Fuel Economy Mandates and Dumb Public Surveys

by Sam Kazman on May 25, 2011

in Blog, Features

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Last week the Consumer Federation of America issued another of those consumer “surveys” supposedly showing that the public solidly supports higher energy efficiency standards.  The previous one in this series was a Federation survey in March of alleged consumer demand for more stringent home appliance standards.  Even though affordable top-loading washers have pretty much been ruined by existing federal regulations, the March survey “found” that consumers wanted even tougher regs. The Federation’s trick: just ask pie-in-the-sky questions that portray these mandates as win-win situations.  Never suggest that the mandates mess up appliance performance, even when the evidence is staring you in the face.

The topic of last week’s survey was autos and fuel economy standards.  The Federation dressed its report up in the usual language of “ending our addiction to oil”.  But if you think oil is addictive, are you really fighting that addiction by squeezing more miles out of every gallon? Doesn’t that make oil even more addictive?

But let’s leave that question aside for the time being, and get back to the Federation’s surveying expertise.  Only one question in the survey hints at any downside to higher efficiency regs.  That downside is the possibility these regs will raise new car prices.  But aha—not to worry!  The question then has us imagine that these higher prices will be offset by lower gas costs over 3, 5 or 10 years.  In this fairytale land, support wavers only slightly as the payback period grows.

I wonder how people would have responded if the Federation had admitted that the higher car prices might never be recouped?  Or that the cars would perform worse, or be less safe (as a National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2002)?

Or let’s take a fuel economy measure reported just yesterday—that some carmakers are planning to eliminate spare tires from new cars in order to boost fuel economy? Will this milestone in the regulatory history of the car be mentioned in the Consumer Federation’s next survey?

Don’t hold your breath.

(And by the way, a major government announcement on fuel economy regs is reportedly scheduled for this morning, so you may want to watch your wallet as well.)

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