In August of 2012, President Obama directed the EPA to set Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger vehicles to mandate a fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. It was a stiff regulation to reduce emissions, but the automakers began to design vehicles to reach that goal.
How did they do that? We know from past experience (1973 fuel crisis) that vehicle manufacturers have at least two methods that have proved effective: They can downsize the vehicle to reduce weight, or make the vehicle more aerodynamic to reduce drag. Both of these methods of reducing fuel consumption directly influences the auto glass replacement industry.
How are we affected when CAFE standards change?
- Thinner gauged steel and the increased use of aluminum bodied vehicles reduced the weight of the vehicle and changed the role of auto glass and its contribution to the safety of vehicle occupants.
- Lightweight glass parts, like asymmetrical windshields, thinner tempered parts and the introduction of “gorilla” glass for automotive use, reduced weight thus making vehicles more fuel efficient. This can result in more glass breakage, also affecting those in our industry.
- The increase of glass surfaces, such as all glass roofs and unique windshield designs like on the Tesla X, means less drag and better aerodynamics, but can change the way we do business, possibly reducing the opportunities for one-man sets or mobile service.
- The introduction of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) save not only lives but fuel as well through better use of electronics and the reduction human error. However, ADAS equipped vehicles frequently require after installation calibration to restore the safety originally designed into the vehicle.
- Even subtle differences, like the elimination of exterior reveal moldings, can make a difference in weight reduction and lower drag from the wind. This can make our jobs easier with fewer parts to remove, or hold us more accountable with not as many ways to cover a mistake.
In March, the new administration announced that they are rethinking the Obama CAFE requirements. As a matter of fact, President Trump has announced that he will roll back the CAFE laws put in place by Obama and the EPA as a result of his corporate regulation reduction initiative. Will this make a difference in how the vehicles of the future will be designed? It may, but I doubt it will be a dramatic change.
The new vehicle designs that have already been introduced, and the ones currently on the drawing boards, are proving effective and desirable. Some large states, like California, still require the increased fuel efficiency in new vehicles. The average vehicle takes years to design, perfect and produce. I doubt that the vehicle makers are going to throw away all that preliminary work and the work already completed toward compliance simply because they can.
Obviously, car companies will weigh the cost of design changes versus the cost of production, but I don’t think it will matter much. It may be a relief for the carmakers to not have to worry about meeting a particular target, but I believe that the vehicle design, especially to glass and its mounting, will not change much due to regulation differences. Of course, this industry is always changing, so stay tuned.