On January 30, organizers of the 2013 Washington Auto Show hosted a two-panel policy summit to discuss fuel efficiency in the automobile industry.

The first of the two panels focused on the future of fuel efficiency from the perspective of policy makers and automobile industry regulators, while the second focused on how the Obama administration’s 2025 fuel efficiency mandate will affect automobile manufacturers.

The first panel was moderated by Fawn Johnson, a correspondent for the National Journal.

Panel one included these speakers: Mitch Bainwol, chief executive of Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Don Chalmers, board member of the National Auto Dealers Association; Rebecca Lindland, research director at the firm HIS; Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation; and Mary Nichols, board chairman of California Air Resources.

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator at the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, was the panel’s opening speaker. On Monday, March 4th, Gina McCarthy was nominated as Administrator of the EPA.

“2012 to 2016 is really the first phase in the president’s national car program,” McCarthy explained. “That extends out to 2025. It really, during that period of time, will essentially double fuel economy up to 54.5 miles per gallon. And it does it in a way that collaborates with the automakers themselves, in a way that will produce the kind of cars that are safe and effective and perform the way that American consumers want to see. It will really provide tremendous societal benefits, so it’s a win for everyone.”

The panel concluded with comments from Mary Nichols, board chairman of California Air Resources, who spoke on the importance of bringing clean fuels to the state and defending their value.

President Barack Obama’s national car program sets a 54.5 miles per gallon fuel efficiency standard for all vehicles produced in model year 2025. Policy makers and automobile manufacturers gathered at the 2013 Washington Auto Show to discuss how the new standard will affect the industry as a whole. Credit: NAFTC.

The second Policy Summit panel was moderated by Amy Harder, an energy and environmental correspondent for National Journal.

Panelists included representatives from major automobile companies: Chrysler’s director of regulatory affairs, Reg Modlin, Honda’s manager of environment and energy strategy, Robert Bienenfeld, and Toyota’s vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, Tom Stricker.

Although each panelist remarked that reaching the fuel efficiency standards outlined in the 2015 fuel efficiency mandate will be challenging, the three industry-leaders also spoke about the ways in which they hope to help their companies reach those standards.
Stricker stressed that hybrids will definitely continue to play a large role in the company’s future.

“We see hybrids as a technology that consumers have accepted and will continue to accept. We’re going full-speed ahead in this realm,” Stricker said. “And I think, in addition to the hybridization, we’ll see different internal combustion energy technologies in terms of downsizing engines, turbo charging, [and] direct injection . Some of these require improved fuels to make maximum use of those in vehicle systems. It is a challenge.”

He added, “We see conventional vehicles and hybrids as our core strategy moving forward.”

Honda’s Bienenfeld agreed with Stricker, emphasizing that new technologies will continue to grow in the automobile industry. “As we get past the later years, past 2020, we’re going to see a lot more emphasis on some of the newer technologies that people talked about, the newer technologies that will have to start showing up in higher volumes to meet the new regulations, like much more hybridization, plug-ins, and other technologies.”

Chrysler’s Reg Modlin went beyond discussing hybrids, by mentioning the importance of the expanding natural gas market. Modlin remarked that Chrysler “is excited” about the natural gas market.
“We have a marketplace moving beyond government support and deploying natural gas stations. That’s generating interest in natural gas vehicles,” Modlin said.

Modlin stressed that the marketplace has a bigger role than the government does in driving demand for alternative fuel vehicles, and that it is a good sign that 20 states are now pushing for CNG fleets. “The government has a role, but the marketplace has a bigger one,” he concluded.

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