Have you ever wondered what happened to the station wagon and the light-duty pickup truck?
Not very long ago, these two types of vehicles were beloved haulers for families, and the ride of choice for the workingman on a budget. But these days, the only station wagons and compact pickup trucks you see tend to be lovingly preserved antiques belonging to enthusiasts.
While there are several factors that have brought about the death of these useful vehicles, for the most part, they’ve been the casualties of CAFE fuel efficiency standards. CAFE, which stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy, is a government mandate for fuel economy targets for automobiles and trucks.
The intention behind the CAFE standards is an excellent one: the government is trying to partner with the automobile industry to improve fuel economy, which is better for the environment, consumers’ wallets, and lessening our dependence on foreign oil.
However, the way the standards are currently written, this noble intention is backfiring — with the most obvious evidence the fact that station wagons and light pickups are going the way of the dodo.
Why? And how will it affect you?
Understanding Current CAFE Standards
Back in 2006, CAFE adopted a new formula for determining fuel economy targets. This formula is based upon the “footprint” of a vehicle, which is calculated by multiplying the vehicle’s wheelbase by its wheel track, and is expressed in square feet. Basically, the smaller a car is, the more stringent its fuel economy standards will be.
For instance, according to Derek Kreindler of The Truth About Cars, “A car such as the Honda Fit, with its footprint of 40 square feet, has to achieve 61 mpg CAFE, or 43 mpg IRL [In Real Life] by 2025 to comply with regulations.”
Vehicles with larger footprints — such as heavy-duty pickup trucks and SUVs — are held to a lower standard. This makes logical sense on the surface. A small compact car is already in a good position to meet difficult fuel economy targets. After all, the major selling feature of a compact sedan is its efficiency and small size. A large truck, on the other hand, needs to offer power, size, and durability, which are much more difficult to make in a fuel-efficient package.
Unfortunately, these standards have had the opposite effect of what was intended. CAFE has given auto manufacturers the incentive to make larger vehicles, since those vehicles don’t have to meet such difficult fuel economy targets. The middle-of-the-road vehicles, like wagons and compact pickups, are in a footprint zone that makes it very difficult for manufacturers to comply with standards while also making a good profit.
How CAFE Is Affecting Consumers
The biggest problem with the loss of these vehicles is what it will mean for consumers. Instead of having the option of purchasing a mid-price, mid-size wagon or truck that will get decent (but not excellent) gas mileage, drivers will have to purchase something larger than what they need, and live with only mediocre fuel economy, at best.
That means they’ll be spending more on the initial purchase, and more at the gas pump — which is exactly the opposite of what CAFE was intended to do.
And no one, except for the auto manufacturers, seems to come out ahead.
Do you think CAFE has affected you at all?