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U.S. fuel-economy regulations will have ripple effect in Canada

It has often been said that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada usually catches a cold. So when our neighbours to the south mandate an average 54.

It has often been said that when the U.S. sneezes, Canada usually catches a cold. So when our neighbours to the south mandate an average 54.5mpg fuel efficiency standard for automotive manufacturers, the ripple effect will be definitely be felt in Canada.

The legislation, announced by both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is ambitious. It requires manufacturers of cars and light trucks to nearly double the average fuel economy of new vehicles by 2025. Current legislation already requires average fleet fuel efficiency to rise to 35.5 mpg by 2016.

A side benefit of burning less fossil fuel will be the reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions from cars.

Canadian new-car buyers will also benefit from better fuel economy, as vehicles destined for this country are usually identical to ones found in the U.S. The only exceptions would be the inclusion of bilingual literature and metric measurements.

While the legislation does not specifically mention EVs, their importance to manufacturers is likely to grow. Manufacturers are allowed to use electric vehicles' low fuel consumption numbers to calculate their average fleet mpg.

This means the more EVs a manufacturer sells, the easier it is to reach the target 54.5 mpg - the equivalent of 4.3 litres/100 km or 65.4 mpg in Imperial gallons.

The 54.5-mpg goal is an ambitious one. The only cars able to meet that standard today are hybrids, with some small diesels not far off the mark. Even the frugal Smart car's fuel economy numbers are too high to make the cut.

This means consumers will see lighter vehicles, improvements in aerodynamics, advanced engines, transmissions and more efficient engine accessories, such as airconditioning systems. It most likely would mean standard gasoline-electric hybrid engines in full-size cars, vans and trucks, the biggest fuel guzzlers.

Critics point out that the fuel savings will be offset by increased costs associated with the new technology and the use of lighter, but more costly, metals such as aluminum. Some manufacturers have warned vehicle prices could climb $2,000 or more to pay for the necessary improvements.

While the debate will likely continue for now, the legislation promises to change the automotive landscape by accelerating the electrification of the modern car in the years to come.

parrais@timescolonist.com

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