classic cars

Feds plan to crawl further up your tailpipe

It's starting to look worse for my 1974 superbeetle.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled a plan today that likely will result in new restrictions on automobile exhaust.

And just when it felt safe to buy fuel at less than $3 per gallon.

The agencies said they will begin developing tougher greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for passenger cars and trucks built in 2017 through 2025, which "will build on the success of the first phase of the national program covering cars from model years 2012-2016."

The EPA and DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in April announced that they cranked fuel economy standards up to about 34.1 mpg for the combined industry-wide fleet for model year 2016. Starting in 2012, automakers must improve overall mileage and emissions by about 5 percent a year.

The news item is that standards could reach as high as 62 mpg by 2025, but that's if and only if the auto industry makes improvements of 6 percent a year. EPA's report provided a range between 47 to 62 mpg in 2025 "if the industry achieved all of the increases through fuel economy improvements."

“Continuing the successful clean cars program will accelerate the environmental benefits, health protections and clean technology advances over the long-term,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement.

The idea is to reduce the country's addiction to oil. A noble goal. Jackson also said the measure also is intended to encourage automakers to innovate.

Few details were provided. The measure follows directives issued in May to propose more strict regulations on the nation's gas-guzzling fleet of passenger cars and trucks. The effort involves the California Air Resources Board to develop a technical assessment.

An updated analysis of possible future standards is expected by Nov. 30 after agencies conduct further studies and meetings to determine an "appropriate" level of standards.

Officials said new standards could be proposed within a year.

Whatever happens, new regulations will again target fuel consumption. Electric cars are expected to make a big splash in coming years, but the majority of Americans will continue to cling to their gas-burning traditions for reliable transportation.

Officials estimate the program reduces CO2 by about 960 million metric tons and conserves about 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles regulated.

At the time of the EPA's release of the new fuel economy standards, Jeremy Korzeniewski of Autoblog Green put it in perspective. "Naturally, all of this is going to cost some extra dough," he wrote. "If the Feds are right, automakers will spend $51.5 billion over the next five years putting the standards into effect and the average price of a new car will rise by $985 by 2016."

However, he also said fuel savings will put an extra $3,000 in consumers' pockets over the life of the vehicle.

The question I have is simple. What about older cars? A rough search of opinions online turned up a number of perspectives. Some believe regulators feel that most older rolling stock will be scrapped and replaced. That's understandable.

However, there's a big contingent that restores old rigs. Emissions controls are expensive and difficult to apply to older models, not to mention how they can be performance killers. I did read one post from a classic car restorer who championed the use of some modern advances.

Stay tuned. And just to be clear, my bug is sitting in the backyard awaiting an electrical harness transplant. It creates zero emissions.