More CAFE malarchy

Democrats and even more Republicans are banging the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) drum once again, to my intense consternation as both a conservationist and a libertarian.

I’ve talked before about how CAFE will prevent the transition to sustainable and environmenally friendly fuels, but Ronald Bailey of Reason reminded me of something we all have noticed: the curious positive correlation between rising CAFE standards and the sale of SUVs and light trucks. There have been a few theories as to why they were exempted, from their necessity as work vehicles to protection of the Big Three U.S. automakers. Regardless of the intent of the legislators, one thing has become clear: Stringent CAFE standards spelled the demise of more sensible methods of family transport than Expeditions and Yukons.

Before the SUV craze, soccer moms and families on road trips availed themselves of the station wagon. Available with three rows of seating (although those back seats weren’t the most comfortable), V-8 engines, and taking up no more space than a large sedan, these were truly the best of all worlds. With their stout powerplants they could pull a boat for a weekend trip on the lake or in more mundane use haul kids and groceries with ease. The advantages of the SUV in these areas? Next to nil for 95% of the people who drive them. Yet they presented the most economical options thanks to CAFE.

Under CAFE, these relatively efficient and easy to use animals (when compared to SUVs) became unsustainable as fleet mileage was pushed ever higher. This doesn’t even take into consideration the flawed nature of Environmental Protection Agency fuel mileage tests, which by their low speeds compared to the real world, routinely underestimate the thriftiness of large engines at speed while treating small engined cars like hybrids with unwarranted optimism. Small and light is good to a point. But when a car becomes too small to get the job done, people turn to trucks instead of large cars.

Very few of us have not complained about the glut of SUVs on the road, particularly as they are often driven by those who have little respect for the differences between those behemoths and passenger cars. Yet how many of us complained over CAFE? How many thought it was a good idea?