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.
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 today’s 25 mpg average. 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.
The continuing development of electronics, small electric motors, sensors, and computers is also contributing to the advancement of hybrid electric vehicles. Improved understanding of the combustion of fuels in the engine has led to more efficient engine technologies. At present, there are advanced technologies that have the potential to improve vehicle fuel economy substantially, but at a higher cost.