With SUVs in demand, what does the future hold for electric vehicles? – David Keith, Don MacKenzie, Stephen Zoepf

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor David Keith

David Keith, Assistant Professor of System Dynamics, Mitsui Career Development Professor

From the Detroit Free Press

In 2018, two of Detroit’s three automakers announced that they will cut many of the cars in their lineups. Late last year, GM shook the industry with plans to shutter three assembly plants and lay off thousands workers across the company, and analysts expect layoffs on a similar scale at Ford. The moves unveil a stark reality: Most U.S. consumers still want larger and more powerful gasoline vehicles.

Both automakers say they’ll invest resources in electrification, and we still hear predictions that we are on the cusp of an unstoppable electric vehicle (EV) revolution.

Which is it? An EV revolution, or a gas-guzzling nation?

The track of the Detroit automakers shows that the transition to electric vehicles in the U.S. will take decades to play out, and will likely be only partial. That makes steady gains in fuel economy of gasoline vehicles imperative if U.S. automakers are to remain competitive in a carbon-constrained world.

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The math on why the Trump administration’s fuel standards report is seriously flawed – Christopher Knittel

Christopher Knittel, George P. Schultz Professor and Professor of Applied Economics, MIT Sloan

From San Francisco Chronicle 

Fuel economy standards are an important way for the U.S. to combat climate change. However, a 2018 study conducted by the Trump administration proposes hitting the pause button on regulations, potentially leaving billions of dollars in benefits on the table.

This is a significant change from the Obama administration, which ramped up prior fuel economy standards. That administration mandated the fleet-wide fuel economy of passenger vehicles and light trucks to reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The federal government’s cost-benefit analysis, completed in January 2017, concluded that this was technologically feasible and that benefits exceeded costs by over US$90 billion.

The current administration challenges that conclusion and recommends freezing standards at model year 2020 levels through 2025. Their analysis finds that the costs exceed the benefits by over $170 billion – a difference of over $260 billion from the previous report.

Who is right? The answer matters, because fuel economy standards are the last remaining major federal regulation to fight greenhouse gas emissions. The current administration has eliminated other regulations related to clean power and is promoting coal consumption. If the Obama administration’s analysis is correct, then pausing fuel standards will cost the economy money and impact the environment. If the Trump analysis is correct, then this may be the right call. There is a lot at stake.

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Another argument for carbon tax: how car buyers behave – Christopher Knittel

MIT Sloan Professor Christopher Knittel

From The Sacramento Bee

Do you rationalize splurging on your daily latte by bringing your lunch to work? Every day we make decisions like this that impact our diet and pocketbook. These same trade-offs also affect the types of cars we drive, which impacts the effectiveness of fuel-efficiency policies.

In a recent study based on five years of data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, James Archsmith and David Rapson of University of California, Davis, Ken Gillingham of Yale University and I found that in two-car households, increasing the fuel economy of the first car encourages owners to demand less fuel economy in their second car. In other words, if you buy a Toyota Prius, you may be more likely to replace your second car with an SUV.

When households increase the fuel economy of their first car by 10 percent, they will reduce the fuel efficiency of the second vehicle by 5 percent, our analysis found. The result is that half the fuel economy gained from improving the first car is eaten away by a less fuel-efficient second car.

But that is only part of the story. It turns out that owners also ended up driving more total miles, which cuts fuel savings another 10 percentage points. In the end, 60 percent of the benefits of increasing the fuel economy of the first car disappear when the second car is replaced with a less efficient vehicle. Read More »