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New Target: 35.5 mpg By 2016

New CAFE Standard
Posted May 20 2009 07:32 PM by Johnny Hunkins 
Filed under: Hard Driving


Is the sky really falling, or are we just getting higher?

It seemed just like yesterday when the EPA first introduced corporate average fuel economy. In 1974, in spite of a devastating oil embargo in the fall of 1973, average fuel economy had actually fallen to 12.9 mpg. By no coincidence, that’s about what my ’75 Laguna got with its stock (180-hp) 400-ci small-block before I took it off the road to drop in our 560-hp 408.

With the EPA’s CAFE regulation of 1975, we thought it was the end of the road for hot rodding, but we would experience otherwise. The 1975 mandate for corporate average fuel economy required cars to meet 27.5 mpg by 1985. We thought it was curtains, but it wasn’t. In fact, Detroit’s best engineering lay in the years ahead. We saw Tuned Port 350s, VNT turbo bent fours, the LT1, the fuel-injected 5.0, the intercooled turbocharged Buick V-6, the mod motor Ford, the LS series of engines, the new Hemi, a brace of stump-pulling diesels, and more. Case in point: the 427-ci LS7 in the Z06 Corvette gets 27 mpg while belting out 505 hp and swilling crappy 91 octane.

Back in 1975, engineers would’ve said a 505hp 427 cubic-inch V-8 pulling down 27 mpg was impossible—or a moon shot at best. Even sadder, the tree huggers of the day secretly relished the idea that hot rods would no longer pound the ground with their fury. In their world, we’d all be riding mopeds, singing Kumbaya, and chomping granola bars on our way to work. What they failed to realize is that hot rodders are a motivated bunch.

For the record, I think manmade global climate change is a load of politically motivated crap, but I do side with the environmentalists on one issue: we’ve got to force the fuel economy issue down Detroit’s throat. Like an ornery pack mule, the automakers just won’t do it unless you beat them hard with a stick. Displacement on demand is a great example here. GM and Chrysler had production-ready technology on their V-8s more that six years ago. The reason they didn’t use it was simply that they didn’t have to. They were already meeting a cushy CAFE standard, and they saved a few extra dollars by leaving it off our cars and trucks. Now magically in 2009, it’s suddenly available on everything in sight for another 8 – 12 percent improvement in fuel economy.

As hot rodders, we might not care about the fuel efficiency so much as the power that’s being left on the table. The fact of the matter is that efficiency can always be traded for extra power, all things being equal. If that pisses you off, then you get my point.

Now that Obama has mandated 35.5 mpg by 2016, you’re going to see all kinds of technology start showing up, such as mild hybrids on everything, regenerative braking, better aerodynamics, direct injection, and variable displacement. Vehicle mass will come down, too. That’s all good for hot rodders and hot rodding. But the thing that really frosts my cookies is that, once again, this is all stuff Detroit could’ve been doing this whole time.

As for my ’75 Laguna that got 12 mpg with it’s old two-barrel 400, it looks like I’ll be getting close to 20 mpg with an overdrive trans and about three times as much horsepower. I’m just glad I won’t have to wait another thirty-plus years to see the same kind of improvement again.

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