President Obama has won wild praise for brokering a compromise on fuel efficiency standards that pleased not only car makers, but the tough regulators in California and the tough critics in the environmental community. (Even we called it miracle work.) And for good reason: The new fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions standards are the first U.S. regulation of greenhouse gases, and they will boost fuel efficiency of American vehicles by some 40% by 2016.
But even then, when U.S. cars get an average of 35.5 mpg, the U.S. will lag behind Chinese efficiency standards today. And U.S. cars won't even approach the efficiency of European or Japanese cars today.
China today requires an average fuel efficiency of 35.8 mpg, according to the Center for Biological Diversity -- which sounded a note of criticism amid the din of cheers, even as it applauded Obama's "important step forward."
In Japan, the efficiency standard is 42.6 mpg and in Europe the standard is yet higher: 43.3 mpg.
Under those regulations, only the top most efficient 2009 car would rank above average: The Toyota Prius with its combined 46 mpg. Even the second-most fuel-efficient car sold in the U.S. today, the Honda Civic Hybrid, gets a combined 42 mpg -- which would drag down the average fuel economy of a European or Japanese fleet.
Today, only 14 2009 U.S. models (three of them SUVs) even get 30 mpg or better -- and only the two mentioned above get better than 35.5 mpg today. So Obama's new policy will certainly transform the U.S. car industry -- but it won't lead the world.
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