Heard on NPR this morning that Obama is going to call for even tighter fuel economy standards on new cars, starting a few years from now. Goal is to get the average fuel economy of the entire fleet, including "light trucks" up to 35 mpg by 2016.
Only two vehicles were ever made with fuel economy that good. One was the diesel Rabbit in the 1970's and the other is the Prius hybrid. To get the entire fleet (every car/truck GM makes) up to 35 mpg, means building nothing but small diesel powered econoboxes and Chevy Volts. Families looking for a real family car will be out of luck. No SUV's, no minivans, no crewcab pickup trucks, nothing bigger that a Corolla.
Actually, the EPA is responsible for the death of diesel cars in the US. In Europe better than half of all cars are diesels. EPA felt that diesels smoked too much and tightened up the emissions limits so far that no one could meet them. Starting last year EPA required production of "Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel" (ULSD) for all motor diesel fuels. Presumably a diesel running on ULSD could pass EPA emissions limits. About half the diesel pumps in the country now dispense ULSD, and all of them will be on board by next year.
People who need pickup trucks like farmers and builders and tradesmen will to out of luck. They will have to keep their old trucks running, or buy used ones. Actually, you can keep an old truck running pretty much forever (look at Cuba) if you don't mind putting the money into it. The reason cars get replaced with new ones is economic. It doesn't make sense doing a $4000 engine replacement on an old pickup that's only worth $2000. But if the new one are not made, then the old ones get rebuilt and rebuilt again.
Of course, there is one out. The argument could be made that plugin hybrids used to drive to work use no gasoline at all. The Chevy Volt is supposed to go 40 miles on battery alone. That's enough to get to and from work, anywhere I ever worked. You get home on the last of the battery, plug it in and next morning it's all ready to go. If Detroit was allowed to count plug in hybrids as extra high mileage, then they might be able to make one big light truck for each plugin hybrid they sell.
This deal is really a "kill SUVs and pickup trucks" bill. It surely won't help Detroit crawl out of bankruptcy. But the greenies will love it.