obama administration last year.
"The standards forthcoming under the 'clean car peace treaty' are a good deal for consumers, for companies, for the country and for the planet," said David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Automakers have been working on hybrids, electric cars and other fuel-efficiency technologies that shut off an engine's cylinders when full power isn't needed.
Nissan is releasing its electric car, the Leaf, later this year, while General Motors is introducing the Chevrolet Volt, which is said to get 40 miles on a single battery charge before an engine kicks in to recharge. Ford plans to put its "EcoBoost" line of direct-injection turbocharged engines, which provide a 20 percent increase in fuel efficiency, in 90 percent of its models by 2013.