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The other day, I talked about the new gas mileage law, which will require car manufacturers to increase the fuel economy their fleets obtain by 2016. For the environment, this is a step forward, leading to decreased overall carbon emissions and better mpg’s in cars. Naturally, this will also increase new car costs as car makers dump resources in R and D to create more efficient vehicles. But this bill might provide an unexpected injury to another part of the auto market: the luxury car industry.
Remember that car manufacturers must have a fleet average of about 35.5 miles per gallon. For large companies like GM and Ford, this is pretty feasible, considering the high number of models these firms produce. Even lower-end luxury brands like BMW should be all right meeting these standards, especially considering the high mileage makes already coming out. But what about the really high-end performance cars like Porsches and Aston Martins?
If the makers of the fast cars are large manufacturers, these regulations should be pretty easy to overcome. Consider Ferrari, which just released the fastest road car in the company’s history, the 599 GTO. Ferrari is owned by Fiat SpA, which luckily is already selling fuel efficient vehicles in the US. But brands that don’t sell cars besides luxury autos in the US are scrambling for ways to meet this regulation, like developing smaller, more fuel efficient cars (both Aston Martin and Jaguar are trying that route). Tiny (fewer than 5,000 vehicles sold per year) manufacturers are hoping that the EPA makes special allowances for them since the government agency has said these companies will get their own rules. Larger car makers (50-400k cars) are allowed to have 25,000 cars per year exceed mileage targets without being penalized.
And let’s not forget that fuel efficiency and carbon emissions regulations are not unique to America. Most developed countries in the world have to adhere to standards which get more strict all the time. In fact, the US is lagging behind in the regulations game.
So what exactly does this mean? Will our favorite high performance car makers be able to punch out a few efficient models to keep the sportiest vehicles on the road? I’ve said this before – I love fast cars, even if I may never own one. But can they remain on our highways indefinitely? Or will there come a time when they’re chained to closed tracks?
Maybe others agonized over a similar decision decades ago when horses were replaced by horsepower. Maybe carriage drivers were sad to put their high-stepping ponies in the barn and resigned themselves to riding and driving them for sport instead of transportation. Will luxury cars as we know it be kept merely for hobby instead of a way of getting around? I know that most Aston Martin drivers aren’t slogging through their daily commutes like James Bond, but these new regulations may dramatically change the fast cars we all love. The divide between transportation and sport might keep growing.